Wednesday, 03 February 2021 10:55

Kiwi research on infant milk powder colour goes global

Written by  Staff Reporters
Wintec science student Rehana Ponnal's research has been published in the International Dairy Journal. Wintec science student Rehana Ponnal's research has been published in the International Dairy Journal.

A Wintec science student Rehana Ponnal has had research published in the International Dairy Journal late last year, a big accomplishment for an undergraduate student.

Done while Rehana was on a work placement at Fonterra, the research tested the effectiveness of using a colorimeter to measure the colour of baby milk powder.

Rehana worked on the research with a number of other scientists, and the journal entry, published in September last year, gives positive results of their findings. As a result of the research, Fonterra is procuring a colorimeter to continue their testing.

“Colour is measured because it’s an important aspect of a product. It’s the first thing you perceive. If milk powder was brown for instance, you wouldn’t buy it,” she says.

Using a colorimeter to measure the colour of the milk powder addresses consistency issues that arise out of using more subjective measures like colour charts.

“Using a colour chart relies on people’s perception of colour. The colorimeter on the other hand gives a reading for a certain colour based on the data of that colour – using this method, something is either that colour, or it’s not. There’s no reliance on individual perception, which can be problematic.”

Rehana adds that “there are so many things that affect colour reporting, including how long you keep the sample for, even the colour on the charts can be inconsistent for a multitude of reasons.”

Using the colorimeter would not only be more reliable but more efficient as a measurement tool.

“The current process takes longer as several people’s opinions are required to confirm the colour of a sample. With a colorimeter, you just insert the sample and it gives an instant reading. It’s more reliable and more financially beneficial as there’s less time wasted.”

Jackie Wood, a Senior Research Scientist at Fonterra who Rehana completed her internship with, echoes Rehana’s words.

“At Fonterra we are constantly looking for ways to measure our products in the most reliable and cost-effective way.

“During her internship, Rehana carried out measurements on different infant formulas, milk powders and butter to provide information for these products. She also looked at the cost effectiveness of the using the instrument compared to the current way we access colour of our product.

“It’s an important part of what we do so that we can guarantee the safety and quality of our final products in a time efficient and cost-effective way.”

Wood says working with Rehana was great, describing her as a very knowledgeable person and worked well independently.

Wood adds that “research carried out by scientific staff at Fonterra is often published in journals, but it is rarer for research carried out by students to be published.”

After completing an Engineering degree in Biomedical Science, Rehana moved to New Zealand in 2017 as an international student to fulfil her passion of studying food science.

Rhys Jones, one of Rehana’s tutors in her Applied Science degree, says Rehana was their “top graduating Bachelor of Technology student in 2019 and was an excellent student.”

Job Search 

Despite being an amazing student with loads of enthusiasm and excellent academic records, Rehana is finding it difficult to gain employment.

"It is quite disappointing. It's hard finding a job. As an international student on a temporary work visa, it's even harder to find work.

"I'm looking all over New Zealand and I am willing to move anywhere. I'm particularly interested in research, product development and technology roles, in the food, dairy and beverage industry."

Rehana remains positive and proud of her achievements as she reflects on her recent studies and success.

"I made a lot of friends and I'm really happy that I studied this course. I had so much support from friends and tutors at Wintec. I can't thank the team at Fonterra enough, specifically Jackie who supported me during my research internship."

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