International software development company partner with a team of young entrepreneurs to combat food allergy related deaths

Following the tragic death of a 15-year-old food allergy sufferer last summer, a group of young women based in the North East of England, are using their own time and money to create a dietary mobile app to prevent unnecessary allergy related deaths.

Newcastle, United Kingdom, March 2019 – Last year, a major high street food chain came under fire following the much-publicised deaths of two of its patrons. One customer, allergic to sesame, died after eating an artisan baguette that failed to display allergen information relating to the ingredient on its packaging. Equally, the second customer died after eating a flatbread that was supposed to be dairy-free.

EU regulations require food companies to warn customers of allergen risks, either displayed on signs, packaging or offered orally upon request. However, the high street chain’s ‘made to sell’ items, prepared at their in-store kitchens are exempt from displaying allergen ingredients in this manner. While the government has recently initiated a consultation in challenge to this, currently, manufacturers are advised to provide information on a sticker, in refrigerators or in a counter. However, the company in question simply advised customers to ask for allergen information themselves, at point of purchase.

The group of young women came together with research showing a worrying trend in the current food labelling process, not just in high street food chains, but throughout the food manufacturing and distribution industries. To tackle this, the young women set up My Allergy ID, with the aim of creating a digital community of food allergy sufferers and companies within the food industry, to tackle irresponsible labelling via the My Allergy ID app. To do this, the company have partnered with Newcastle-based software development company, OnTrac Ltd, who specialise in mobile app development.

My Allergy ID have approached a number of food manufacturers, including North-East food brand, Greggs, who have been enormously helpful in providing My Allergy ID with their product allergen information, to help get the app off the ground. Using the information provided by the nationwide brand, My Allergy ID sat down with the OnTrac team to discuss the necessary requirements, using OnTrac’s no-code app development product, Nutshell Apps to create a prototype during the initial scoping meetings.

Martyn Cuthbert, Managing Director at OnTrac, said:

“We were blown away by our first meeting with My Allergy ID. The business acumen displayed by these young women was far beyond our expectations of 17-year-olds, and their vision for what they want to achieve from the app is genuinely inspired.”

Martyn continues.

“OnTrac are honoured to be working alongside these young business women. We are huge advocates of supporting and encouraging women into tech, so the enthusiasm and ingenuity displayed by the girls has been outstanding.”

Cara Blight, leading the My Allergy ID team, said:

“It is estimated that around two million people in the UK are living with a diagnosed food allergy and not enough is being done to ensure that tragedies, such as those that occurred last summer, do not happen again.”

She continues.

“The onus is very much on the allergy sufferer to ensure they don’t have an allergic reaction, which needs to change. Having to extensively research restaurants, chains and labels, before doing something as basic as eating, is debilitating and isolates people from enjoying something so many of us don’t’ even think about. No one should go out for a sandwich and need to ask, ‘will I die?’ – My Allergy ID aim to change that mindset.”

Targeting food manufacturers, distributors and allergy sufferers alike, My Allergy ID aim to create a community of users that can support one another in navigating food labels and restaurant menus, using existing processes and technology – such as barcodes – in a smarter way, to create a world where food allergy sufferers no longer have to worry about what they’re eating.

This International Women’s Day, the My Allergy ID team will be setting up a stall at local venue, Tyne Bank Brewery as part of the third Sister Shack event, which celebrates female entrepreneurship across the North East.

The My Allergy ID app is currently in production and will be available shortly. There is a working prototype available for demo purposes.

Notes to the editor

Media contact: Vicki Hayward
Telephone: 0191 477 4951
Social Media: Twitter / LinkedIn / Facebook / Instagram

What is food to one, to another is rank poison: food allergy, past and present

There has been an unprecedented spike in the amount of food allergy sufferers in recent years. Latest reports from doctors in the USA state that 11% of American adults have food allergies, and here in the UK there are an average two million people suffering from a food allergy. The risk of experiencing anaphylactic shock has never been higher.

Following the much-publicised into the deaths of several young people, who died after eating at high street food vendors and restaurants last year, there has been a rise in demands for reform to food labelling legislation in the UK, to prevent unnecessary deaths in future.

Food allergy investigations

A recent investigation conducted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) revealed that allergens were found in a quarter of sampled foods. In almost 3,000 tests carried out since 2016, it was revealed that a whopping 673 were found to be unsatisfactory. This means that allergens were present in these samples but were not declared either on packaging or verbally by staff.

What’s more, in November 2018, BBC’s Watchdog Live discovered that leading restaurants and coffee shops in the UK were providing customers with incorrect food allergy advice. Out of the six investigated by the BBC’s undercover journalists, there was only one that was providing the correct food allergy information to customers.

A brief history of the food allergy

Food allergy is not a modern phenomenon. Ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, is widely credited with first recognising that food could be responsible for adverse symptoms. In his writings, Hippocrates often referred to the presence of ‘hostile humours’ in men, which made them suffer with symptoms following the ingestion of cheese.

However, before Hippocrates musings, two Chinese emperors (c.2735-2598), Shen Nong and Huang Di, provided advice in their work Shi Jin-Jing, which translates to ‘interdictions concerning food’. In these writings, pregnant women were advised to provide foods such as chicken, shrimp and other meats. They also advised that individuals with skin conditions were to avoid certain foods.

Interestingly, Richard III, who was the King of England from 1843 broke out in hives whenever he ate strawberries. It is said that he once consumed a “messe of strauberies” to frame an opponent of his. Blaming his allergic reaction on witchcraft, his opponent was promptly beheaded.

In the 17th Century, for the first time, medical literature published case reports focused on food hypersensitivity reactions. Jean Baptiste van Helmont reported an asthma attack, following the ingestion of fish in Oriatrike in 1662. Later, Robert Willan described “urticaria” after eating foods such as almonds, mushrooms and fish. He also described “uriticara febralis” otherwise known as “fatal anaphylaxis” following the ingestion of mussels and lobsters in Treatise on Dermatology.

However, it wasn’t until 1921, following the now classic experiment of Prausnitz that the immunologic basis of allergic reactions was considered a scientific investigation. The Prausnitz-Kustner test proved that sensitivity could be transferred by a factor in serum. However, in the 1930s, food allergy emerged as a highly controversial sub-category of the allergy topic, not taken seriously by medical professionals, despite the success of Prausnitz’s experiment.

While it was easy to identify the food at fault in anaphylactic reactions, these were rare. Instead, food allergies focused their attentions on patients whose reactions were delayed by up to 48 hours after eating food. This was more difficult to diagnose. As such, reactions were typified by symptoms such as:

  • Skin reactions
  • Diarrhoea
  • Asthma
  • Migraine

As well as psychiatric problems, including depression and anxiety.

Many doctors doubted that food allergy was responsible for undiagnosed chronic illnesses. Some were so unconvinced of food allergists’ claims that patients complaining of food allergy symptoms were referred to psychiatrists, with the firm believe that their symptoms were psychosomatic.

The peanut allergy

By the 1980s, food allergy was a marginalised topic within the field of medicine, until a new phenomenon emerged, forcing doctors to take the topic of food allergy seriously.

In 1988, an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal described a case in which a woman died after eating a biscuit that contained peanut oil. This was the first time a peanut allergy report had been made in a medical journal.

However, by the 1990s, peanut allergy fatalities were massively commonplace, and according to US charity, Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), rates of peanut and tree nut allergy tripled between 1997 and 2008.

Even by today’s standards, research into the root cause and potential cure to anaphylactic reactions to food allergy – and particularly why these reactions are increasing at such an exponential rate – is woefully inadequate, leaving sufferers instead, faced with controversial hypothesis, many of which have not been backed by much scientific research. These include:

  • Hygiene: this argues that children who grow up in excessively clean environments struggle to distinguish between harmful pathogens and harmless protein
  • Cooking: indicating that peanut allergy is more common in countries where peanuts are roasted, rather than boiled.
  • Infant feeding: encouraging mothers with a family history of food allergy to introduce peanuts early on in their infancy to avoid a growing intolerance.

None of these have been compounded in scientific fact, which leads to a general confusion about food allergy, even today.

How DietTree aim to tackle irresponsible food labelling

DietTree was founded in 2018, in response to the unnecessary deaths of young people after doing something as basic as eating. It is tragic to us that since the 28th Century BC, that not much progress has been made in curing food allergies. Awareness has certainly improved, but recent events only amplified that there is much more to be done in having food allergy taken seriously.

It is clear that there is a distinct difference between an intolerance and an allergy, but the awareness surrounding the consequence of mixing the two is severely lacking. A single splash of a ingredient someone is allergic to can result in death – not hives or itchy skin – death. What we are aiming to do is to, not only raise awareness of the importance in understanding food allergy, but also to create a nationwide-accessible database of allergen information, underpinned by a community of individual users and companies, that can support one another on where and what to eat; identifying what is safe to eat and what to avoid.

The initial reason for forming the company was as a result of the Young Enterprise Scheme that brought our team together. However, understanding how fundamentally vital solving the food allergy crisis is, we are committed to DietTree and to our food allergy app beyond the realms of this competition.

We are working with a North-East based software development company, OnTrac Ltd, who are supporting us in the development of our mobile app, with a live version of our iOS app pending for February.