“The process of aseptic cold filling was of great interest to the non-alcoholic drinks sector in particular,” according to a renowned exhibitor summing up the last drinktec in 2005. Since then interest has continued to grow, with cold-aseptic processes proving more popular than hot fill and filling using cold sterilisation agents. drinktec 2009, which is taking place in Munich from 14 to 19 September 2009, brings together all relevant producers of cold-aseptic beverage filling technology at one exhibition site, giving visitors a fantastic opportunity to compare the two processes.
Consumer demand is growing for more natural beverages, i.e. those with no preservatives, and for products with additional benefits. As far as possible beverages with little or no carbonation, and often with a high pH-level that makes them very easily digestible, should be offered to consumers. This calls for aseptic cold filling, which allows the implementation of consumer-oriented product concepts, providing the public with beverages that have been bottled gently, with no additional thermal stress, as is the case with hot filling for example, and no added preservatives.
Recommended for many beverages
Aseptic, cold-aseptic, sterile, beverage-sterile – many terms are used to describe ‘aseptic filling’. The process involves bottling a product at ambient temperatures, that is without tunnel pasteurisation or hot filling and without the use of preservatives or cold sterilising agents, in such a way that it attains a specified shelf life. The products are only briefly heated before filling. Aseptic filling is recommended for beverages such as fruit juices, tea beverages, sports drinks, vegetable juices, spritzers, milk-based mixed drinks, UHT-milk (ultra-high-temperature milk), near-water drinks and flavoured waters. It can be used for both still and carbonated beverages. The international fruit juice industry will be discussing what it expects from cold-aseptic filling in the future at its annual convention ‘International Fruit World’, which for the first time will take place on 15 and 16 September in parallel with drinktec, with the motto ‘From the tree to the bottle’.
Wet or dry?
Drinks cartons have been filled aseptically for decades. Cold-aseptics is the state-of-the-art process, but with relatively low throughput volumes and a firm commitment to the suppliers of the packaging material. Aseptic filling is ‘relatively’ new to PET containers, but has been undergoing practical testing for over a decade. Basically, two processes have emerged, ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ sterilisation, both with specific advantages and disadvantages.
In the ‘wet’ aseptics process, containers are sterilised using peracetic acid and steam. The steam from the peracetic acid/steam mixture is used solely as a carrier medium, distributing and activating the disinfectant. It ensures that the entire surface is moistened and also disinfects the atmosphere. This minimal use of disinfectant makes highly effective germ reduction possible. At the same time the fasteners are disinfected with peracetic acid in a fully-automated process in a dipping bath.
In some cases, instead of the commonly used wet sterilisation process using peracetic acid, a dry sterilisation process using H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) is recommended. H2O2 is the classic and widely used disinfectant in the milk industry in particular. H2O2 is also the disinfectant commonly favoured by users changing from carton packaging to aseptic PET filling. Users who have to contend with high water and waste waster costs are also advised to use dry sterilisation. Everyone is eagerly waiting to see how producers have improved the processes, and which way the trend is going. Perhaps there will also be a move towards plasma sterilisation, which has been talked about for years, but has not yet made a breakthrough?
Since the last drinktec 2005, the microbiological safety of the aseptic filling process has been further increased by all producers through a wealth of measures. For example, treatment for the exterior of the bottle has been improved, the sterile area has been divided off from the non-sterile area even more rigorously, and hygienic materials, e.g. stainless steel instead of plastic, are used.
Are cleanrooms getting even smaller?
Cold-aseptic filling is now a widely used process that is consistently being adapted to new demands. For example, rising energy prices are having an effect on energy efficiency in mechanical and plant engineering, and thus companies are focusing on economic efficiency. For this reason the cleanrooms are getting smaller and smaller when aseptic processes are used, thus reducing energy requirements, improving operations, saving time and money and increasing operational safety. Will they be even smaller at drinktec 2009? In any case, the greater use of aseptic filling has clearly contributed to the success of PET bottles in certain segments.
Fully integrated system ensures efficiency
An aseptic system must always be implemented and complied with consistently. Only a fully integrated system can ensure the efficiency of a cold-aseptic process. The peripheral equipment must be right and do the groundwork for the aseptic process, or be aseptic itself. For example, this applies to the process technology for the flash pasteurizer or ultra-high temperature system, to the mixer with sterile buffer tank, the aseptic fittings and to the media preparation of disinfectant solution, sterile water, sterile air, steam and inert gas.
A cold-aseptic filling system can replace hot-filling processes, or bottle and can filling systems that use tunnel pasteurizers. There must always be an integrated approach in which equal attention is paid to filling safety, operating costs and operating safety, and which factors these aspects in during implementation. The opportunities provided by cold-aseptic filling mean that filling plants are investing in the future of their company, which will be able to implement new, consumer-oriented product concepts. drinktec 2009 is the optimum information platform for that purpose.
drinktec is the world fair for beverage and liquid food technology. It is the most important trade fair for the sector. Manufacturers and suppliers from all over the world – global companies and SMEs alike – meet up here with all the key producers and retailers of beverages and liquid food products. Within the sector drinktec is regarded as the number one platform for launching new products on the world market. The fact that the entire production chain is represented at drinktec emphasises the fair´s role as the world´s leading trade fair for the sector. Manufacturers come along to present the latest technology for producing, filling and packaging beverages of all kinds, as well as liquid food – including raw materials and logistics solutions. A special feature of drinktec is that entire machinery systems and plant are set up here and demonstrated in action – this kind of a display is unique to drinktec. drinktec 2009, which takes place at the New Munich Trade Fair Centre from 14 to 19 September 2009, is expected to attract around 1,500 exhibitors from around 60 countries, and around 70,000 visitors from over 160 countries.