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No crooked shrimp

To ensure the freshness of seafood, TÜV SÜD auditors will even bite

As a Senior Manager, Manne Sudhakar ensures the quality of seafood in all of India.
Video: TÜV SÜD

Every year, 130 million tons of fish and seafood are consumed worldwide. On behalf of distributors and customers, TÜV SÜD tests the quality of seafood products  – sometimes by taking a bite out of them!

Manne Sudhakar is wearing a hairnet, a facemask, and rubber boots. Before entering the factory, he walks through a disinfectant footbath and scrubs his hands. Hygiene is of the utmost importance in the production hall of Devi Seafoods. Every year, 12,000 tons of shrimp are produced here on the east coast of India, and Devi is India’s largest exporter of shrimp: Its products make it all the way to Germany, Japan, and the US.

Manne Sudhakar, 38, is responsible for ensuring that the shrimp live up to the high standards of their international customers. A microbiologist by training, he works as a food inspector at TÜV SÜD South Asia, a globally recognized food testing organization. With his help, distributors and consumers can be sure that all the food that goes to market is of the highest quality. Sudhakar is tasked with monitoring the production process and making sure the product does not pose any health risks. To achieve this, he oversees all the stages of production, from the moment the raw seafood is delivered to the factory to the time the packaged product is dispatched.

Shrimp belong to the order of decapods, and they are considered a delicacy around the world. Shrimp farms in the delta of the Godavari River on India’s east coast produce mainly white shrimp and black tiger prawn. Up to 400,000 microscopic larvae are stocked in breeding ponds, 6,000 square meters in size, and fed with fish pellets four times a day for three months until they can be harvested.

Devi Seafoods owns three aquaculture facilities, each with 18 ponds, in the vicinity of the small town of Tanuku. Each pond produces about 24 tons of shrimp per year. Currently, each ton brings about 8,000 US dollars on the market. The shrimp business is booming. White shrimp alone generate global sales of more than 12 billion US dollars a year.

At the fish factory, large quantities of shrimp arrive directly from the breeding ponds, on ice.

But shrimp are sensitive. If the cold chain is interrupted, they spoil. At the fish factory, large quantities of shrimp arrive directly from the breeding ponds, on ice. Then processing starts. The shrimp may have to be washed, deveined, and peeled, or their heads may have to be removed – whatever is called for. Devi Seafoods offers shrimp in almost every shape and form: with heads and tails, without heads but with tails, with shells and tails, without shells but with tails, without tails, raw or cooked, and so on. About 800 employees work on the production line in two shifts; they peel, cut, and tear at the animals, which are about 25 centimeters long. After a maximum of 45 minutes, the shrimp are packaged at the other end of the factory and stored at  minus 40 degrees Celsius in walk-in freezers until they are packed in refrigerated containers, 3,000 cartons to a container, and shipped overseas.

But first they have to make it past Manne Sudhakar. He monitors every single step of the process. He checks the temperature of the shrimp on arrival, as well as in the freezer sections and the “glory production line” – a giant assembly line that boils and scalds the shrimp. When it comes to his work, Sudhakar is a stickler for the rules: Any deviation from the guidelines and the entire batch is disqualified. Finally, the TÜV SÜD employee opens the container that is ready for dispatch and removes exactly 13 cartons. He opens the packages, takes samples, numbers them, boils the shrimp, smells them, and – eats them! After eight years on the job, Sudhakar may well be one of the most experienced shrimp connoisseurs in the world. The consistency of the sample, the aroma, the taste – all of it helps him determine whether the shrimp are of a high quality or not. He pays special attention to the “glazing.” It is perfectly acceptable and even advisable to apply a thin layer of ice to the shrimp. But if there is more ice than shrimp in the package, Sudhakar shows the producer the red card: The certificate is denied and the shrimp are not suitable for sale. The deal is off, and the product will be destroyed. Sudhakar makes it very clear: On these principles, there will be no compromise. “That’s what we’re being paid for, after all,” he says, “to guarantee the highest quality.”

If no defects are found, Sudhakar will seal the container with the TÜV SÜD seal. Three weeks later, the container will arrive in Europe, Japan, or the US. Manne Sudhakar flies back to Secunderabad for an evening with his family. Tomorrow, he’ll be off again – the next food inspection awaits, somewhere in India. Better safe than sorry.