Scientist Ellen Ashmore works in ESR’s Food Chemistry laboratory, Environmental Science Business Group. The role requires a good understanding of analytical chemistry and is applied to chemical food analyses, method development, and food forensics investigations. A large part of the role is communicating with clients, and understanding their needs.
“Our team has been involved in work to develop ways to test for pesticide residue in food,” she says. “This particular project has required developing methods that reduce the number of false positives so that the food industry, exporters, and ultimately consumers can have more confidence in the food they purchase.”
With growing consumer awareness and expectations in areas such as food safety, Ellen says an important part of the food science team’s work is providing independent quality assessment for the New Zealand government, as well as national and international food companies. For example, in 2011 Ellen and her colleagues looked at the levels of gluten residues found in gluten-free foods from food outlets in Christchurch.
With an integrated master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Bath, UK, Ellen first spent time in New Zealand during a study year abroad at the University of Canterbury.
“I have always been interested in the applied side of chemistry. At ESR I’m able to work on short, one-off projects, for example, testing food that was sitting in a warehouse during a fire to ensure the food wasn’t affected, to our longer-term research work,” she says.
With her background in chemistry, Ellen is also involved in providing chemical analysis work for ESR’s water science group, studying water quality in New Zealand’s waterways.
“As a keen outdoors person that work has been particularly interesting,” says Ellen. “It’s also good to be able to so easily work across teams as it provides a breadth to my knowledge and experience that benefits the research work I’m involved in.”