Food scientists at the University of New South Wales are minimising the adverse health effects of allergens in milk and other food products by developing innovative processing techniques that alter the properties of allergenic proteins. 

A new memorandum of understanding signed today between the UNSW School of Chemical Engineering and Korea’s National Institute of Animal Science (NIAS), part of its Rural Development Administration Department, will explore the potential benefits of this and other innovative food safety technologies.

The food allergy research group at UNSW, led by Dr Alice Lee, aims to develop nano-sensors that can better detect allergens in food. They are also working to understand how these allergens change after harvest during food processing, and how this affects the resulting human reaction.

Humans can have adverse immune responses to any number of proteins contained in animal milk, which can cross a spectrum and in severe cases can result in potentially life threatening anaphylaxis. 

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

Dr Lee says much of the research in food safety at UNSW is around developing novel detection technology and new methods to improve the safety of foods, at both the farm level and at the processing point.

Under the new agreement, a researcher from the NIAS has been seconded to UNSW to work in the Food Science and Technology group, which is also looking at microbiological risks such as E.coli and salmonella, and chemical risks posed by traces of things like antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides.

Antibiotics are often administered to livestock in very low doses to fend off bacteria growth, but leftover residues can sometimes be present in meat, says Dr. Lee, resulting in negative health impacts when humans are exposed. 

Korea’s Rural Development Administration Department is comparable to Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, says Dr Lee, so it 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,” says Professor Rob Burford, head of the School of Chemical Engineering.  “This is an exciting partnership for UNSW.”

Media contact

Dr Alice Lee, UNSW | +61 2 9385 4363 |

Myles Gough, UNSW Media Unit | +61 2 9385 1933 |