Reformulating for Aseptic Processing

Shelf-stable products are a boon to foodservice but a bear for processors’ product development labs.

By Kantha Shelke, Ingredients Editor

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Cottage cheese, a popular diet order in restaurants, offers great margins when served customized with toppings. But its short shelf life and the design of the traditional containers is cumbersome for chefs. That is, until Lyons Ingredient Div. (www.lyonsmagnus.com), Fresno, Calif., adopted aseptic processing to ensure longer shelf life of cultured cottage cheese. The company also uses a one-way flow mechanisms to prevent back-contamination. Aseptic fruit or salsa allows for safe and easy customization of cottage cheese and does away with the need for hydrocolloid stabilizers and texturizers.

Aseptic and extended shelf life technologies are changing how Campbell Soup Co. (www.campbellsoup.com), Camden, N.J., makes its signature products. An industry–government–university consortium led by SIG Combibloc (www.sig.biz) won FDA acceptance of a method for aseptically processing foods containing finite-size particulates. The result was Campbell’s Select soups.

Textured particulates also are important for higher-end smoothies. “Superior taste and the perception that juice is good food has helped sustain the halo effect of the smoothie category,” but so has the maintenance of real fruit pieces, according to Alan Williams, chief tasting officer at Maui Beverages (www.mauibeverages.com), Danvers, Mass. Williams credits aseptic processing for not developing the “jammy” taste of hot-filled ingredients used in competitors’ smoothies.

Six-month milk

It was a long time in coming, but the FDA recently approved the aseptic bottling of low-acid foods, including milk. Dallas-based, Morningstar Foods (www.morningstarfoods.com), a Dean Foods subsidiary, and Jasper Products (www.jasperproducts.com) of Joplin, Mo., were among the first dairies to produce single-serve milk bottles, which are becoming a hit in vending, foodservice and quick-serve restaurants. Aseptic milk can be shipped and stored on-site without refrigeration and its six-month shelf life far outdistances that of fresh milk.

Only a few years ago, HP Hood (www.hphood.com) was a relatively small regional dairy based in Chelsea, Mass. In 2000 it built its first plant outside the Boston area, in Winchester, Va., specifically to produce aseptically packed products and immediately won a huge co-packing contract from Nestle. Now Nesquik flavored milk and Nestle Coffee-Mate, as well as Lactaid, Stonyfield Farm Organic Milk, Southern Comfort Eggnog and Hood Carb Countdown are produced there in aseptic bottles. And Hood is now a $2.3 billion company.

Portability with healthy attributes is the holy grail for any food product. More than three-fourths of milk drinkers are children under the age of 12, and much of their consumption these days is purchased in drive-through or carryout restaurants and is consumed in moving vehicles.

Horizon Organic (www.horizonorganic.com), Boulder. Colo., figured organic would be a key addition to the paradigm, so it developed an aseptically processed line of flavored milk products. “Organic Milk-on-the-Moo-ve” is now found everywhere from Starbucks stores to vending machines in schools and work places. “The demand for selling liquid dairy products through vending machines is phenomenal growth,” according to Andrew Dun, director of global food service at Tetra Pak. “The vending channel, originally designed to handle shelf-stable items like soft drinks, candy and snacks, was not suitable for perishable beverages until aseptic shelf-stable milk was developed.”

Single-serve coffee creamers have been shelf-stable for a while. Now Goodwest Industries (www.goodwest.com), Parkerford, Pa., is supplying the coffee counters of convenience stores and institutional foodservice channels with large dispensers of aseptically packaged cream to lower the cost and eliminate the waste of the smaller creamer cups.

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