Retiree's Lunch Update August 2021

Written by  Dr Richard Thwaites, FRACI CChem

Published 3 September 2021

A sumptuous trip down memory lane – a feast for discerning diners, although we were all having to eat our sandwiches at home because the meeting was online.

Tony Zipper entertained us to stories of scientific discovery and technical development.  Tony has spent a lifetime in the food industry, working with some of the industry giants, developing new flavours and fragrances, conjuring up new product ideas, some of which were very successful, many of which were well before their time and others sank without a trace.

Tony told us about his early years at RMIT and some of the people he worked with.  He mentioned the real heroes of the Australian food industry he knew like Malcolm Bird and many others and talked about some of his RMIT exam projects, like determining the dye contents of hundreds and thousands (sprinkles, nonpareils and muisjes) which involved separating them into their different colours, a fairly delicate and time-consuming task. 

Tony showed slides of early laboratory work and “bucket” chemistry.  OH&S people of today would have been horrified:  hardly a skerrick of PPE in sight.

A slight digression from the food industry:  the discovery of heavy metals, particularly chromium, in the Yarra, which turned out to be extremely high due to the presence of tanneries in the early days of Melbourne, in one of which Tony worked at in the early 1960’s.  Whilst the disappearance of manufacturing in Australia is to be deplored, the disappearance of indiscriminate and irresponsible pollution by industry is not necessarily a bad thing.

Working with CUB, Tony became involved in hops, hop extracts, and the determination of iso-humulones.  But then it was discovered that flavour and fragrance company, Bush Boake Allen, had already patented this technology, leading to a feast for the lawyers and a costly resolution.  (And real hops probably tasted better than synthetic extracts prepared by solvent extraction anyway.)

Tony spent some 5 years with CSIRO researching things like the effects of high pressure on phenol derivatives, and developing new cloud seeding chemicals to initiate rainfall.  One of these was found to be a molecule used in hormone replacement therapy.  It was deemed it would be safer to stick with silver compounds rather than drenching an unsuspecting population with products designed to alleviate the adverse effects of menopause. 

Tony joined Bush Boake Allen in 1969 and stayed until 1982 and was involved in the development of fragrances for detergents (working with Albright & Wilson (Australia) Ltd’s Peter Strasser for many years), flavours for foodstuffs and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and investigating emulsifier systems for carbonated fizzy drinks (xanthan gum).  He became involved in organisations like the AIFST, becoming the Victorian Chair and National President and among other things was instrumental in establishing the 1st ASEAN congress in Singapore.

Tony mentioned his work with Dragoco on a flavour for “Cherry Ripe” for the USA, Lawrence Foods, and Griffith Laboratories.  He told of his lecturing at William Angliss College and then his ventures into the pharmaceutical industry, developing excipients, actives and flavours, particularly for cough mixtures like Benadryl, and the problems he encountered on discovering that castoreum extract was not a vegetable product, but rather an extract from the male organs of beavers:  not a good discovery when the end product was promoted to vegetarians.

For the past 20 years or so, Tony has worked as a consultant to the food and pharmaceutical industries, running his own company, Nifloaus Pty Ltd, trading as Professional Food and Pharmaceutical Services.  Much of his work today revolves around regulations, involving the safety of ingredients, labelling provisions and ensuring his clients meet all the various standards and requirements.  And that the consumers of the products are not unwittingly poisoned.

So, thank you, Tony, for a really enjoyable presentation, which brought back many memories of people, events and products of yesteryear.

The next meeting of the Retirees will be a Virtual Zoom Conference on Tuesday, September 7th, at 12 noon.

Hope to see you soon!

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