School Drink Vending Packages Have a Whole New Look

Aseptic processing and packaging helps milk replace soda in vending machines ... and is getting a lot of interest from other applications.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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Aseptic Solutions USA LLC (www.asepticusa.com), Corona, Calif., is working toward receiving a LONO for its operation, which features a rotary filler supplied by Procomac (www.procomacit.com), Sala Baganza, Italy.

Industry observers say Aseptic Solutions wishes to fill not only HDPE but also polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles with low-acid products, which is making it more complex to get the LONO. The chemical used to sterilize the bottles is the key complication. Hydrogen peroxide — the commonly used, FDA-approved sterilant for low-acid aseptic filling into HDPE bottles — is not compatible with PET. And peracetic acid, which can be used as a sterilant for PET, has not yet received FDA approval.

But that time is coming. "Procomac is moving forward to assemble data on filling low-acid products aseptically on its rotary fillers using a peracetic acid-based sterilant," says Gordon Bockner, president of Business Development Associates Inc., a Bethesda, Md., consulting firm. Ultimately Procomac will present the operational data to the FDA for validation.

In the past year, two peracetic acid-based solutions have received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This is required before FDA validation of an aseptic process can be granted.

Most recently, in December 2006, Ecolab Inc. (www.ecolab.com), St. Paul, Minn., announced it had received EPA registration for a patented peracetic acid-based sterilant. The product was developed for use in aseptic filling of low-acid beverages into PET bottles.

According to Ecolab, the sterilant will help dairy-beverage bottlers lower their aseptic packaging costs, because it can be used at lower operating temperatures than hydrogen peroxide sterilants. This will drive down energy costs and enable the use of lighter weight containers, which will in turn reduce materials and freight costs.

"There is no question about the growing interest in low-acid aseptic bottling. I believe the container of preference is going to be a PET container as opposed to an HDPE container with a full-body shrink label, which is a more expensive package because of the label," Bockner says. "This is a market that's poised to happen. All the ingredients are coming together. If you were to name the next half-dozen tsunami-type changes in the food packaging industry, one of them would have to be low-acid aseptic."

In addition to dairy products, low-acid beverages such as green tea, functional waters and coffee or tea with milk are positioned to grow. Aseptic processing is appealing for these products because it uses a short exposure to high temperature, which is gentler than hot filling on delicate flavors, nutrients and ingredients.

In addition, for both low- and high-acid products, aseptic packaging eliminates the need for preservatives; shelf life is assured without them. This all-natural characteristic is attractive to the growing number of consumers interested in healthy dietary choices and to the processors who want their business.

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