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Local food scientist best in world

Food scientist Dr Paul Williams knows his blesbok meat from his springbok meat.

In fact, he is a leader in the field, due to his research in food fraud, particularly into finding ways to distinguish game meat.

This has earned him a sought after international accolade.

Living in Brackenfell, Williams (38) is one among only 13 young professionals worldwide recognised by the international society for optics and photonics (SPIE), as one of its 2020 DCS Rising Researchers.

A lecturer and researcher at the Department of Food Science in Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Agri Sciences, he is also the only academic in the group, not from an American university.

The group of 13 will be recognised at the SPIE 2020 conference in California in the USA, which is planned for the end of April 2020.

“Here Williams will present some preliminary findings on the use of near infrared hyperspectral (NIR) imaging to distinguish between different types of game meat and game meat cuts,” says Engela Duvenhage, spokesperson for the Faculty of Agri Sciences at Stellenbosch University.

According to a press release by SPIE, its Rising Researcher initiative is now in its fourth year.

It recognises early-career professionals who are conducting outstanding work in product development or research in the areas of defence, commercial, and scientific sensing, imaging, optics, or related fields such as astronomy and food science.

His work and its use as an identifier for South African game species such as springbok and blesbok, follows on that done by other researchers on kangaroo and reindeer meat, says Duvenhage.

“His research looks at how light interacts with a product, and how the highly sensitive camera in imaging instruments picks up on different chemical signals and converts it into images.

“With NIR we can see chemical differences or similarities on the computer that we cannot see with our eyes.

“It allows us to visualise the potential differences or similarities between different materials or objects, from food to minerals. Each have their own chemical ‘signal’,” Williams explains.

Williams says the issue of food fraud was top of mind when he started this work.

“Once it is cut, you cannot really distinguish kudu from springbok meat, for instance, and therefore we need methods that can do so.”

Current DNA identification methods can be quite costly, and time-consuming.

“Our NIR studies have already shown that there are definite chemical differences between the meat of species, such as blesbok and springbok and between different muscles in their bodies,” he explains.

For now the technology has not been rolled out to the game meat industry, pending more research, but says Wiliams, that is the goal.

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