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The Welsh laboratory battling deadly allergens to keep our food safe

As the tragic effects of allergies continue to hit the headlines, a Welsh business is helping the food industry fight back.

It is thought that up to 8% of British children and 2% of adults suffer with a food allergy – and the problem is growing.

PiQ Laboratories, based at UKSE’s Ebbw Vale Innovation Centre, works with food manufacturers to test for allergens to help them make sure  labelling is accurate and food is safe.

Ashleigh Hirst-Knowles, PiQ Laboratory Manager, said allergies are an alarming and growing threat. “Allergy is the most common chronic disease in Europe, with the UK suffering some of the highest prevalence rates of allergic conditions in the world,” she said.

As well as allergen testing, UKAS-accredited PiQ works with food manufacturers to ensure quality and authenticity – also important issues these days.

“In 2013 there was the horse meat scandal, and there are issues about the labelling of fish that have been in the news.

“Manufacturers and retailers want to know that food is safe, and is actually what it claims to be on the label,” she said.

The new laboratory was set up in EVIC last year, and PiQ are delighted with the location and the support received from UKSE. “We spent some time trying to find the right location,” said Ashleigh. “There were some places which did not want a laboratory on their site, but at EVIC they were great. The staff here were very happy to work with us and help us get established.”

Martin Palmer of UKSE said he was delighted that PiQ had chosen EVIC as their base. “This is an innovative and forward-thinking company, the type of business that EVIC was designed to cater for.

“I am very pleased they will be increasing their work force providing skilled opportunities for local people, and I wish them every success.”

The business received a £1000 Kickstart Plus grant, provided jointly by UKSE and Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council to support their investment in the laboratory.

Cllr Dai Davies, Executive Member for Regeneration and Economic Development from Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council said:

“I am pleased to say that another business from the Blaenau Gwent area has benefited from the Kickstart Grant plus scheme.  We are continuing to support local businesses whether they are existing or new.

“I wish PiQ Laboratory all the success.  The grant scheme is delivered in partnership between the Council and UKSE.

“Whether you are a new or existing business, please contact our regeneration team and visit the Blaenau Gwent Council website for further information.  We also encourage businesses to register to the Council’s free Business Hub, where support and information is available to businesses”

PiQ employs 5 staff and has plans to take on another scientist, as well as laboratory technicians. “We are confident we can find the right people locally and we are very pleased that we chose EVIC as our home,” added Ashleigh.

Business is expanding rapidly with clients across the UK and in Spain and Ireland.

Personal service, she says, is key to their success. “If clients have an issue with their products it can be a very stressful time and that is when they need a high level of support. We always go the extra mile to get the answers they need and help them resolve matters.

“Clients also know that we take great care in our work and that they can be confident our results are accurate and reliable.”