Manufacturer’s Quick Guide to Aseptic Food Packaging

When food must be pure, aseptic packaging helps make it so. Whether you manufacture baby food or beverages, the packaging that you rely on can either support sterility and purity, or it can become a hurdle to overcome. Flexible film packaging is in the former category.

If you want to save costs and improve quality by moving away from retort packaging or you need any solution that is better than what you use now, here is what you need to know.

What is Aseptic Packaging?

When food must be sterile, so must the food packaging. Aseptic food packaging is sterile so the pure, sterilized food has the greatest chance of staying that way through every link in the chain.

Typically, aseptic food processing involves a sterilization, either through quick, ultra-high temperatures or sometimes through ultraviolet light, and a sterile environment using sterilized equipment. Sterile food packaging is filled with the sterilized food and sealed to protect it from contamination.

In some cases, food and packaging are sterilized together. This is called retort packaging, which is similar to a food canning process. Packing is filled and sealed, then the sealed unit is heated to kill any bacteria that may be present. This can be an expensive approach.

Aseptic packaging is sterile before it is filled with sterilized food. Unlike retort packaging, aseptic packaging usually does not require further sterilization after it is filled and sealed. The inspection process should be filed with the FDA and meet FDA standards for sterility of the product, sterile zones in the manufacturing process, the packaging system, and the materials used in aseptic packaging.

Flexible packaging

Aseptic packaging keeps your sterile food sterile and helps improve the shelf life of fragile products.

What Is Happening in Aseptic Packaging Today?

Food manufacturers now have a few choices for aseptic food packaging. According to the University of Guelph,  these are the primary types of sterile food containers widely available today.

  • Fill-and-seal: pre-made containers that are sterilized, then filled and sealed
  • Form, fill and seal: flexible film materials that are sterilized, formed into the packaging shape needed, then filled and sealed
  • Erect, fill and seal: cartons that are built, sterilized, filled, and sealed
  • Thermoform, fill and seal: flexible film materials that are sterilized, thermoformed in a sterile environment, filled, then sealed
  • Blow mold, fill and seal: a wide range of possible materials, such as bag-in-box and laminated plastics, that are sterilized, filled, and sealed

Advances in aseptic packaging speed, scalability, strength of materials used, resistance to contamination and effective sealing technology make flexible materials an increasingly better choice for food manufacturers.

Where Can You Find the Aseptic Packaging Solutions You Need?

Flexible film materials and aseptic food packaging processes go hand in hand. With ever-improving technology in barrier films and lighter, high-capacity options, costs go down while quality goes up.

Take the IBC Pillow-Shaped Liner, for example. IBC tote liners are shaped like a pillow and use multiple layers of low-density polyethylene (LLDPE). With the addition of a barrier film, they are ideal for aseptic applications.

IBC liner production is closely monitored using sophisticated equipment. During production, if any issue arises, such as a detected faulty seal, the entire production line comes to a halt. That prevents faulty seals from making their way into your packaging.

When food sterility matters, aseptic food packaging helps you meet your goals. It is flexible, both in a literal and a figurative sense, and it helps reduce costs by as much as 40 percent, depending on what you use now.

If you are ready to learn more, we are ready to help. Contact us for a free sample and download our corporate brochure today.

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What Is Sustainable Materials Management?

Sustainability is such a vague term, it is no wonder so many companies have a vague idea about how to set and meet sustainability goals. As it applies to the environment, sustainability means getting the job done—whatever it is—without causing harm or impairing anyone’s ability to live well. More generally, it means reducing the negative effects that you have on the environment.

Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) seeks to reduce or eliminate the negative environmental effect of materials used in business throughout the material’s lifecycle. Significant gains have been made in the packaging industry, but it is just getting started.

SMM and the Circular Economy are Similar, but Not the Same

Some green-friendly terms are used interchangeably, even when they are substantially different. Sustainable Materials Management and the Circular Economy are on the same environmentally-aware wheel, but they are different spokes.

SMM examines and evaluates materials from numerous angles. The one with the lowest carbon footprint, as well as that can be determined, wins. The Circular Economy focuses on stopping the cycle of “virgin materials in, dead waste materials out.”

The Circular Economy reduces the volume of new raw materials to manufacture a product with a strong focus on recycled content. SMM recognizes that recycled content might not be the greenest approach.

Sustainable packaging materials

Even with increased participation, recycling and the Circular Economy are imperfect.

Recycling Has Limitations

Communities across the country have recycling bins for residents. Some cities require participation. In others, it is more of a suggestion. Either way, the country as a whole has a long way to go before all that can be recycled is recycled.

The weak link in the chain, according to Sustainable Packaging Coalition associate director, Adam Gendell, is manufacturer demand for post-consumer recycled content. He tells Packaging Digest that recyclable packaging is readily available. However, there is not enough demand to complete the circular economy by pulling those materials back into manufacturing.

With a sustainable materials management approach, businesses have more options, at least for now. Gendell says they are both vital to the future of sustainability. If one packaging material is not recyclable or does not have many viable recycling options, it still might be greener than the recyclable alternative. That is the case with many flexible packaging materials.

SMM Strategies Give Manufacturers More Packaging Choices

From the SMM standpoint, sustainability goals are met using the best option available. In some cases, recycled materials really are a better choice. Sometimes, they are not. Flexible packaging is not currently among more readily recyclable materials, but across the whole lifecycle, it is still greener than some materials that seem better at face value.

Think about glass packaging. It is recyclable. Cardboard is, too. However, flexible packaging materials are smaller and lighter. Transportation does not contribute as much to carbon emissions, and there are no emissions from a recycling process. Flexible materials such as the IBC High-Barrier Foil Liner can also enhance product safety and freshness, which reduces product waste.

Meta Pail packaging is also lighter than the alternatives and the LLDPE or HDPE pail and corrugated container are recyclable. What is more, there is ongoing research into recycling flexible packaging and getting plastics back into the cycle. Plastics Make it Possible says Materials Recovery for the Future is working on a solution for recovery.

Sustainable Materials Management lets you evaluate packaging products on all of their merits. Flexible materials might not seem to be as environmentally sound as materials that are frequently recycled. However, in the bigger picture, you will see lower costs, less storage space, fewer carbon emissions from transportation, less product waste, fewer virgin materials than some packaging with a post-consumer recycled content, and a more cost-effective product.

Download our corporate brochure to learn more about our environmentally-friendly flexible packaging options.

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New Alliance Aims to Standardize Sustainability in Flexible Packaging

One of the few perennial snags with flexible film packaging has been limited recycling options and participation. These plastics are generally not recycled to make new food packaging materials, and other recycling possibilities still need to be researched. Unification in testing and designations for recyclability are what the new coalition, Global Plastics Outreach Alliance, aims to resolve.

Three plastics recycling groups have partnered in the coalition: The European PET Bottle Platform (EPBP), Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) and The Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR). Their goal, according to Packaging World, is to globally simplify plastics recycling protocols for a streamlined process that benefits everyone.

Existing Testing and Design Protocols Vary

All of the groups included in the coalition have developed plastics recycling design and testing protocols. They help determine what is recyclable and how to go about it. The problem does not lie in a lack of research and development, but in protocol consistency around the world.

APR president, Steve Alexander, tells Plastics Technology Online, that the differences between protocols have created a complicated testing process with more steps than should be necessary.

“Differences between our protocols may require a company to conduct three separate tests to achieve the same recyclability designation. We hope to clarify those differences and align all segments of our testing protocols.”

Global Protocols Promote Recycling Innovation

There is no shortage of research and testing in plastics recycling. With every link in the supply chain more committed to sustainability goals, not to mention consumer demand, more manufacturers have committed to developing testing protocols. However, the differences from one organization to the next, says Alexander, require as many as three different recyclability testing processes just to achieve the same designation.

PRE president, Ton Emans, says the coalition should fill a void in the plastics recycling industry. With the “tremendous amount of work done” to improve recyclability, now the industry needs a “coordinated voice.”

EPBP representative, Andreas Christel, says the industry needs simplification. The fewer complications that engineers and designers face, the more innovation can flourish.

Flexible packaging

Unification reduces the possibility of error, speeds up the process, and keeps everyone in the chain on the same page.

Plastics Testing Should Become Streamlined and Reduce Costs

With APR, PRE, and EPBP working together, the future of plastics recycling should become much simpler. Without the coalition, innovation would continue and protocols would evolve. However, they could grow further apart, creating more challenges and unnecessary steps across the industry instead of fewer hurdles.

APR communications director, Kara Pochiro, explained to Plastics Recycling Update that currently, all of the processes are “very similar.” By aligning now, the organizations can grow stronger and more effective together. Innovation that benefits everyone can be shared across the industry. Testing protocols can be developed as a group and implemented at every link in the chain.

In the future, plastics testing for recyclability should require only one step, says Pochiro. Whether for recycling in the United States, the European Union or any other participating country, one test makes the process quicker, less costly, and less confusing.

Currently, recyclability in flexible packaging materials is one of the few enduring challenges. It is not that the plastics are not recyclable, but that there are not enough opportunities to do so. Options for manufacturing using recycled flexible materials also requires further research. In this environment, the Global Plastics Outreach Alliance could advance recyclability testing and support sustainability goals in a significant way.

Check out all bag-in-box packaging options available from CDF by Download our Bag-In-Box brochure.

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High Pressure Processing and Flexible Packaging: A Perfect Match

Food manufacturers are under a lot of pressure to produce high-quality products with clean ingredient labels.

Many of them are responding by putting the food itself under pressure.

High pressure processing (HPP), sometimes referred to as hydrostatic pressure processing, preserves food by literally squeezing the life out of microorganisms that cause spoilage. This is accomplished by putting the product into flexible packaging, placing the packages in a chamber filled with water, and inducing hydrostatic pressure in the water of between 43,000 and 87,000 pounds per square inch. This pressure produces corresponding pressure inside the package that is lethal to bacteria, spores, and other microscopic life; it also degrades certain enzymes that would otherwise break down the food. The result is a shelf-stable product.

HPP has a significant advantage over retorting (canning), aseptic processing, and other processes for shelf stability. It does not subject the product to heat. This preserves the food closer to its original state, which is especially important for food that probably will be consumed cold, like juices or salsas. It also accomplishes preservation without chemicals, which is important for processors who want to show consumers a simple, short, wholesome-sounding list of ingredients on the package.

“High pressure processing equipment has allowed our company to provide clean labels to consumers,” Mike Durbin, manager of engineering and plant maintenance for juice producer Evolution Fresh, said in a trade show panel discussion reported in Packaging World magazine.

Minimally processed products with clean labels are especially important in categories like baby food. That is why Johnny Kien, who launched Keen Bean Baby Blends (after founding Green Carrot Juice Co.), chose HPP to process his line of baby food with ingredients like goji, acai, hemp hearts, and chickpeas.

Flexible packaging“It is time to start serving our little ones real food,” Kien told Food Processing magazine. “Our product is as close to homemade, mama- (or dada-) fresh as possible, with the convenience of a spout pouch.”

The technology has been around for about 30 years, with pureed avocados being the first commercialized HPP product. Most foods processed with HPP are at least semi-fluid, such as dips, salsas, and “wet” salads like coleslaw. However, the technology has expanded to solid foods like deli meats. Because the pressure comes equally from all sides, it can treat a whole piece of food without causing damage.

HPP must be done in flexible packaging; rigid packages would not be able to transmit pressure internally. Much of the processing is done in pouches intended for individual sale, but HPP is also done in bulk flexible packaging. This is seen most often in foodservice, where, for example, smoothies in an HPP bag-in-box could be loaded into a dispenser, and in delis and other ready-to-eat areas in supermarkets, for items like bulk wet salads.

By the same token, ingredient processors can use HPP to ship minimally processed, shelf-stable ingredients to their food manufacturing customers. Being able to ship and store high-quality products and ingredients without refrigeration opens up an exciting new dimension for food processors and their suppliers.

Download our Bag-In-Box brochure to learn more about flexible packaging options today!

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Factors to Consider When Making the Switch from Rigid to Flexible Packaging

The 2016 State of the Flexible Packaging Industry report showed continued, steady growth, making flexible packaging one of the fastest growing segments available in America. The Flexible Packaging Association says flexible materials grew at a rate of about 2.2 percent for $31 billion in sales that year.

Why should that matter to you? Because in the U.S. and around the world, flexible materials are not just growing in popularity, they are becoming one of the most technologically advanced options you can buy.

Chances are, you have at least considered whether or not you should transition from rigid or semi-rigid containers to flexible options. Before you make the switch, here are a few factors to ponder.

Is There a Flexible Solution for Your Product?

Perhaps the most important factor in deciding whether or not to switch to flexible packaging is whether it will work for you. If the product that you manufacture cannot be safely, easily, and affordably contained, the discussion is probably over.

Fortunately, there is an enormous array of flexible packaging solutions for everything from fresh foods to hazardous materials.

  • IBC liners use multiple layers.
  • Metallized polyester creates a safe water vapor and oxygen barrier.
  • LLDPE films offer crack resistance and durability in a general purpose film.
  • Co-extruded nylon is strong and guards against abrasion damage.
  • UN-certified materials protect the product and the environment.

Through laminating technology, you are not limited to one film only. Combining films lets you customize to meet the needs of the product, the filling machinery, handling practices, environmental factors, storage limitations, and end-user preferences.

Flexible packaging

Your transportation partner might love you for switching from heavy, fragile glass to light, durable flexible packaging.

Can Your Supply Chain Handle a New Packaging Material?

Switching to flexible materials affects not just your business but everyone else’s in the supply chain from the transportation company to the end user. If you switch packing to flexible materials, are your supply chain partners equipped to handle the change?

Flexible packaging is usually easier to handle, not more difficult. It is less prone to breakage and it is much more lightweight than glass, metal, or rigid plastics. Because flexible materials hold more with less, the same product volume takes up less space. There are fewer transportation vehicles needed and less space in storage.

Flexible packaging also helps keep costs down for everyone involved. In fact, cost reduction is one of the most attractive and universal benefits. Packaging Strategies reports that over time, the smaller, lighter qualities could translate to big savings in fuel costs, handling, storage, and product loss.

What are Your Green Manufacturing Goals?

Does your business have green goals? Many companies do, but there is a point where you might hit a wall. Rigid containers can only offer so much toward lowering your carbon footprint. Flexible materials are designed for it.

Unfortunately, when some people think “flexible,” they think “plastics that do not degrade.” It is time to put that notion to bed. Flexible materials are incredibly green and Earth-friendly. Here are just a few of the numerous reasons why:

  • Fewer raw materials
  • Significantly less packaging waste
  • Smaller dimensions
  • Fewer transportation vehicles
  • Lower fuel consumption
  • Fewer carbon emissions
  • Smaller storage areas with less reliance on fossil fuels for conditioning
  • Longer shelf life at room temperature
  • Recyclability (in some, but not all, cases)

If there is room to improve your green manufacturing practices, flexible packaging might be the answer for which you are looking.

No matter what product you manufacture, freshness is vital. Dry goods go stale, fresh foods spoil, and food-borne illnesses put everyone at risk. For foods, better freshness protection by way of improved packaging means less food waste and a lower risk of people getting sick.

One of the most relevant examples today is fresh food and water delivery to people who are desperate for it, such as those who have survived a natural disaster and people living in poverty-stricken areas. Some films also go from refrigeration to heat for cooking without the need for a skillet, pot, or utensils.

Flexible materials offer a longer shelf life, protection against contamination, UV resistance, and many other benefits under extreme conditions. Imagine how they can perform for you.

If you are committed to rigid packaging because it is familiar, think of the humble butter wrapper. It is flexible and it has been around for generations. Flexible materials have expanded beyond the feed sacks and sugar bags of 100 years ago because they work and showed great potential. Food manufacturers around the world are moving toward flexible film packaging now because it works better.

If you are on the verge of making the switch from rigid containers to flexible packaging, we can help. Download our Bag-In-Box brochure for more information.

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