Sardines appear in little cans on the shelves of food stores. You may wonder how these tiny fish got into those cans or how sardine processing occurs. From cannery to shelf, here's how it all happens.

Entering the Cannery

The sardines enter the cannery on ice, in a refrigerator or pre-frozen at sea. Inspectors examine and evaluate the fish while they're unloaded. The inspectors monitor the condition of each sardine, check the temperature and collect samples for chemical analysis. Unacceptable fish do not make it to the next step. Also, frozen sardines are thawed under controlled conditions.

Continued Processing

Machines receive the sardines and mechanically remove their heads, entrails and remaining waste portions. The prepared sardines head for a conveyor belt of rushing water while the cans are sanitized and sent to filling tables in front of the now thoroughly washed fish. At this point, workers count out the correct number of sardines per can and fill them by hand. The filled cans return to a conveyor and land in an "exhaust box" that steam-cooks them and removes excess liquid.

Final Stages

Some sardines are immediately smoked and others have ingredients added, as their packing style indicates. Additional machines apply lids, codes, identification labels and seals. In the final, pressure-cooking stage, thermal processing ensures sterile product safety, and inspectors sample and evaluate the sardines for their last labeling before being shipped to stores.