UNSW, Korea join forces to reduce allergens during food and drink processing

Australian researchers have identified processing techniques which will minimise the adverse effects of allergens in milk and other food products.

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) food scientists are working on altering the properties of the allergenic proteins, and have signed a memorandum of understanding with the UNSW School of Chemical Engineering, as well as Korea’s National Institute of Animal Science (NIAS).

The collaboration is part of the Rural Development Administration Department, which will export potential benefits of various food safety technologies.

The food allergy research group at UNSW, led by Dr Alice Lee, is working towards developing nano-sensors that can better detect allergens in food and indentify how these allergens change after harvest during food processing, and eventually result in an adverse reaction when consumed by humans.

There are various proteins contained in animal milk which can cause humans to have adverse immune responses, and reactions range from slight intolerances to potentially life threatening anaphylaxis.

“Food allergy has been an emerging food safety concern especially in developed countries,” Lee, a senior lecturer in Food Science and Technology, said.

“The current collaborative research project we have with the National Institute of Animal Science is focused on reducing the health risks of milk allergens by a means of high pressure processing.”

Lee said the food safety research at UNSW is largely focused on developing novel detection technology and new methods to improve the safety of foods, at both the farm and at the processing levels.

Under the new agreement, a NIAS researcher is working closely with the UNSW’s Food Science and Technology group, which is also looking at microbiological risks including E.coli and salmonella, as well as chemical risks posed by traces of things like antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides.

Lee said antibiotics are often administered to livestock in very low doses to fend off bacteria growth, but leftover residues can sometimes be present in meat, leading to damaging health impacts when humans are exposed.

He explained that Korea’s Rural Development Administration Department is comparable to Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and has a broad research focus, with a range of possibilities for future research collaborations in the areas of food safety.

“Korea and Australia share a common interest in food security, global food availability, and food safety – especially around livestock hygiene,” Professor Rob Burford, head of the School of Chemical Engineering, said.

“This is an exciting partnership for UNSW.”

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