Is ATS good at communicating science?

Before we answer this question, let’s first contextualize the structure, mandate and operating procedures of the Agrifood Technology Station. The Station consists of seven technical staff members, an Administrator and a Finance Officer. Our mandate is innovation support to SMEs in the food industry and also technology transfer and training. In our set of Standard Operating Procedures it would be quite evident that meeting this mandate requires significant two-way communication with our clients, other academics, suppliers and the public at large.

Now, having said that, it also implies that we need to do this in a way that the parties mentioned above understand, assimilate, use and critique such communication and its content. It will also be evident that the parties mentioned above would almost be a disparate group in terms of science. Put another way, the degree of knowledge of hard science and science “lingo” would vary greatly. In other words, ATS would need to communicate in different ways with different people pending their “science groundedness”.

Why the question in the first place? In the first instance, because of my own interest in science communication in terms of my role as manager of ATS. Hence my completing an online course in science communication through the Center for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at the University of Stellenbosch. In the second instance, the importance of science communication is growing in this science & technology-driven world. This is evidenced by articles in The Conversation:

Our job at ATS is thus clearly dependent on communicating science and technology. Over the years we have worked with nano- or micro-enterprises up to multinationals and big corporates. This means we would have communicated with a wide variety of people of all educational backgrounds, including academics at other tertiary institutions. We have learnt over the years how to communicate technically challenging topics or processes. This includes breaking down these topics or processes into simple unit operations. In the initial life of ATS (more than 12 years ago now) this did prove somewhat of a challenge.

Some parts of the challenge was that, in many instances, the clients we serviced were, more often than not, well-versed and technically savvy in their special project or task. However, in the same instance, they would not be as savvy regarding all the supporting knowledge or other operations which they needed for support and for solving their specific problems/ projects. This is where the value of ATS arose i.e. having a good generals science and technology background we could help clients see the trees in the wood.

I also completed a crash course toward certification as a consultant. This was a generic course that could be applied to many different fields. Surprisingly, this course corroborated our learnings at ATS in terms of how to work with a client. This included the empathy required with problem solving as well as the need to listen well before responding. To me, this confirmed that our approach, still in use today, was the correct one.

n the “publish or perish” world of academia, the need to address everyday challenges of our communities has slowly become more important. As the old story goes, blue sky research was the order of the day, a large percentage of which was fundamental or far from directly answering critical, real-world challenges. Suffice to say that, via Universities of Technology and also now traditional universities, this is being remedied. The Agrifood Technology Station is one such unit among many others at the forefront of this bandwagon, again communicating solutions and information to the challenges and improving public understanding of the outcomes of such.

We do try our best!

L. Dolley

Good Fad, Bad Food! Or?

When you do a simple Google search regarding good and bad food, the anecdotal evidence sometimes offered is seriously contradictory and often mis-leading. Proponents of one food versus another often end up either contradicting themselves or others.

When doing a more scientific appraisal (more objective but not always entirely so), another theme comes up i.e. what was good for you yesterday is not good for you today. Why? How do we assess, internalize and then include this changing information into our lifestyles? And yes, we have not even mentioned “fake news” in this paragraph yet. However, for the purposes of this blog, let’s leave that aside for now.

Examples of foods, or some of their components, that relate to this includes (but is not confined to): sugar/ carbohydrate, caffeine in coffee, tannins in tea, chocolate, monosodium glutamate, eggs, cholesterol, fat (especially saturated), tartrazine, allura red, cream, butter and different types of berries. Can you think of others that were good one day and ad the next? What about food that was in fashion and had become a fad and is now abhorred? Have a look at this website for examples of what I am referring to in terms of good, then bad!

Another theme which is still current is the Banting diet i.e. low carbohydrate with high fat and protein. I personally love this since I am diabetic and it theoretically allows me to braai every evening when I get home. We have seen Prof Tim Noakes being involved in a lawsuit in this regard, albeit not so much for the scientific reasons but rather from the point of view of giving medical advice.

At the end of the day, one would aim for moderation rather than going to either extreme in a diet, since all of your food components, whether good or bad, can kill you at high enough dosages. Ask Paraclesus!

L. Dolley

FoodForward SA – Community Engagement with ATS

The Agrifood Technology Station has had the pleasure of meeting with a not for profit organization, focused on surplus food recovery, called FoodForward SA (FFSA), in the last period. To find out more about them, please click on the link to visit their website. Suffice to say that it is a noble enterprise that is being used as a catalyst for social change (their words). Their model promotes 11 of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

In a nutshell, the organization receives quality bulk edible surplus food from wholesalers, retailers, and manufacturers like Pick n Pay, Shoprite Checkers, Food Lovers Market, Nestle, Clover and many others. These products are then vetted by FoodForward SA and, if appropriate for ongoing donations, a “not for sale” tag is applied and the product is then donated to member beneficiary organizations that offer feeding programs in local communities. This model is called foodbanking. In addition, where farms have surplus or post-harvest raw materials, these may also be donated in a usable form – this is their Second Harvest concept which is also practiced around the world.

So, where does ATS come into this you may ask? Good question! FoodForward SA often cannot predict what it will receive from donors. In the case of raw materials such fruit and vegetables, this sometimes poses a two-fold challenge:

    • The quantity provided is too much to distribute quickly (tons);
    • A short shelf-life product means the need for very quick distribution e.g. cherry tomatoes, kiwi fruit.

This challenge has a number of potential solutions, some of which are expensive or not totally effective i.e. long-lasting. This is possibly where ATS could play a role. The first two which come to mind are:

  1. Process product to a more stable state i.e. cook or pasteurize;
  2. Convert to an alternative-use product e.g. to a paste, powder or ingredient to be used to prepare other food products.

Obviously ATS only has limited capacity but, since an opportunity has presented itself, a trial may soon be conducted to prove this concept of assisting FoodForward SA on a small, and possibly growing basis. It would be a matter of making the way by walking it.

But hey! This is not just about what ATS may be able to do in a direct manner, but also about what we can do to promote FoodForward SA to our own stakeholders. As a start, here’s two things:

  1. ATS will promote FoodForward SA for a limited time by including the FoodForward SA logo and web link in my own e-mail signature.
  2. We ask all stakeholders who read this blog to consider which companies in the Western Cape, big or small, who could further commit to donations of appropriate food products which may end up as landfill or animal feed. Contact me directly or you could send a mail about the possibility to

Let’s see if we can help them make a further difference.

Larry Dolley


This may be a boring topic for some, especially if you do not use the services of ATS. It is lengthy but is packed with detail for those who use our services or who may wish to do so. However, in the interests of open communication, here goes!

Circumstances have dictated that we clarify our position while we are in the process of changing our Standard Operating Procedures. It is very important to us that, in doing this, we keep our existing clients as well as new incoming clients updated to minimize misunderstandings and incorrect perceptions.

Keep in mind that the Stations generally have two important outputs to meet with SMMEs i.e.
1. Innovation support and facilitation;
2. Technology transfer and localization.

Historically our pricing was done as a percentage of what commercial enterprises would charge for the same services, especially with respect to analytical work (microbiology and chemistry). We could obviously not charge more since we are not an accredited laboratory. For other types of services e.g. product and process development, our costs were estimated based on their value to a client (very fuzzy logic) and expenses roughly relating to man hours, type of expertise required and consumables (note: it is a little more complex than this but the description will suffice for now. See footnote1).

As part of our pricing, we were (and still are to a degree) able to offer a subsidy for smaller clients based on a sliding scale (the concept of “subsidy” is explained in more detail as a footnote2). This further enabled us to appeal to, and assist, techno-entrepreneurs, start-ups and smaller companies generally.

As we have evolved over the years, this mode of operation had been impacted upon by a number of things, the two key of which are:
3. Constraints in funding from our primary funder (Technology Innovation Agency) to meet our targets and to equip us adequately for some projects.
4. The legal obligation as a state-funded public institution to cost all services at “full cost”. The concept of “full cost” is explained in more detail as a footnote3. For (3) above, there are a number of ways of mitigating this risk, as outlined below:

  • Seek other forms of funding such as from DTI, IDC et al.;
  • Seek collaboratively funded projects;
  • Seek special funding for additional staff members/ contract employees/ researchers;
  • Expand our service range or renew existing services;
  • Advertise more aggressively;
  • Seek more innovation-rich projects;
  • Push up project throughput rates;
  • Generate intellectual property that could be converted to financial value or an annuity income stream.

This is by no means a complete list but, as the list grows longer, there is an implication of growth of the Station that would be required to handle the workload. Implicit in this workload is an additional administrative burden to handle the compliance issues for each funder involved and also to handle the monitoring and evaluation by the primary funder. For (4) above, the Station must (via this blog and other communiques) inform its stakeholders of the reason for an increase in the costs to which they have become accustomed over the years. For those services that are too expensive for the stakeholders, these may be done via ATS outsourcing such to commercial providers or by suggesting to clients that they use the commercial service directly. This could include an arrangement where the Station is the manager of a project during which the client takes samples from ATS for external servicing. It is important to note the following four caveats though:
a. ATS will still service internal demands from the CPUT research fraternity for those services which are more expensive than the commercial costs. The costs for this will only be restricted to expensive chemicals and other consumables required.
b. ATS will conduct such services toward student and ATS Intern training i.e. there is a solid reason for doing this.
c. Where ATS provides a legitimate community service these may also be provided at a minimum (subsidized) cost.
d. ATS still reserves the right to offer such services to clients with an appropriate subsidy to bring the cost down for specific cases where such is required. This option will be used sparingly.

All of this is a work in progress with a steep learning curve. The Station is indebted to Productivity SA through its Senior Adviser (Ms. Charlene Steyn) for conducting a training workshop for ATS staff. This contributed significantly to the process of becoming fully compliant in this regard.

Please direct any queries to us if this blog makes no sense at all!

Larry Dolley

Footnote 1:

Costing of non-routine services such as product and process development, use of the full steam line from the retort to the finished product after retorted et al. will be fully costed on a “per project” basis since there are many permutations of a set of unit operations. See later for the description of full cost.

Footnote 2:

The concept of “subsidy” as applied in the final price for a project is as follows:
Project price before VAT:       R 100.00
10% Subsidy applied:             R10.00
Project price incl. VAT:           R90.00 + 15%.

The key concept to note is that the subsidy implies that the Station has separate funding to apply such a subsidy. This means the Station still charges the full cost by taking the R10.00 from its reserves or from funding allocated to support such a project. If there are no reserve funds or special allocations, then a subsidy cannot be applied. For this reason subsidies are allocated sparingly and based on a strict set of rules.

Footnote 3:

The concept of “full cost” MUST be applied to ALL projects and quoted based on the following elements:

  • Project costs: Costs for man hours (HR), consumables, equipment time, communications, any new equipment purchased for a project, travel, IP assignment, contingencies, consulting services required, bursaries & fellowships and a margin.
  • Indirect project costs: A fee of 35% is added for these costs which includes electricity, water, IT infrastructure, CPUT administrative services, space, maintenance, etc.
  • Direct project costs: CPUT takes a percentage of the costs related to man hours above. In effect, the actual increase in project price (final cost to the client) above the Project Cost described above equates to about 12 – 15% at the end of the day depending on the nature of the project. The “full cost” concept and the “direct” and “indirect cost” concepts form part of the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act (Act No. 51, 2008) (the IRP Act) and was signed by the President and appeared in the Government Gazette on 22 December 2008, but only came into effect on 2 August 2010.

This act places a legal obligation on ALL state funded institutions conducting research and possibly generating IP (universities not being an exception) to cost projects at full cost. The percentages referred to e.g. for indirect costs, is calculated separately per university and approved by the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO).

This act serves to protect IP generated using public funds (or allows sharing of IP on a pro rata basis) and also allows university to recoup costs for the use of facilities during such research.


The use of new food product development as a capstone project for most (if not all) tertiary qualifications in Food Science and/or Technology is well over 25 years old in South Africa. From very small beginnings it has blossomed into a significant part of the training programme. It is one of the key elements in bringing the food industry into our assessment programme where students are grilled (pardon the pun) by experts on different aspects of the products developed.

For the uninitiated, students are given a theme against which product development takes place over a period of 4 months. They usually have six months to plan around this as a group after which, in their 3rd and also 4th year of study they have to execute. This execution ends up in a packaged product with appropriate labelling. Some examples are given below in which the theme was “inclusion of kelp”. Other themes related to meat analogues, soya-based products, children’s treats, etc.

However, this commentator had developed a jaded palate (pun-ish me for this J) over the years. It pointed to a need, in my mind for renewal and revitalization. However, let me be clear that the comments below are not necessarily original and possibly have been acted upon in one way or another. To give some credibility to the latter statement, I have taken advice from my colleagues in Food Science & Technology in this regard.

In my opinion (moderated by my colleagues), the NPD concept needed a hupstoot (for the language-challenged – a boost)! Either that or it must guarded against that NPD in the academic context does not become a simple “recipe and cooking instructions” process. I have been informed by my learned colleagues that the latter is not the case. However, two suggestions are mooted/ proposed for the possible improvement or re-invigoration of the concept.

Concept 1: When developing a product at kitchen scale, and if it is acceptable to the marketing people and other signatories, it would then have to be up-scaled while being compliant with all the necessary company policies and legislation. It does not make sense to develop a product for the mass market just to find out that it is not scalable due to one or other reason. As an example, if there was a big enough market, would you be able to satisfy consumer demand for pofferetjies at scale?

It is suggested that, as part of the NPD process, a professional food process engineer (or similar omnivore) be hired or enticed to donate time pro bono to assist. This person could, as part of the NDP process, provide advice on the feasibility of scaling up from the point of view of the manufacturing process. One could also extend this to an expert in procurement of raw materials – will you have enough raw material to supply an up-scaled process? Are there enough tomatoes produced in South Africa to make tomato paste? Click here if you want to know the answer!

This brings a whole new ball game and value to the development process! Imagine cross-fielding this with the Faculty of Engineering!!

Concept 2: A recent mail from a supporter of education in Food Science & Technology, Mr. Nick Starke (ex-Nampak R&D), contained a link to a website, the contents of which made an old itch revive itself and thus presenting a need to scratch. The website deals with the fact that under-privileged universities in Africa are starting to create/ build equipment for themselves due to costs and/ or availability. Read this article here!

Again, this had been a pet project of mine (in my head mostly but sometimes tumbling out of my mouth). Why not build small-scale equipment from scratch, either as a tool for demonstration or for actual use in processing? Why not make this a collaborative project with other departments in the Faculty of Engineering? An example of this is to build a small (nano-?) pasteurizer (tube or plate) to handle sample sizes of, let’s say, 20 ml?  Include sensors, pumps and a testing regime in terms of microbiology? What about any other high-value small volume liquid needing such (or similar) treatments? What about micro-fluidics and flow chemistry as a tool in this regard?

A few years ago we assisted a Department in putting together a brief to build a small-scale spray dryer. A working prototype was produced to spray dry milk using relatively inexpensive and readily available materials and parts. The potential is there!

And sure, there are commercial products at small scale. But you could, within reason, challenge students with such a theme/ request taking this beyond the textbooks and Powerpoint presentations in class. And yes, I may be over-simplifying the feasibility of doing this, but let’s see what can come of this! I have seen something similar to this at Innoventon, an institute at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth but at a scale a little bigger that what I envisage (more engineering than food though).

Concluding Remark: So, what do you as an alumnus of this institution think about these possibilities? What other re-invigoration would you suggest? Is it at all necessary?

Larry Dolley


Do you remember starting school and the point where you started learning about TENS and UNITS? If you do then you are quite young! The point here being the word UNIT(S). It’s a simple English word but with many different interpretations once you start dissecting it. What is a UNIT and how do you describe it in different situations and for different measurable parameters?

A unit = 1. This is the most basic explanation I can give. However, if we talk about time, the question is 1 what? Well, it could be 1 second, 1 hour, 1 light year, etc. Does time have length, breadth or height or does it have period? TV presenters talk about length of time and very seldom use the word period, which is probably best suited. This has been happening for a long time….there we go again! I have lots of free time that’s why I am writing this blog……or do I have lots of free periods of time?

Another quantum: “lots” or “a lot”! There were lots of people at the taxi rank this morning….or were there many people…..or was there a large number? What about volume: 1 litre and many litres, one large volume (not easily measurable), 1 millilitre (measurable), lots of water! The same descriptors in terms of quantity may apply to many different measurable parameters.

However, at the end of the day, there are a few descriptors that are more correctly descriptive rather than vaguely descriptive (number, length, period). At the same time, why worry, we all understand what is meant during casual conversation. Scientifically though, we need to be a little more specific when speaking and writing. We need to understand exactly what is being conveyed without having to redefine words as we use them.

An interesting example in casual conversation to end off this bland topic: what is one Rand? I had asked this question at a workshop when covering a section of standard units used in chemistry. It was amazing (or not so) that not one participant could define the Rand. Can you? I then used this as an example of what a standard is and how a standard is just that…..a standard… does not change! And it has a UNIT. Is the Rand a standard? If not, what is the standard in this instance?

Larry Dolley


Someone recently asked me to explain what the Cahn Ingold Prelog rules were!!! I could not! I have a vague recollection of it, as I should, based on my training and experiences many years ago. I knew it had to do with organic chemistry and that it dealt with nomenclature, especially that related to stereoisomers…….but the detail……nada!

This got me thinking, something which I occasionally do. What do I actually know? What do I think I know? What is that I know I know? What is that I know I don’t know and, taraaaa, what is it that I don’t know that I don’t know? Go here to see why this may sound familiar!

Or, to put it differently, my whole being and my reactions to my environment are based on a set of vague learnings (except for the most recent one) and which are my survival tools. This includes my operating in the academic environment. I react to all academic/ industrial stimuli based on these now vague learnings. And I generally survive!!!!!

What do I mean by vague learnings you ask? As an older person, I have formally and informally learnt from experiences and programmes and have stored such leanings (facts, factoids, etc.) as engrams in my one small skull…..or one small head as Matthew Arnold would have it! However, due to my soft hard drive not being defragmented for 61 years now, retrieving data is a bit of a problem. My capability to focus on all the detail is limited by the aberrant lens of time. Yet I survive!

How does this happen? My own explanation in quiet conversation with myself indicates that I have the ability to pull vague strands of data together to synthesize responses to my environment. All of this data, it must be remembered, was generated by my life’s learning process. And to all intents and purposes, I have been reasonably successful in surviving! Unless, of course, I survived by virtue of the Peter Principle!

I would suggest that most of this learning process and storing of this as engrams for use as I have just described had very little to do with rote learning i.e. committing large numbers of facts to memory, otherwise known as “parrot fashion” – what an insult to parrots though! And to get to my point: how much “parrot” do we need in our learners of today? Do we not influence them to think that “parrot” is the way to go? My last statement is made based on my assumption there is still a cohort of educators who either encourage or lean toward the sole use of memorization of facts by learners. This is notwithstanding the issue of problem-solving and analytical thinking being the order of the day in modern curricula.

And this is not even taking into account the nature of the (larger?) percentage of learners being more technology-savvy and who devour large amounts of media, be it social, political or technical. I also state this based on the fact that blended learning, the flipped classroom and life-long learning is the lexicon of education today. Knowing where to find information is becoming more important than having all the information in your cranium.

A final word with regard to the learning process. This relates to the rate of increase of total knowledge and also the need for the growth of the ability to handle the knowledge explosion. I think back to my first year at university. That was the first time I was introduced to Calculus. From what I now understand, keeping mind that my offspring have long left high school, this is now in the secondary phase of the teaching programme. What say we start ‘em off at Grade R on differentiation?

We need to change. I think I am proof of that. I am sure it will work much better than the pessimist would expect. I believe that, even though I have forgotten millions of facts or bodies of text, I have had a good education. I also believe that my education need not be limited to what a talking head says, but rather what a facilitator can do.

Larry Dolley

p.s. The sentiments expressed do not relate to any particular university or department. Furthermore, acknowledgement is made of the fact that certain parts of the incoming learning cohort do sit with a distinct challenge in terms of poor foundational learning and challenges  with the language of teaching/ learning and that this does not easily fit into my thesis above.


It was 2008, that wonderful time when your electricity supply was cut under the name of load shedding! Cold evening meals, darker nights with a degree of romanticism for some, or downright fear for the achluophobic (you guessed it, the name for people scared of the dark). and also unscheduled braais.

It had struck me at that point i.e. the issue of cooling beverages at the point of sale. Of course I am not referring to those which need cooling for shelf-life purposes. I am referring to simple soft drinks (also known as coorink in my childhood days in PE). Why cool them at great cost and during a period when the nation was short of electrons coming out of the electric socket into which the refrigerator was plugged? Two birds – one stone: save money and help alleviate the shortage. Up until today this still happens. Go into the big supermarkets and see the number and size of the refrigerators keeping the coorink cold.

If you are like me (an ordinary 70kg man in the street), I rarely drink coorink at point of sale or soon after buying it. When going home I do not necessarily refrigerate immediately as well. You put it in the car and, if you do not go home to refrigerate immediately, it gets warm and requires end point cooling or on demand cooling at home. I think I should patent this thought and then sell it to commerce and industry.

And the lights during that period as well. I remember walking into a 7 Eleven one evening, only to be partially blinded by the intensity of all those fluorescent tubes. Could it not have been dimmed by removing a few and contribute to both the electricity shortage as well as minimize damage to my eyes.

It would seem to me that retailers missed a good opportunity to change the consumer demand for “bright” and “cold” in these two instances. You know, very similar to the way DAY ZERO was used to scare us into reducing water consumption….and now look at us, still saving!! Hopefully you are né?

It’s all about conditioning.

Larry Dolley


What is an Internship? I suppose it depends on who you ask and in what industry sector placements happen. In the case of the Agrifood Technology Station, an Intern is a recently qualified graduate, preferably in Food Science & Technology (or Analytical Chemistry or other field as required).

Our Internship programme has been running for more than 10 years now, initially with reasonably good funding from the Technology Innovation Agency. However, this funding had been reduced significantly and the management thereof had been moved to the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research and further delegated to the South African Society for Cooperative Education. We have thus moved from the privileged position of having up to 10 Interns to the present 3 Interns, all of whom are funded by costs we recover from industry. It has thus placed strain on the capacity of ATS to conduct work just in terms of hands on board.

Our Interns are usually sought after in industry. This information is part anecdotal and part first-hand experience stemming from my interactions with industry. It would seem that, because our Interns are employed in activities relating to the real commercial world of big and smaller companies, they had developed an attitude and a set of sharpened skills which make them attractive. I personally call the experience at ATS similar to that of a finishing school. It rounds the rough edges of their skills, work ethic and personality in terms of operating in a team.

What more could a funder want? Taking raw graduates and polishing them!!! Alas, funding constraints at the Department of Science & Technology has eroded the capacity to push the workforce envelope. And yes, there are other funding streams for Internships but these are usually bound up in the red tape of application processes, the detail of which will not be expanded on here. Light at the end of the tunnel is that the FoodBev SETA had signed a contract with CPUT to allocate internship funding (hopefully 5).

Now, do not get me wrong on the cohort of Interns we have had over the years! It was not all a cakewalk in that some Interns did not perform well (a minority) or did not fit the job for one or other reason. However, we have had some outstanding Interns over the years. I had asked the collective staff in the   Food Science & Technology building to name an Intern who struck them as having had great character, skills and chutzpah! I had received quite a few names but, in the interests of brevity I have had to choose three on which to dwell. Here is a pen sketch of three (with apologies to all the other Interns):

Mr. Mmaphuti Ratau was an outstanding intern who had eventually become a Technical Assistant at ATS. This means he had completed the standard one-year contract. Since he was then also enrolled for postgraduate studies, we decided to create a new category i.e. Technical Assistant. What a pleasure to have an educated pair of hands who had some research skills and who could conduct literature searches and write summary reports.

He summarises his own experiences:

Being an Intern and TA supplemented my classroom theory with on the job-skills (practical skills). It gave me confidence in my own abilities. It also clarified the direction for my career path. I learned both the soft and hard skills. It gave me confidence during interviews as well, knowing I had this added background. The rotation between different activities (namely: microbiology lab, physical food properties, chemistry, instrument, sensory, pilot plant) made me a well-rounded individual to fit most opportunities.

 I am currently working as a Product Developer for a spice company. I just learned the difference between wors and boerewors! Oh yes, I also learned that we actually waste about 2 litres of water while waiting for the shower to get hot (in Cape Town).

Ms. Busisiwe Mazibuko, pictured below, was another such Intern. Her pleasant and sunny personality helped her do her job well, including spending a lot too much time in the microbiology areaJ However, she handled all task set for her with aplomb. See further below how she describes her own experience.

The hands-on experience we got at ATS is invaluable and it is definitely not something you can be taught in the classroom. With other Internships, you just run errands and be the “tea girl” sort of, but we were given the opportunity to be hands on, work with different equipment, run analysis/  tests ourselves, and report results. In addition, we also learnt a lot of skills like communication, team work and time management.

 As a Micro team, we used to have Monday meetings to give feedback on the previous week’s tasks. Everyone was forced to do a short report. So, I would say this helped in making a person loosen up and be able to speak to a group and answer questions.

 After leaving ATS, I worked for Task Applied Science (they do TB Clinical trials) as a Laboratory Technologist, 2 years after that I was promoted to Supervisor. I think the leadership skills I gained at ATS helped me to get that promotion. Currently, I am at UKZN, working as a Senior Technician in their plant pathology department and again, if it was not for the hands on experience i got at ATS, I would have struggled in this job.

 When I left Western Cape (ATS to be specific), I thought I would die without those Gatsby Fridays… but I got to KZN and was introduced to bunny chow. WOW! FIRE! I can now eat while sweating and blowing my nose all at the same time! #Multitasking101!!!

 Unathi Solilo is an Analytical Chemistry graduate who brightened up our lives in that particular context. I found him to be a particularly pleasant gent who is multi-skilled as he describes below. Always willing to help, even when it was more in the area of food technology itself. I think he got a lot more than he expected since his training was used specifically applied to a commodity i.e. food. I suspect that diversified is skills significantly outside of the pure analytical field of chemistry.

In his own words:

ATS has helped me in so many ways. Firstly, it helped me out of my unemployment I was in for a little over 2 years. Truly Grateful for that. It also help me regain confidence in my ability to perform well and improve my skills in the field of study I had chosen. It helped me with the skills to harmoniously work with others and be a team member others can rely on.

 It has helped me with Job Interviews (not that I had many).  ATS Allows Interns to be hands on, especially with expensive equipment. That gives a boost in confidence to be able to adapt to any instrumentation presented in front of you. So, in interviews, you can talk about something you have worked with before. I’m currently employed by the Agricultural Research Council since the time I left ATS as a Research Technician in an Analytical Services laboratory.

 On weekends and in my spare time, I created a business of my own. It is in 3 parts:

(1) Clothing Label called TOTB (think out the box) e.g. a Winter Sweater goes for R370 each.

(2) Created a Shooter I call “The Babylon Shooter” @ R15 a shooter. Pretty looking and great tasting shooter that honours and compliments Women’s beauty.  

(3) Then I Sing/Rap with a stage name Mr Babylon with a single out called ‘’Just us two”…!

 One day this year I’ll come perform a song or 2 at ATS!

I think you will agree that these are three individuals of character who will add value to an employer and to the country, both in terms of skills and also in terms of all their other character traits that make them who they are! Special!!

Larry Dolley


The food safety scenario in South Africa has, by virtue of the sad consequences of the outbreak, been given a violent shake-up. The ripple effect of this will be felt much further than the companies potentially implicated as the source of the products contributing to this. However, this blog serves to look a little deeper into some elements of the scenario, in particular the role played by the unseen cavalry which safeguards against such occurrences.

These role players are myriad in any production system and range from senior management to the person cleaning the floor. Every single employee in any food production and distribution facility has a role to play in ensuring the safety chain. More particularly, a critical part of these teams are the food scientists and technologists employed by companies. They are key to implementing, managing and conducting internal audits of such systems. Obviously there are other auditing and verification layers but these staff members are where the rubber hits the road.

On a personal level, during my teaching career, I had always advised students about the fact that they are, in essence, the guardians of public health by ensuring that safe, nutritious food enters the consumption chain. The present disaster, for that is what it is, thus serves to illustrate this point. However, notwithstanding the crucial role played by such staff, they are sometimes not rewarded accordingly. My understanding of value for money in terms of a salary is that you are paid based on the risks that presents itself in meeting your job requirements. I had written a blog in this regard previously about the plight of graduates in this field. Ensuring such safety practices in this environment does carry many risks, with failure leading ultimately to that we are reading about today.

When engaging in casual or formal talks with many different role players, it does not seem as if this is always taken into account, and recognized as such, by all companies, both large and small. In fact, in instances, the quality management and control teams are sometimes deemed a necessary nuisance and are treated as such. Similarly with salaries paid. Young food technology graduates are place in positions with a large responsibility at minimal salaries to appease the gods of food safety while minimizing the payroll. On occasion, based on adverts I see and feedback from alumni, in some smaller companies especially, employees are kept on a short-term contract immediately prior to audits to fix a system and then dispensed with soon after the audit. And one could expand on this in detail were there space for it.

I have two problems with this:
a. By devaluing the crucial role played by such persons based on an inappropriate salary certainly has implications for food safety. The incumbent feels this lack of appreciation of their role and it may, especially for younger personnel, lead to stress and demoralization. This in turn could lead to shoddy workmanship.
b. Furthermore, fellow staff may also view the position of such an incumbent as being of lower value, concomitantly affecting adherence to standard operating procedures.

We need to ensure that personnel employed in such quality assurance and control positions must be made to feel valued, encouraging scrupulous attention to food safety detail. The reward is a better internal food safety system and better compliance with good manufacturing practice.

Furthermore, some form of certification or accreditation is needed to place additional value on such positions and qualifications of the personnel involved. This needs to go beyond the tertiary qualifications needed by such personnel, akin to registration of engineers with the Engineering Council of South Africa. One avenue that may be followed, but is not yet valued by the food industry, is registration with the South African Council of Natural Scientific Professions.

In terms of the bigger picture, a valued and happy workforce will inevitably lead to better outputs, including that of food safety. Recognize your personnel involved in this crucial role or else you may have to ‘fess up one day, heaven forbid!

Larry Dolley