ASTORIA, Ore. – Oregon State University has hired an alumna who is a food chemist at Oklahoma State University to head its seafood research center in Astoria.
Christina DeWitt, who has doctoral and master's degrees in food science from Oregon State University, will start work at the Seafood Laboratory on Dec. 30. The native Texan was a graduate research assistant at the lab from 1997-99.
Created in 1940, the Seafood Laboratory conducts research to help the industry develop and improve products and processing techniques. The 21,000-square-foot facility also hosts OSU's annual Surimi School in which participants from around the world learn to turn low-value fish into products that taste like expensive seafood delicacies. The lab, which collaborates with OSU’s food science and technology department, is part of the university's Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station.
As part of her duties, DeWitt will oversee the budget and staff, build community relationships, identify issues of concern to the seafood industry and conduct research that addresses those topics.
"What I would like to see is when the industry needs a problem solved, they think of the Seafood Laboratory in Astoria," DeWitt said. "It already has a good reputation nationally and internationally. Its researchers are known throughout the U.S. and abroad. I want to keep that momentum going and improve it as much as possible."
On the research side, DeWitt said she would like to find ways to reduce the amount of salt and phosphates added to seafood but still maintain products’ moisture and flavor. Processors inject the substances into everything from fillets to scallops to enhance the taste and keep the food from drying out. One possible alternative, DeWitt said, is to inject seafood byproducts, like collagen, into fish to help it retain water when it's frozen or on display.
Another area of research might involve using DNA profiling to make sure consumers really are getting the seafood they think they're buying, she said.
"A lot of products out there might not be the fish they profess to be,” DeWitt said. “Someone might pass off a farmed salmon for a wild salmon. There's no quick way to determine this. People have been trying to come up with more rapid detection systems and there are some interesting new technologies in development based on DNA detection."
DeWitt joins a team that includes food scientists Jae Park, known for his work with surimi and fish proteins, and Yi-Cheng Su, whose research has focused on reducing pathogens in seafood. She replaces Michael Morrissey, who moved to Portland to head OSU's Food Innovation Center there.
At Oklahoma State, DeWitt is a professor in the animal science department and her research has included studying ways to reduce additives in beef and pork to make the meat healthier. She said she'll bring what she has learned from working with the meat industry to her new job.
"This background will help me think more outside the box with regards to the seafood industry,” she said. “When you come from the outside, sometimes it brings a different perspective."
The coincidence of working for two universities with the same acronym and colors hasn't escaped DeWitt.
"It's kind of strange how my life has been circling around orange and black and OSU," she said. "Luckily my wardrobe doesn't have to change too much."