Nine critical considerations for aseptic processing in food and beverage
Whether you’re doing a brand refresh, looking to reach new consumers or want to expand your product offerings, adding aseptic processing for your food and beverage manufacturing can be a boon for your operations.
One of the biggest benefits of going aseptic is producing high-quality food and beverage packaged goods that are shelf stable for long periods of time under normal storage conditions. Because the products don’t need to be refrigerated in the supply chain or at the retail outlet, you can not only save the cold chain costs but also extend your distribution to new markets, inside and outside the United States, while keeping your production centralized. The long shelf life also means your production schedule will become more stable, allowing for accurate planning for both standard and seasonal products and generating cost savings due to longer run times and fewer product changeovers.
Plus, aseptic processing may even allow you to reduce or eliminate preservatives in your product. This offers marketing opportunities for the growing number of consumers who want clean-label packaged food and beverages that are sustainably produced.
Sounds like a win-win, right? It can be, but making the switch to aseptic processing needs to be carefully considered.
Nine things you need to know about food and beverage aseptic processing
1. Product compatibility
The first step in planning for aseptic processing is to determine whether aseptic processing is compatible with your product. While many products can benefit from this process, it is important to understand the changes in sensorial that the process can create as well as cost and regulatory constraints. Aseptic processing can be applied to any liquid products with or without particulates.
2. Equipment and packaging costs
Once you understand your product and your market, you will also want to consider the cost of equipment and packaging materials and assess the requirements of the new process and the changes needed in your facility.
3. Hidden costs
Take “hidden” costs, such as infrastructure requirements for product and packaging sterilization, added instrumentation, personnel training and regulatory compliance, into consideration. Estimates for initial capital outlay could be as much as two to three times the costs of fresh production. Plus, project stakeholders need to consider the research and development effort for new packaging and closure design, which could include new secondary and tertiary packaging requirements. The costs of such requirements and changes are useful in determining the return on investment.
4. Commitment from management
It is very important to obtain a commitment from management to devote the proper amount of resources and time to tackle the added requirements posed by aseptic processing. Management must be ready to provide support to the quality assurance department for training, validation and documentation during installation and production. Validation of aseptic processes is not a single-time operation but a holistic approach that starts at product and process development and ends when a product or equipment is retired. The approach must include product development, equipment commissioning, plant startup, microbial validation, changes in process or product, change management and product and equipment decommissioning.
5. R & D and QA involvement
Once the equipment has been chosen, research and development and quality assurance must be involved in converting formulas and developing new products and formulations for aseptic processing.
6. Early alignment
To boost your speed to market, align the marketing, research and development and engineering departments early in the process. Be sure to clearly define the roles of each person working on the project and lay out the project’s goals, which should be benchmarked by phases.
7. Food safety
The safety of food and beverages produced is of paramount importance. Because aseptic packaged products are shelf stable, they are stored at room temperature. If proper processing and packaging is not performed, these products can be compromised, putting the consumer at risk. Every process step and piece of equipment involved in aseptic processing must be designed and validated to consistently produce safe and quality products.
All operations personnel, including plant management, quality control, maintenance and engineering, must be properly trained on the production of high-quality and safe foods. This training should not only include Current Good Manufacturing Practices and Better Process Control School but also provide ongoing professional development and refresher courses. Training must be an ongoing process to prevent complacency.
Document and properly store secure electronic and/or hard copies of production records dating back three years. QA should closely review batch/lot records and closure integrity and only release products that are up to required standards. If deviations are observed, then a root cause analysis must be performed and corrective action taken and documented.
Aseptic processing brings many advantages to food and beverage producers but must be evaluated carefully.