Darren Saunders

Laboratory Technical Manager

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Scientist Darren Saunders is the Laboratory Technical Manager at ESR’s food chemistry laboratory.

“Most of the work we do in the lab is food based, but we also conduct a considerable amount of non-food related chemistry work, for example, we assist ESR’s Water Group with water testing and analysis.”

With state-of-the-art equipment and an expert team, Darren says the ESR’s lab is able to offer testing and analysing services not available elsewhere in New Zealand.

“What I like about being the lab technical manager is that I have a wide purview of our work, but I’m also able to spend quite a bit of time at the lab bench,” he says.

One of Darren’s areas of specialty is food forensics. He and his team often work for industry and the government to address safety, quality and authenticity concerns in products. A recent example of their work has been to test for chemical contaminants in spices available in New Zealand.

“Sometimes synthetic colours long banned from food will be added to spices to intensify their colour, but some of those ingredients are illegal or pose a food safety risk,” he says.

Another project Darren has been involved in is testing the authenticity of Manuka honey. “In such cases, we might be asked to serve as an independent verifier for an exporter or importer of products or ingredients.”

The team is also frequently called in to confirm that the ingredients within a product are what’s stated on the label. “For example, we might be asked to undertake an analysis of a natural extract or ingredient to make sure the claims being made are accurate and it is what it purports to be.

“We are a small team, so while my focus is on food forensics, I am also involved in other areas of the lab’s work. In fact, we have a cross-training programme which has been a good way to sharpen our skills and balance our workload.”

Darren has a Masters in Pharmacology from the University of Otago and a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Canterbury.

Prior to coming to ESR 15 years ago, he worked as a Scientific Officer for the Pharmacology Department at the Christchurch School of Medicine.