Evelyn Watts: Keeping Louisiana's seafood safe

Evelyn Watts gets to combine three of her favorite things in her job: people, seafood and traveling.

As a seafood extension specialist with the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant, Watts spends a lot of time meeting people who work in the industry and teaching them the best ways to process safe, high-quality seafood products.

“I help the industry understand regulations so they know how that applies to their facilities and to their processes,” she said.

She also conducts research on seafood topics. One project has involved studying how different methods of processing crawfish affect the amount of fat in tail meat. Processing has evolved significantly in the past 30 years, she said.

It once was common for crawfish to be boiled, peeled while still hot and then sold fresh in grocery stores. Now, it’s typical for crawfish to be steamed, chilled, peeled, packaged and frozen before it’s shipped to stores. Watts’ studies have found that the modern method helps preserve more fat — and flavor.

Watts said she has enjoyed developing relationships with regulatory agencies, university colleagues and those who work in the seafood industry. Many crawfish peelers and crab pickers in Louisiana speak Spanish, which is Watts’ native language.

“Whenever I walk in a processing floor, it is really nice the way that I can actually interact directly with them,” she said. “I talk with them. They are willing to help and listen to things I have to say.”

Watts never thought she would have a career in food science and food safety. She grew up wanting to have her own pet clinic and studied veterinary medicine at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala. She was required to take microbiology and food safety classes — and she ended up falling in love with that subject area.

She went on to earn a master’s degree in food safety from the University of San Carlos followed by a doctorate from LSU in food science.

She enjoys putting her skills to use while getting to explore Louisiana.

“I’m not native to Louisiana, but Louisiana is my home, and through my work, I get to enjoy the best of Louisiana — that is their people and their food,” she said.

People looking at bins of crawfish

Evelyn Watts, at right, inspects crawfish at a processing facility in Eunice.

3/26/2021 4:24:29 PM
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