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What's new in aseptics?

The technology's been out of the headlines lately, but it's not out of the hearts and minds of R&D'ers and product managers.

There are some new things happening in aseptics. Behind the facade of inactivity, there's a whole lot of marketing and R&D brainstorming going on. And the participants are voicing quiet confidence, restrained optimism. The technology has mellowed.

Aseptic preformed PET bottles

Aseptic sterilizing and filling systems for preformed PET bottles have been operating in Europe, Japan and Canada for a number of years. Early in 1993, the Fresno, Calif.-based contract packer Lyons-Magnus formed a joint venture with Septipack, Inc. of Baltimore to set up an aseptic PET bottle line for contract packing. O Fraiche Waters, Inc., Parkton, Md., is the first customer. Lyons-Magnus is packing flavored, non-carbonated spring waters for O Fraiche on a Remy aseptic filling machine (Model 7024AS 24-valve volumetric filler/capper) - reportedly the first installation of its kind in the United States. Septipack is the U.S. sales agent for Remy.

The Lyons-Magnus/Septipack line is set up to run 12-oz and 1-liter PET bottles with 28-mm neck finish. A tubular heat exchanger system is up-stream of the filler. Bottles and caps are sterilized with oxonia and then rinsed with sterile water just prior to filling and capping.

The O Fraiche flavored spring waters contain no preservatives and are calorie- and sodium-free. Three flavors are available - lemon-lime, orange and wild berries. The water first was introduced in California and the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area. In late August 1993, 7-11 stores in the Mid-Atlantic region began marketing the line.

Septipack president Herve Franceschi has told Food Processing he believes aseptic PET has outstanding potential as packaging for several products beyond flavored spring waters - for example, isotonic beverages, flavored teas, yogurt drinks, sauces, dressings, condiments and "diet" versions of existing noncarbonated beverages which are currently hot-filled. Explains Franceschi, "While the hot-pack process would virtually destroy aspartame, the aseptic process does not."

Aseptic squeezable bottles

The Jel Sert Company, West Chicago, Ill., is using an aseptic blowmold/fill/seal system manufactured by Automatic Liquid Packaging (ALP), Inc., Woodstock, Ill., to package its Mondo [TM] Fruit Squeezers. Company vice president Kenneth Wegner told Food Processing, "This is a true aseptic product filled in a totally enclosed sterile atmosphere." The five-flavor (tropical punch, berry, grape, orange and cherry) line of 10% fruit juice drinks moved into national markets in February 1993. The drinks are being marketed in six-packs of tamper-evident, 8-oz HDPE bottles with built-in twist-off tops. They have a label-declared two-year shelf life.

General Mills has been in the vanguard of commercializing squeezable juice drink packaging. Its Betty Crocker brand Squeezit 10% fruit juice drinks are aseptically processed, and the plastic bottles are sterilized. But filling is done in a laminar air flow-protected environment, rather than in an enclosed sterile chamber. That means they cannot technically be categorized as full-fledged aseptic products. GM calls them "near aseptic." As GM quality and regulatory operations manager Lloyd Moberg explained to Food Processing, a microbe-free laminar air flow over the filling surface protects against contamination. The finished products can thus be marketed as shelf-stable, non-refrigerated products.

Squeeezits rolled into national markets in February 1993. But as General Mills spokesperson Pam Becker told Food Processing, first market tests of the product were launched way back in 1985, and regional distribution began in 1987. In July 1993, the Betty Crocker Squeezit line was extended to include Squeezit 100 - 100% fruit juices. The juices are marketed in six-packs of 6.75-oz bottles. "We created the squeezable drink bottle category, and between May 1992 and May 1993, overall sales in that category grew 80%," reported Becker.

GM uses a Rommelag blowmold/fill/seal system. The machine can blowmold polypropylene or polyethylene bottles with built-in, tamper-evident twist-off closures. Container sterilization is accomplished by the heat used to form the bottles. The machine can handle both high- and low-acid, liquid and viscous products.

Kraft General Foods also is marketing juice drinks in squeezable plastic bottles. The Kool-Aid KoolBursts line, however, is not aseptic and is not produced on blowmold/fill/seal equipment. Instead, according to unconfirmed reports, KGF uses preformed bottles and a hot-fill/hold process to achieve shelf stability.

Conquering low-acid particulates

With a few notable exceptions like Quaker's Oat Cups and some cheese dips with jalapeno pieces, low-acid aseptic products containing particulates have not yet made their way into the U.S. retail marketplace. This category of products falls under heavy scrutiny from the FDA because failure to "cook" low-acid particulates all the way through could open the door to potentially serious food safety problems. Aseptic consultant Allen Dal Porto addresses the FDA's position on aseptic low-acid particulates in a provocative guest editorial on page 75 of this month's issue of Food Processing.

Ohmic, RF, microwave and high-pressure processing of particulates may offer some new avenues to assuring proper sterilization. Ohmic electrical resistance sterilization of particulate food products has moved beyond the R&D stage into commercial reality in Europe and Japan. In the United Kingdom, Sous Chef (a unit of H.J. Heinz) is commercially producing shelf-stable meat and vegetable entrees using ohmic processing. The company's Deeside, England, plant has an APV ohmic electrical resistance heating system hooked to a Bosch TFA 2506 thermoform/fill/seal tray machine. Ohmically sterilized Pedigree Pal pet food containing 26mm meat chunks also has been produced in the United Kingdom. In this application, the production line links an APV ohmic system with a Tetra Pak aseptic carton form/fill/seal machine. And in Japan, the Wildfruit Division of Nissei Co. is ohmically sterilizing whole strawberries in syrup for aseptic bulk bag-in-box packaging.

Radio frequency technology, already being touted as an important processing advance for bakers and snack manufacturers (see July 1993 Food Processing cover story), may hold similarly promising potential for aseptic particulate applications. Proctor Strayfield, an RF oven manufacturer, has been running pilot tests to determine the effectiveness of radio frequency cooking and sterilizing of a broad range of products - for example, ground poultry meat, diced potatoes, scrambled eggs, and other pumpable liquid and viscous products, some with large particulates.

The food is processed in a specially engineered plastic tube or series of tubes which can be oriented either vertically or horizontally. Electrodes positioned around the outside of the tubes emit radio frequency waves. The high-frequency dielectric energy causes the water molecules in the food to vibrate. This rapid directional realignment causes molecular friction, generating high, uniform heat even at the core of the particulates - regardless of their size or shape. Since high temperatures are reached rapidly, degradation of the product due to long heat exposure can be avoided.

Microwave sterilization is another potential means by which low-acid particulates might be processed for aseptic product applications. As with RF, microwave processing is faster than conventional heat processing, resulting in reduced heat damage.

High-pressure processing also may have application in the aseptic processing of some foods. Pressure can inactivate microorganisms and commercially sterilize the product. And because no heat is applied, no heat degradation of product flavor, color, texture or nutrients occurs. The technology is still in its infancy, though R&D seems to be gaining momentum. (See article by Dr. Dan Farkas, Oregon State University, in August 1993 Food Processing.)

Making the aseptic carton


Optimists suggest the odds are improving that a number of low-acid, particulated products such as soups and stews will be cleared by the FDA. The challenge of making the aseptic carton microwaveable then becomes more urgent. The foil barrier layer of the structure blocks microwave penetration. And rather than cede an entirely new aseptic product category to aseptic plastic and glass systems, the carton contingent intends to compete for a piece of the action by finding a suitable microwave-transparent alternative to foil.

Ed Haines, vice president of public affairs, Tetra Pak Inc., told Food Processing, "We have been looking at various barrier replacement materials. But there's been no sense of urgency. Until particulate foods move into aseptic packaging, there won't be an extensive need for microwaveable aseptic cartons. In the meantime, foil gives the best barrier at the lowest cost. But we continue to focus our research on a microwaveable package that is both functional and cost-effective."

Combibloc, the other major force in the aseptic carton business, has told Food Processing that its parent company PKL Verpackungssysteme GmbH has developed a non-foil package for microwave applications such as soups and sauces. Susan Levine, Combibloc's vice president of marketing, reports, "We will have the capability to produce this package in the near future. At this point, information about the barrier to replace foil is proprietary and subject to patent application."

Big opportunities in bulk

and portion packaging

Ingredients and condiments aseptically packaged in large or bulk sizes for foodservice and industrial use have almost unlimited potential. Already bulk aseptic pouches, aseptic bag-in-box packaging and aseptic drums have become commonplace among foodservice operators and food processors because the process and package deliver product with high-quality color, flavor and texture and extended nonrefrigerated storage life. This storage life advantage also opens the door to more export markets.

Products aseptically packaged for foodservice and industrial use run the gamut from high-acid liquids like juice concentrates to high-acid particulate-containing sauces like pineapple chunks in juice to low-acid products like cheese sauces.

In the foodservice sector, aseptic portion packs of liquid creamers and various condiments for single-serving use also are well-established. Again, the shelf-stability factor serves these hotels, restaurants, institutions markets well.

Ultra Products Corp., Phoenix, Ariz., has taken aseptic coffee creamers to a new level with its summer 1993 introduction of Ultra-Cup [R] Flavored Creamers. The line includes Amaretto, Irish Creme and Mocha flavors. Director of marketing Bob Adamick explained that the liquid non-dairy creamers are pasteurized at ultra-high temperatures (UHT) and packaged on vacuum form/fill/seal machines manufactured by Bosch and Hassia. The Bosch machines sterilize the formed cups and lidstock with hydrogen peroxide, while the Hassias use steam sterilization.

The cup web is a polystyrene-based structure, and the lidstock is a foil laminate. The aseptic creamers are shelf-stable for 150 days.

Ultra Products has been a leader in the aseptic coffee creamer category and actually launched its operations in 1987 as a result of McDonald's Corporation's interest in introducing aseptic coffee creamers to its U.S. restaurants. By 1992, the company was supplying UHT processed and aseptically packaged real dairy half-and-half creamers to approximately 5,000 McDonald's locations. Other customers include airlines, convenience store chains and private label coffee and specialty dairy companies.

Aseptic packaging also works well for the delivery of products destined for dispensers at foodservice locations. Jim Davis, vice president of marketing for Lyons-Magnus, reported some new developments in this category. Lyons-Magnus is marketing aseptic pancake syrups in 64-oz Combibloc cartons. At the restaurant level, the syrup is transferred to syrup warmers and pitchers. Another aseptic entry is hot chocolate drink base, which L-M is packaging in 1-liter Combibloc cartons for the Paulig Group, Helsinki, Finland. The aseptic drink base is being marketed to foodservice operators in combination with the TAZZA Chocolate Drink Maker. The 1-liter carton yields 40 6-oz cups of hot chocolate drink.

Lyons-Magnus also is the first to package products in Combibloc's new Pour 'n Seal [TM] cartons with plastic recloseable flip-top fitments. L-M is packaging 46-oz 100% juice in the recloseable packaging. After the carton is scaled, the fitment is applied by a special continuous-motion, highspeed applicator unit. Consumers lift the hinged lid and push down on the tab to break the package seal. After portioning out the desired amount of product, the user or foodservice operator can reclose the carton to keep unused product fresh longer.

Combo-pack potential

still largely untapped

Single-serving aseptic cartons, cups and bowls lend themselves to incorporation into multi-component, prepackaged meals or snacks - for instance, an aseptic milk marketed with a bowl of cereal, or an aseptic juice marketed with peanut butter crackers. The concept has potential both for retail and foodservice.

Bryan Foods, a Division of Sara Lee Corp., recently has launched some interesting combo-pack products sporting an aseptic component. The Lunch 'n Munch [TM] line features an aseptic carton of juice along with a four-compartment modified atmosphere-packed tray containing ham, cheese, crackers and cookies. A newer, expanded version, Lunch 'n Munch [TM] Lunch Box [TM] , includes two mini modified atmosphere-packed meat/cheese sandwiches, a brownie or other dessert, a bag of snack chips and an aseptic carton of juice drink. Because of the MAP meat and cheese components, the products require refrigeration.

Similarly, "Fun Packs," a new addition to the Oscar Mayer Lunchables line, includes MAP meal components and an aseptic juice box.

Aseptic ship ahoy!

Launched in June 1993, the Ouro do Brasil is 564' long and has a holding capacity of 3.2 million gallons of orange juice concentrate or aseptic single-strength juice. It's a ship so big that it had to be built in two parts and welded together in the water. FR Manufacturing and Phil Nelson, renowned aseptic expert and head of the Food Science Department at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., conferred on the design of the ship's cargo hold and aseptic pump system.

Built in Norway and contracted to transport product produced primarily by Citrosuco Paulista of Brazil, the vessel's cargo hold features all-stainless steel walls, ceilings and floors and 16 vertical stainless steel, 200,000-gal tanks. The Ouro do Brasil transports product from Brazil to Europe, Japan and the United States.

Doug Nicol of Citrus Coolstores, Inc. - a tank storage and distribution center handling product produced by Citrosuco Paulista - confirmed to Food Processing that plans are under way to build a second aseptic ship. Perhaps one day an entire aseptic fleet will be sailing the world's waterways. The United States at times sources up to 50% of its orange juice from Brazil.

Aseptic basics

Products are defined as "aseptic" when the food or beverage and the package are sterilized separately and brought together in a sterile environment for filling and sealing. This procedure renders the packaged products shelf-stable without refrigeration.

The package typically is sterilized through use of hydrogen peroxide rinse, steam or heat. The food or beverage can be sterilized by application of high, quick heat, normally under pressure. In the case of low-acid products such as milk, the heat treatment may be 300 F for two to four seconds. High-acid products such as fruit juices require even less time and slightly lower heat. This ultra-high temperature (UHT) processing technique minimizes heat damage to product flavor, color, texture and nutrients.

Low-acid particulates - for example, meat chunks - present a special sterilizing challenge for UHT processing. But new technologies such as ohmic (electrical current), radio frequency, microwave and high-pressure processing are building momentum to make a run at this hurdle.

The following companies offer aseptic processing and packaging systems, expertise, test facilities and consulting services. For more detailed listings, see the Food Processing Guide & Directory.

Advanced Food Sciences Inc., subs. of Land O'Lakes (ohmic processing, testing and product development), Minneapolis

Advanced Group Companies (aseptic systems consulting), Stockton, Calif.

APV Crepaco (aseptic processing and ohmic heating systems), Lake Mills, Wis.

Aseptic Resources, Inc. (aseptic processing/packaging consultant), Overland Park, Kansas

Astec (aseptic systems engineering and consulting), Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Automatic Liquid Packaging, Inc. (blowmold-fill-seal system), Woodstock, Ill.

Berstorff Corp. (microwave sterilization technology), Charlotte, N.C.

Robert Bosch Packaging (full range of aseptic fillers to handle variety of container types), South Plainfield, N.J.

CAPPS-Center for Aseptic Processing & Packaging Studies, North Carolina State University (aseptic processing/packaging R&D), Raleigh, N.C.

Cherry-Burrell Corp., Process Equipment Div. (aseptic processing systems), Louisville, Ky.

Combibloc, Inc. (aseptic carton f/f/s systems), Columbus, Ohio

FMC Processing Systems (FreshFill plastic cup and ELPO bag-filling systems), Madera, Calif.

FR Mfg. Corp. (aseptic pouch systems), Stockton, Calif.

Graham/Dole Engineering (aseptic canning systems), York, Pa.

Greif Brothers Corp. (aseptic fiber drum systems), Delaware, Ohio

Hassia USA (steam-sterilized aseptic cup tf/f/s systems), Somerville, N.J.

Healthstar, Inc. (blowmold/fill/seal machines in aseptic and near aseptic modes), Quincy, Mass.

Hema USA (rotary aseptic fillers for glass/plastic), Sandy, Utah

Ilapak, Inc. (Verpaco aseptic tf/f/s machine), Newtown, Pa.

Inpaco (aseptic pouch systems), a Liqui-Box Corporation, Nazareth, Pa.

International Paper Co. (aseptic carton f/f/s systems), Purchase, N.Y.

Jagenberg Group - Autoprod, Erca, Formseal, Gasti (wide range of tf/f/s and fillseal aseptic systems), Clearwater, Fla.

T.W. Kutter, Inc., a Tetra Laval Group USA company (OMAC microwave sterilization system), Avon, Mass.

Liqui-Box Corp. (aseptic pouch and bag-in-box systems), Worthington, Ohio

Manzini Comac, member of the Sasib Group (aseptic bag-filling system), Richmond, Va.

Marlen Research Corp. (aseptic processing systems), Overland Park, Kansas

Microdry, Inc. (microwave sterilization technology), Crestwood, Ky.

Microthermics, Inc. (aseptic processing consultation and testing), Raleigh, N.C.

National Food Laboratory, Inc. (aseptic processing consultation and testing), Dublin, Calif.

Newitt Aseptic Services (aseptic systems consultants), Carol Stream, III.

Proctor Strayfield, Div. of Proctor & Schwartz, Inc. (RF Magna-Tube processing technology), Horsham, Pa.

Purdue University (aseptic processing/packaging R&D), West Lafayette, Ind.

Radio Frequency Co. (RF processing systems), Millis, Mass.

Rapak Inc. (aseptic bag-in-box systems and Astepo aseptic fillers), Hayward, Calif.

Raque Food Systems, Inc. (aseptic particulate fillers), Louisville, Ky.

Remy & Co. (aseptic systems for plastic and glass containers), via U.S. sales representative Septipack, Inc., Baltimore

Rommelag USA (blowmold/fill/seal systems), Fords, N.J.

Scholle Corp. (aseptic pouch, fiber drum and bag-in-box systems), Northlake, Ill.

Serac (aseptic fillers for plastic containers and aerosol cans), Addison, III.

Sonoco Products Co. (aseptic fiber drums), Hartsville, S.C.

Spartanburg Steel Products Inc. (aseptic stainless steel bulk containers), Spartanburg, S.C.

Stork Food Machinery, Inc. (aseptic processing systems), Chicago

Tetra Pak Inc., Tetra Pak Packaging Systems (aseptic cartons f/f/s systems), Chicago

Tetra Pak Inc., Tetra Pak Processing Systems (aseptic processing systems), Pleasant Prairie, Wis.

The difference between

aseptic and 'ultra clean'

It is improper to use the terms aseptic and ultra clean interchangeably, though sometimes some people do. We asked Tom Szemplenski, president of Aseptic Resources, Inc., Overland Park, Kansas, to pinpoint how ultra clean strays from the aseptic path.

Szemplenski explained, "Ultra clean products are aseptically processed, and the product is filled and sealed in a sterile chamber. But the packaging is not sterilized prior to the fill/seal procedure. Ultra clean products typically are produced to provide extended refrigerated shelf life."

The nisin connection

Aseptic processing technology advances may not be the only way to circumvent long heat treatment for shelf-stable, low-acid particulate foods. Innovative use of spoilage-combating ingredients that are not classified as preservatives may play a pivotal role.

During a recent visit to the Food Science Department at Purdue University, there was some animated discussion going on about nisin. Nisin is a naturally occurring chemical produced by bacteria. Peter Muriana, assistant professor of food microbiology, explained, "Nisin is inhibitory to a broad spectrum of Gram Positive bacteria - many of which are food - borne pathogens and sporeformers. But nisin does not inhibit Gram Negative organisms and, therefore, is not effective in applications where G(-) spoilage organisms are problematic. Theoretically, if nisin were incorporated into food formulations where the target microorganisms are Gram(+), the food could be processed with lower heat and still have extended shelf life." Currently, however, the only allowable application for nisin in the United States is in pasteurized/processed cheese spreads where it controls outgrowth of C. botulinum spores.

Muriana pointed out that nisin has much broader food application clearance in other parts of the world, where it's being successfully used as a shelf life extender. He said researchers in industry and academia are gathering documentation demonstrating nisin's efficacy as a preliminary to filing nisin petitions with the FDA.

Is it really yogurt?

Heat treatment kills the cultures in yogurts. Therefore, the question of whether aseptically processed yogurt is real yogurt still surfaces occasionally. From a regulatory stand-point, the answer depends on what country you're marketing in. The World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization codes require the presence of active cultures. Regulations in many European countries prohibit heat-treated yogurt from being labeled as yogurt. The FDA says yogurt may be heat-treated after culturing to extend shelf life, but the product label must declare "heattreated after culturing." This labeling requirement presents a marketing disadvantage - which is one reason aseptic shelf-stable yogurts are conspicuous by their absence from U.S. grocery store shelves.

There's no doubt that from a marketing and health standpoint, product containing live cultures holds the advantage. Marketers of traditional refrigerated yogurts containing live cultures play that up in their labeling - for example, "with active yogurt cultures," "living yogurt cultures," or "contains active cultures."

Theoretically, live cultures might be added after the product is aseptically processed. But cultures are bacteria. So the addition of the live cultures would render the product no longer commercially sterile. It's a sticky, wicket.
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Title Annotation:packaging
Author:Rice, Judy
Publication:Food Processing
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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