Have you ever wondered what it's like to master the art of trimming and filleting? Everyday, workers at our processing plants work vigorously to process and pack the fresh fish that you receive every day.

In order to meet our tilapia demand while maintaining quality and consistency; the Tropical Packing group in Ecuador established "La Escuelita" [The Little School] in 2009, a training academy for tilapia processing.

"La Escuelita" was created with a focus "to motivate our plant workers to master filleting and trimming techniques by providing them with a place for skill practice and improvement", said Shirley Santos, Administrative Manager at the academy. Students at "La Escuelita" are instructed on how to perform key and specialized techniques on the production floor.

The program consists of a two-month training period and can accommodate up to 20 students per class. Both, internal workers and external candidates can apply to "La Escuelita". Upon successful completion of the program, graduates have to opportunity to earn a better income when working on the tilapia-processing floor.

The program is composed of 4 stages:

  1. Selection Process
  2. Training on Basic Techniques and Concepts
  3. Perfecting the Technique
  4. Final Grading and Graduation

Once admitted into "La Escuelita", hands-on training on basic techniques and concepts begins. Students are assigned a working station where they are instructed step by step on filleting and trimming techniques of various product specifications. They're trained on:

Types of Cuts (trimming and filleting)

  • Timing
  • Productivity
  • Yield and Quality
  • Correct Tool Handling

This makes up 70% of the overall training on basic techniques and concepts. The remaining 30% of training in stage 2 is complementary theoretical training on:

  • Internal Labor Guidelines
  • Procedures
  • Quality and Production Control
  • Compliance with Certification Standards
  • Health and Personal Wellness
  • Importance of Communication and Teamwork

In Stage 3, students master the already practiced techniques and guidelines by putting them to practice directly on the processing floor. To measure progress, consistency and improvements, all students are evaluated on a weekly basis throughout all stages of training.

Upon successful completion of the program, graduates are assigned to work with either the filleting or trimming production team. Each graduate undergoes a training follow-up within a month of graduating from the program to reinforce all knowledge. In addition, ongoing evaluations on yield, productivity and quality of their work occur on a monthly basis.

Enrolling in "La Escuelita" provides graduates with knowledge on processing procedures, quality standards, food safety and personal well-being. In addition, specialized training gives our plant workers "a sense of belonging and commitment to the company in regard to compliance with product specifications", commented Ines Chiriboga, Quality Manager at Tropack.

By Susan Greeley, MS, RD

Nutritionist_Susan_GreeleyIt's the season for grilling, but according to the National Fisheries Institute, any season and every season is good for seafood, thanks to both advances in aquaculture (fish farming) and cold storage capabilities. Since the national government is encouraging all of us to eat more seafood with its "MyPlate" recommendation to choose seafood at least two times per week, those advances also make putting diet recommendations into practice more doable.

Take "MyPlate" a step further with "The Healthy Eating Plate", created by nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, which guides consumers to the healthiest choices in the major food groups. When it comes to proteins, fish is listed first, with good reason. Fish and seafood offer a wealth of nutrition.

Here is a seafood sampler:

Shrimp -These little sea creatures offer great low-calorie lean protein that's loaded with the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin, a red-orange carotenoid -- like lutein and carotene -- that also gives salmon its pink color and most likely contributes to the heart health benefits of both. Shrimp also contain a variety of minerals, particularly selenium, and even boast a fair amount of vitamin D, which is imperative for bone health and immune system function.

Salmon - Most everyone knows salmon is one of the best sources of "good" omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for human health, but our body cannot produce them all; therefore they must be consumed through your diet. These essential fatty acids support our cardiovascular and immune systems, neurological development and overall functioning. Salmon are highest in DHA -- one of three omega-3's, and as with shrimp, salmon also gives us some great minerals and potent antioxidants from the natural rich red-orange color.

Trout and Tilapia - These are two delicious, delicate white fish that also pack in lots of lean protein, vitamins and minerals for a few calories. Their mild flavor makes trout and tilapia an excellent choice for kids meals.

Surf vs. Turf -Regardless of the seafood you choose, it wins out over red meat in the fat department. Seafood is the heart-healthy choice, as it offers more good fat but lower total fat versus red meat, which is the main source of unhealthy saturated fats in the American diet.

Go-To Grill Foods

If that's not reason enough, swimsuit season gives all of us motivation to focus on healthier plates and to make seafood some of our go-to grill foods for summer.

That's an important point because while summer and grilling are an obvious pairing, that doesn't mean you should load up on burgers, steaks, hot dogs and other meat. For better health and great flavors, make your summer sizzle with fresh seafood complemented with a combination of fruits, vegetables and herbs straight from the garden.

Here's a summer challenge: make it a goal to eat seafood in place of red meat and processed meats several times a week in order to boost omega-3 fats in the diet and displace some "bad" saturated fats, as well as lower calories and cancer risks.

At your next outdoor party, serve up seafood ceviche, vegetables and hummus instead of cheese and crackers or chips and dip as appetizers. For the main event, grill a variety of seafood including fish and shellfish in place of brats and burgers, and be sure to avoid burning it.

For whatever reason you choose, making summer synonymous with seafood is easier than ever. If you're not on vacation at the beach surrounded by fresh, local selections, you can still simply enjoy being "in vacation mode" and cooking great seafood from local supermarkets. Paired with summer's fresh produce, you'll find that going for the surf with no turf makes for some great summer grilling that's bursting with nutrition and flavor.