Meet Ellen – Food Chemist

Meet Ellen Ashmore, a food chemistry scientist who helps make sure the food leaving and entering New Zealand is safe to eat.

When you think about a career in the primary industries you might picture a farmer on a dairy, sheep or beef farm, or an orchardist growing kiwifruit – but what about a scientist in a lab?

Ellen Ashmore, a food chemistry scientist at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, is just that. She plays an important part in making sure the foods that leave and enter New Zealand are safe for people to eat.

Interested in a career as a food chemistry scientist? Check out the video below to hear Ellen talk about her work, and explore our job profile to discover more about being a chemist.

Ellen Ashmore talks about her work at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) – 2.09 mins. (Video courtesy of Ministry for Primary Industries)

Ellen: The Risk and Response Group [of ESR] is a collection of consultants who are able to give expert advice on risks associated with New Zealand in the environment or food or water.

My expertise is in the chemistry environment, in particular chemical contaminants in food. That may be pesticides or heavy metals, and the risks that that might pose on you as consumers.

We perform tests on foods for import and export certification. Import and export is a huge industry for New Zealand. If we can’t get our safe food across different markets and be sold, New Zealand can’t be profitable, and that’s where ESR can help by helping provide safe food.

At the moment, I’m project leader for the New Zealand Total Diet Study, this is funded by MPI. This study is based on foods that can be commercially bought from supermarkets. Those are purchased and prepared as you would do at home – cooked, fried, peeled, etc – and then they’re analysed for chemical contaminants like pesticides and heavy metals, and some nutrients that are required by the body like fluoride.

Consumer expectations in food safety is incredibly high and I think with the increased mobility of food around the world there is much more need to collaborate with those producers overseas – the importers and exporters. That brings together scientists from all over the world, but also from the different disciplines of science.

I work closely with colleagues at MPI, but also in the commercial industry with food producers to understand their needs and their testing requirements. We have to constantly talk to each other.

So, yeah, once you’re in a science career it’s easy to move around.

Updated 20 Sep 2019