Samuel Kwawukume, a master’s student in the nutrition and food science program, received scholarships from the Southern Shrimp Alliance and Florida Sea Grant this summer to support his research and work on seafood species identification in the lab of Associate Professor Prashant Singh.
“It’s a big deal for me because receiving these scholarships has made me realize that the work we’re doing is very important to the seafood industry,” said Kwawukume, who spent five years working as a food scientist prior to joining the Singh lab. “It has motivated me to continue to put in more time and effort toward helping with food safety research and food fraud.”
Kwawukume has worked with a team of Nutrition & Integrative Physiology faculty and graduate students to develop a quick and cost-effective authenticity test to identify Atlantic white shrimp.
As the most consumed and highest imported seafood in the U.S., shrimp are vulnerable to food fraud, species substitution and mislabeling. The test developed by the FSU team can identify whether shrimp samples are in fact Atlantic white shrimp in as little as two hours. The tests can be conducted on-site at restaurants, markets and other facilities using a lateral flow strip – or test strip – and a handheld PCR device.
“Every fish species has pathogenic hazards, chemical hazards, and others, so there’s a lot to be done in that area to develop more standardized hazard protocols and ensuring seafood safety within the seafood processing industry,” he said.
The scholarships will help Kwawukume continue his work on developing similar tests for other seafood species. His final thesis work is focused on developing a rapid assay for finfish species in Florida. “I hope to be a link that connects academia to the industry, making sure whatever we do in the lab, in the classroom, and in our research is applicable to the industry where people can utilize it,” he said. “And it wouldn’t just help in species authentication, but it also has economic impacts – where people are able to distinguish between fish and seafood species that are traded in the U.S.”
Kwawukume’s scholarships total $4,000. The award from Florida Sea Grant - an Aylesworth Scholarship - also includes opportunities with the Florida Sea Grant College Program.
“It’s going to be an exciting journey where I get to meet students who are also interested in seafood research,” he said. “One of the things I look forward to is delving more into food safety and seafood safety, specifically seafood hazard analysis and critical control points, which aims at preventing, eliminating or reducing food safety hazards before they get to the consumer.”
Kwawukume spent his summer interning with Beacon Fisheries Inc. as a food safety and quality assurance coordinator. He is looking forward to another semester in the Singh lab at FSU as he prepares to graduate with his master’s degree in December.
“I enjoy the lab very much because [Singh] gives you the ability to manage your own research and apply critical thinking,” Kwawukume added. “He’s a perfect mentor for me because he gives you the room to make errors and learn, and he also likes to bounce ideas around and guide you if you have any challenges ... the team has been a tremendous support to me and I’m excited about getting to graduate with these recognitions.”