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Isn't it a little odd you can go for years not having a poultry allergy and then suddenly you develop one at the age of 20, or 30, or 50, or 82? That's because a lot of poultry allergies aren't really allergies to poultry at all. They are allergies to the chemicals used to process the meat.

In the United States (which exports chicken all over the world, even to Russia, the Americans buying white meat, the Russians buying the dark meat), there have been some horrible outbreaks of salmonella poisoning. This contamination is caused by feces getting onto the meat during mechanized processing. To deal with the problem, American chicken packers didn't start being more careful as they butchered the birds. They started washing the birds in chemicals.

Poultry used to be sanitized with a wash of ammonia. The idea of eating meat that has to be made cleaner by dumping it in household cleaners is unappetizing, but the ammonia itself doesn't cause allergies. However, maybe about 2005, poultry packers started using a sodium phosphate bath. It's actually the sodium phosphate that causes the allergy symptoms,not the chicken.

Even worse for many consumers of American-raised poultry, some producers inject sodium phosphate into the meat to make it plumper. What this does is to bypass the need for brining, soaking chicken in a salt water solution, so the meat is tenderer. When sodium phosphate solutions are injected directly into the meat, it's plumper and juicier, and it weighs more, so the packer can charge more.

Sodium phosphate allergies tend to be a lot worse in people who have asthma and use inhalers. That is because of one of the chemicals used in a dry powder inhaler (that isn't used in a nebulizer). However, if you have a problem with American chicken, you'll also have a problem with turkey and duck, unless it's "organic" and chemical-free.

That's the real problem in about 2/3 of chicken allergies. Some people, however, have an actual allergy to the proteins in chicken meat. For them, it is important to know:

  • No, they really can't eat chicken. Allergies to the meat (whether it's organic or not) can cause hives, sore throat, sneezing, wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks, vomiting, and diarrhea. In very rare cases, there are life-threatening anaphylactic reactions to chicken.
  • Chicken is a favorite "mystery meat." In the US, chicken is used to make hot dogs (usually this is chicken uteruses, gonads, and tails), luncheon meats such as baloney and salami, and just about anything that can be "stretched" with this less expensive meat.
  • Chicken allergies can be very serious for people who are allergic to antibiotics, especially streptomycin. It's possible to be allergic to both chicken and the antibiotic.
  • Chicken allergies are worse in people who use proton pump inhibitors, including Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium. These drugs stop the production of stomach acid, which otherwise would break down the proteins that cause allergies.
  • Perdue (a huge chicken producer in the United States) has dropped the use of antibiotics that are also used in humans, to avoid contributing to problems with antibiotic resistance (at least for humans, if not chickens). However, they continue to use different antibiotics that can still cause allergies. For this reason, antibiotic-free chicken is the safest, if not necessarily safe, option for people who have allergies when they eat chicken.
  • Eating food that has just touched poultry can also cause allergies. For instance, eating dressing or mashed potatoes that rested next to the Thanksgiving turkey can cause problems. Eating foods flavored with chicken broth is also something that simply has to be avoided if poultry allergies are a problem.

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