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A golden age of aseptic packaging?

Recent developments have some observers wondering if the U.S. is on the threshold of some kind of golden age of aseptic packaging.

It’s not just the massive investments in new facilities made this past year by consumer packaged goods companies, including Nestlé in Anderson, IN, HP Hood in Sacramento, CA, and SunOpta in Modesto, CA. New twists on technology have also surfaced.

The so-called “dry” decontamination approach from Sidel is but one example. Using vaporized hydrogen peroxide to sterilize PET preforms instead of the more conventional use of hydrogen peroxide to sterilize blown bottles saves huge amounts of rinse water and minimizes the amount of hydrogen peroxide required. The first company to commercialize Predis was a dairy in France (see Byrne Dairy in Syracuse, NY, is just weeks away from shipping extended shelf life (ESL) milk in PET bottles produced on the Predis system.

Surfacing out of New Zealand is a system from Xenos Aseptic Beverage Systems. The company’s managing director, Mike Rockell, told Packaging World in October that the technology works like this: “Our method of sterilization is based around dilute hydrogen peroxide and UV light. Individually they are not effective, but in combination, they are extremely synergistic to give a rapid and effective kill. The principle has been around for some 30 years. It’s been applied to cartons, but to the best of our knowledge has not been applied to bottles until now. We are using our technology commercially in our own factory, where we are copacking for our customers. We are also supplying an aseptic filling line into Brazil, which will be commissioned over the next three weeks.”

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Equally fascinating is electron-beam curing, an approach to container sterilization that does away with chemicals altogether. In October, U.K. dairy Farmright Group began deploying technology provided by Advanced Electron Beams  to produce single-serve, 0.44-oz pouches of milk and coffee creamer that have a shelf life of 180 days.

Farmright group technical director Charles Wait says a modified Ropak pouching system is used to produce the Dairystix container. “We take a roll of film and feed it through the EB unit before it comes to the sterile zone of the filler,” he says, adding that film is a critical component. “Operating on a continuous-motion system at these speeds, we only have 220 milliseconds to seal the film. The sealant layer is crucial, as is the UV-light barrier and the oxygen barrier.” Farmright uses a coextruded structure with polyester and ethylene vinyl alcohol.

Dairystix in 200-ct cases are sold to airlines and foodservice distributors. Case erecting and sealing equipment from OK Intl. is used in the case-packaging operation. The pouches also make their way to the retail channel through the Tesco supermarket chain, where cartons of 20 are being sold. A subcontractor handles cartoning.

Even cap sterilization is getting its fair share of attention. At Drinktec in Munich this past September, GEA Procomac featured its Sterilbeam system, which uses electron-beam sterilization on both flat or sport caps. Says Procomac: “It uses simple electron emitters to produce electrons and focus into beams, which are directed to cap surfaces. Very short treatment times (measurable in terms of milliseconds) are needed to achieve high kill rates for bacteria, molds, and yeasts.”

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