A Ultimate Guide to Aseptic Filling Technology for PET Bottled Beverages

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As packaging for food, the main requirements are:

  • Ease of storage and transportation.
  • Reducing any loss of the original product’s quality.
  • Causing no extra harm.
  • Enhancing sensory enjoyment.
  • Having a reasonable price.

Currently, liquid food is packaged using regular packaging, secondary sterilization packaging (including canning, bottling, and bagging), hot filling, vacuum packaging, inflatable packaging, radiation sterilization packaging, and aseptic packaging.

Aseptic packaging of liquid food is a new technology that has rapidly developed in recent years due to its distinct advantages.

Aseptic food packaging refers to sterilizing liquid food in a sterile environment, sealing it in sterilized containers, and achieving a longer product shelf life without the need for preservatives or refrigeration. In simpler terms, aseptic packaging involves sterilizing before packaging, while non-aseptic packaging involves packaging first and sterilizing later or packaging without sterilization.

A guide to aseptic filling technology for pet bottled beverages boosting your industry knowledge for improved results

1. The main advantages of sterile packaging.

1.1 Under sterile conditions, aseptic packaging can retain food’s nutritional content and flavor to a greater extent while reducing loss.

Aseptic packaging facilitates ultra-high temperature instant sterilization methods to disinfect food before packaging, whereas other forms are complex. Table 1 compares the loss of nutrients in milk from different sterilization methods, while Table 2 compares the loss of vitamin C in orange juice from other sterilization methods.

Comparison of the loss of nutrients in milk caused by different sterilization methods

Table 3 compares the impact of different sterilization methods on the loss of VBl in chicken soup.

 Comparison of the losses caused by different sterilization methods on the VC of Fanhe juice

1.2 Compared to the aseptic filling method, PET bottles filled with hot filling have lower packaging costs, as shown in Table 4.

Table 4 Comparison of bottle costs (total production of 100 milion)

As production volumes increase, the equipment investment allocated to each product will decrease further.

1.3 Convenient for storage and transportation, aesthetically pleasing, and welcomed by merchants and consumers.

A complete aseptic packaging production line includes:

  • A raw material (food) sterilization system.
  • An aseptic packaging machine.
  • A method for supplying packaging materials and items.
  • An automatic cleaning system.
  • An equipment pre-sterilization system.
  • An aseptic environment maintenance system.
  • An automated control system.

Currently, thermal sterilization is the primary method used for packaging material sterilization. Depending on the raw material’s viscosity, thermal sensitivity, and production scale, plate, tube (coil or column), scraped surface, or hybrid heat exchangers can be used.

Beverage manufacturers have developed direct heating methods such as steam injection, steam mixing, and overheated water mixing to reduce the raw material’s heating and cooling time. Recently, an Ohmic heating system has also been developed and produced.

Chemical disinfectants are commonly used for sterilizing materials or containers, but thorough cleaning and drying are required to minimize chemical residue (≤5.0×100%). Many aseptic beverages packaging systems use overheated steam or sterilization with air, while some use disinfectants for sterilization.

To maintain a sterile environment, sterile air or sterile ammonia is commonly used through either positive high pressure or laminar flow, depending on the specific requirements.

2. Several types of PET bottle aseptic filling lines.

The technology filling technology of PET bottles has gone through several stages of development, resulting in the creation of several types of aseptic filling production lines.

2.1 Not Controlled Contamination Aseptic Filling Line

The production line utilizes already manufactured PET bottles, which undergo chemical sterilization before entering the purification room for filling. The process is shown in Figure 1.

 NCC production line flow chart

The advantage of this system is that it can use glass or plastic PET bottles from various sources and with varying degrees of initial contamination. The initial cost is relatively low and can be designed to maintain sterile conditions automatically.

The disadvantage is that it consumes a large amount of sterilizing solution, involves too many system components. The PET bottles are easily trapped during transport, requiring multiple operators and challenging maintenance. The direction for further improvement is to simplify the process, increase automation, and make it easy to operate.

2.2 Controlled Contamination Asepetic Filling Line

This system utilizes a two-step blow molding process to produce new PET bottles. The PET bottles then enter a sterile room through a sterile channel, where they undergo chemical solution washing, sterilization, sterile water rinsing, filling, and sealing in a purification room. Refer to Figure 2 for the process flow.

Flow chart of CC type production line

The advantages of this system include reduced consumption of sterilizing solution, high filling speed, fewer units used, only one person required to operate, less occurrence of bottle jamming and bottle destruction, and improved working conditions for operators.

One remaining issue is the need to continuously monitor the contamination level of PET bottles entering the sterile room. This requires either blow-fill-seal or the use of low-contamination PET bottles.

2.3 Aseptic Integrated System

This production line uses a sterile blow molding machine.

The entire process of blowing, conveying, and filling plastic bottles occurs inside a purification room. Refer to Figure 3 for the procedure.: 

Flow chart of ASIS type production line

The advantages of this system are:

  • Significant reduction in the consumption of disinfectants.
  • A production line with very few units and minimal bottle jamming or breakage.
  • Comfortable working conditions for operators.
  • Absence of residual disinfectant solution in containers.
  • The ability to use various resins with different chemical properties to manufacture the containers.

Based on the current situation in China, the first method seems more suitable due to the following reasons:

1) The varieties and production capacities of bottle blowing machines used by different beverage manufacturers in China vary greatly, making it difficult to achieve a perfect match with the downstream processes.

2) Some malfunctions may occur in various production processes. To avoid a complete shutdown, the system must have intermediate storage.

3) Our company has already resolved or mitigated shortcomings and issues.

4) The initial investment is relatively low.

5) When production capacity increases (e.g. 600 PET bottles/h), the chances of encountering problems with the latter two methods will further increase.

Aseptic packaging technology emerged in the late 1940s and gained significant development opportunities in the 1960s with the rapid growth of plastic packaging. Due to its superior beverage quality, aseptic packaging quickly gained recognition among consumers leading to rapid market expansion. Consequently, aseptic packaging technology, equipment, and plastic packaging materials experienced rapid development. By the early 1990s, aseptic packaging accounted for over 80% of large beverage packaging and over 50% of small plastic packaging in food packaging. Table 5 illustrates the proportion of different beverage packaging forms in juice and liquid dairy products packaging in 1993.

By the 1990s, there were over 30 companies overseas producing various types of aseptic packaging equipment, as well as numerous manufacturers of sterilization systems, packaging materials, and component suppliers. Domestically, there was also a gradual increase in the number of units developing and producing aseptic packaging equipment and supporting sterilization systems and primary packaging material. The manufacturers of aseptic plastic bottle equipment included

  • TOMMELAG from Switzerland,
  • SERAC from France,
  • SIPA-PROCOMAC from Italy,
  • and STORK from the Netherlands.
The proportion of various packaged juices and liquid milk in 1993

From the beginning, the Chinese leadership has dramatically emphasized the development of sterile packaging technology. During the “Seventh Five-Year Plan” period, the Ministry of Light Industry included the development of sterile packaging technology for food in the national key scientific and new technologies R&D projects. The China Packaging Technology Association and the China Food Beverage Industry Association have both established sterile packaging committees to promote the development of sterile packaging technology.

The China Dairy Beverage Industry Association and the China Beverage products Industry Association have also given special attention and support to sterile packaging. The development of sterile filling production lines for plastic bottles has been listed as a “Fifteenth Five-Year Plan” critical scientific and new technologies R&D project by the National Development and Reform Commission.

3. iBottling PET bottled beverage aseptic filling production line

Since 1998, iBottling Machinery Co. has worked closely with critical factors to develop PET bottle packaging and sterile filling production processes and equipment. After three years of hard work, a production line capable of sterile filling 36,000 PET bottles per hour was successfully developed by the end of 2000 and has since been put into large-scale industrial production testing, proving its success. The market and consumers have recognized and welcomed the sterile packaged PET bottled hot fill tea drinks produced.

The features of this filling system include the following:

(1) The PET bottles are sterilized inside and outside using specific disinfection techniques for complete sterilization.

(2) The working environment of the three-in-one bottled beverage products packaging machine must be equipped with corresponding purification measures to ensure that the hot filling area meets the standard of 100-level air purification.

(3) The unique transmission technology is used for the bottle inlet and outlet channels of the three-in-one bottled beverages packaging machine to prevent external bacteria from entering the sterile area due to the movement of the conveying chain.

(4) The specially designed hot filling structure is simple and easy to clean, with no sanitary dead corners in the valve.

(5) The hot filling method does not involve contact between the hot filling valve and the bottle mouth. The hot filling plastic containers is controlled by a flow meter or weighing device.

(6) The CIP and SIP systems are fully developed.

(7) The dynamic and static seals are protected strictly.

(8) The sterile sealing window is equipped with multiple maintenance gloves for straightforward maintenance and to avoid personnel from entering and damaging the clean environment.

(9) After the capper arranges the caps, they are strictly sterilized by the cap disinfection machine before being sent to the capping machine. The capper and cap disinfection machine must be installed outside the sterile room and connected to the sterile room via a sterile passage.

(10) There is no need for bottle-upending machines and large spray cooling tunnels. Only online spray cleaning and drying are required. The process flow of this PET bottle aseptic filling production line is illustrated in Figure 4.

Process flow chart of PET bottle aseptic filling production line

4 Comparison of different PET bottle hot filling processes. A comparison of the operational performance of various PET bottle filling techniques is presented in the following table (Table 6).

 Technical performance requirements of different PET bottle filling processes
 Technical performance requirements of different PET bottle filling processes

To summarize, PET bottle aseptic filling technology has clear advantages, and iBottling Machinery Co., Ltd. has become an Beverage industry pioneer in this technology in China. We hope to work with domestic peers to further research and develop this technology so that this world-class high-tech can be widely applied in China, saving foreign exchange for household food and beverage companies, sharing world food science achievements, and ultimately benefiting the public and bringing happiness to the people.

4. Terms about the beverage industry

4.1 Aseptic technology: an integrated system, not a series of connected machines

Technology is an integrated system, not a series of interconnected machines. It involves evaluating plastic containers for sterilization and taking into account line complexity and product security when designing a new system. Proper high temperature treatment must be done to ensure the successful filling, capping, and packaging of beverage products.

Aseptic technology involves several steps including cleaning, conditioning, and sanitizing the containers before they are filled. The process also includes testing the materials used in the production and ensuring that they are safe for consumption. After passing these tests, the containers are then able to receive the product to be filled.

The filling process requires specific parameters such as flow rate and fill levels to be met during production to ensure high-quality results. This step is followed by a capping process which normally includes several components such as closure selection, placement, torquing and leak detection. Finally, the packages undergo labeling processes before being packaged up for distribution.

The following table outlines the various steps of aseptic technology and their associated uses:

StepAssociated Uses
CleaningEssential for ensuring containers, fillers and other machinery are free from bacteria.
ConditioningEnables containers to withstand high temperatures during sterilization.
SanitizingIncorporates the use of sanitizing agents to eliminate any extrinsic contaminants.
Testing MaterialsAnalyzing materials for safety verification before filling process begins.
Filling ProcessParameters like flow rate and fill levels must be met to ensure high-quality results.
Capping Process Closure selection, placement, torquing and leak detection are important components here.
Labeling Processes Labels are affixed to packages prior to distribution in order to identify product correctly.  /

These steps help guarantee that beverages produced using technology will remain sterile and safe while maintaining their quality over time without any degradation in flavor or texture. Aseptic systems provide producers with energy savings as well as lower operational costs due to its simplified production process compared to traditional methods of packaging beverages.

4.2 Beverage Operations and Processing Technical Committee — Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Beverage Operations and Processing Technical Committee (BOPTC) is a part of the International Society of Beverage Technologists (ISBT). On Tuesday, May 4th 2021, the BOPTC will be hosting its annual meeting in Orlando, Florida. At this meeting, they will be discussing the latest advancements and innovations in beverage technology.

The goal of the BOPTC is to promote sustainability within the beverage industry while maintaining product quality and food safety standards. To do this, they are focusing on integrating techno-economic and life cycle assessment into beverage manufacturing and sales. This involves examining how different processes affect both the environment and the economics of producing beverages.

Techno-economic assessments look at how technological advancements can improve production efficiency while reducing costs. Life cycle assessments examine how different stages of production impact environmental factors such as water usage, energy consumption, waste generation, and air pollution. By combining these two approaches, it allows for a more comprehensive view of how changes in production can affect both economic and environmental outcomes.

In addition to discussing potential solutions to these issues at their upcoming meeting, the BOPTC also provides resources to help members stay up-to-date on industry trends. They have an online library with articles from experts in the field that provide insights into current topics related to beverage operations and processing technology. They also offer webinars where members can learn about new technologies or ask questions about existing ones.

The BOPTC is committed to helping create a more sustainable future for the beverage industry by promoting best practices for operations and processing technology. Their upcoming meeting on May 4th 2021 is an important step towards achieving this goal as it provides an opportunity for members to discuss potential solutions that could benefit everyone involved in the industry.

The following table outlines the goals and objectives of the Beverage Operations and Processing Technical Committee (BOPTC):

GoalObjective
Promote sustainability in beverage industryIntegrate techno-economic and life cycle assessment into beverage manufacturing and sales.
Maintain product quality and food safety standardsExamine how different processes affect both the environment and economics of producing beverages.
Provide resources to stay up-to-date on trends Online library with articles from experts in the field, webinars to learn about new technologies or ask questions about existing ones.

Sources:

4.3 FOCUS: New hot filling trend: beverages with pieces

The use of pieces to fill beverages is a relatively new trend in the beverage industry, but it has already gained much popularity among consumers. Not only does it add an extra layer of texture and taste to drinks, but it also offers additional health benefits that are hard to come by with traditional beverages. For example, fruits, nuts, coconuts, aloe vera, and cereals all contain essential vitamins and minerals that can help to boost the immune system and improve overall health.

In addition to providing consumers with added health benefits, this trend is also helping producers save money by reducing their use of raw materials while still producing high-quality consumer products. By using aseptic filling technology producers can reduce their energy costs as well as maintain product quality at lower costs.

This new filling trend has been gaining traction rapidly with more than 60% of the European market now adopting it for their drinks. Producers are starting to experiment more with combining different fruits and nuts for unique flavors and textures that appeal to customers’ taste profiles. As consumers become more aware of these enjoyments being offered by this trend, its popularity will likely continue growing exponentially in the years ahead.

The following table outlines the advantages of using pieces to fill beverages:

AdvantageDescription
Extra layer of texture and tastePieces such as fruits, nuts, coconuts, aloe vera, and cereals can be added to drinks for an extra layer of texture and taste.
Provides health benefits Added vitamins and minerals help to boost the immune system and improve overall health.
Cost effective Using aseptic filling technology reduces energy costs while maintaining high-quality product.  /

4.4 Cold Fill Applications

Cold Fill Applications are becoming increasingly popular as a way to package and store food and beverages. This method of packaging is used for products that require a cold chain, such as dairy, juice, tea, coffee and other cold-chain or aseptic fillings.

The process involves blasting the packaging with cold air to sanitize it before filling it with the product. This ensures that the product remains safe and fresh during storage and transportation. Cold Fill Applications also provide an attractive appearance to the product due to its ability to be colored using toner.

These types of applications have several advantages over traditional hot fill methods. Firstly, they require less energy since there is no need for heating or cooling the product before filling. Secondly, they are more efficient in terms of time since there is no need for sterilization before filling. Finally, they are more cost-effective since there is no need for additional equipment or processes such as pasteurization or homogenization.

Overall, Cold Fill Applications offer many benefits in terms of food safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness when compared to traditional hot fill methods. They are becoming increasingly popular as a way to package and store food and beverages safely and efficiently while still providing an attractive appearance.

The following table outlines the advantages of using Cold Fill Applications:

AdvantageDescription
Requires less energy No need for heating or cooling product before filling.
More efficient No need for sterilization before filling. 
More cost-effective No need for additional equipment or processes such as pasteurization or homogenization. 
Provides an attractive appearance  Can be colored using toner to make product more appealing.

Sources

4.5 UV light sterilization – Sterilizing medical equipment

UV light sterilization works by breaking down the genetic packaging material of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms, rendering them unable to reproduce. This process is known as germicidal irradiation. UVC radiation is the most effective wavelength for this purpose, with a range of between 200-280 nm.

The use of UV light sterilization has become increasingly popular in recent years due to its effectiveness in disinfecting air and water. It can also be used to extend the shelf life and nutritional value of food products, as well as treat wastewater. Additionally, it is a safe and cost-effective alternative to chemical treatments.

When using UV light sterilization, it is important to take safety precautions such as wearing protective clothing and eyewear when exposed to direct UVC radiation. Additionally, it is important to ensure that the target surfaces are clean before exposure for the process to be effective.

The following table outlines the advantages of using UV light sterilization:

AdvantageDescription
Effective in disinfecting air & water UVC radiation is effective in breaking down genetic packaging material of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms, rendering them unable to reproduce.
Extends shelf life & nutritional value Can be used to extend the shelf life and nutritional value of food products as well as treat wastewater. 
Safe & cost-effective alternativeA safe and cost-effective alternative to chemical treatments. 

Sources

4.6 Sterilizing solution production

When it comes to sterilizing solutions, there are a few options available. These include steam under high pressure, dry heat, ethylene oxide (ETO) gas, hydrogen peroxide gas plasma, vaporized hydrogen peroxide and liquid chemicals. Each of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages which must be considered when selecting the most suitable option for your needs.

Steam under pressure is one of the most commonly used methods for sterilizing solutions as it is cost-effective and relatively easy to use. It involves heating water in an autoclave or pressure cooker to produce steam which is then used to kill bacteria and other microorganisms. This method is often preferred due to its low cost and high efficiency in killing bacteria.

Dry heat sterilization uses hot air at high temperatures between 160°C and 180°C to kill microorganisms on surfaces or instruments. This method is usually more expensive than steam under pressure but can be more effective in certain situations such as when dealing with heat-sensitive recycled materials or instruments that cannot be exposed to moisture.

Ultrasonic cleaning is another popular method for sterilizing solutions as it uses waves of acoustic energy propagated in aqueous solutions to disrupt the bonds that hold soil particles together. This process can remove soil without damaging delicate instruments or surfaces, making it ideal for use in medical settings where precision is essential.

Finally, chemical sterilization involves using chemicals such as glutaraldehyde solution which can be used for sterilizing heat-sensitive medical instruments. This method works by disrupting the cell walls of microorganisms, preventing them from reproducing and causing infection.

No matter what type of sterilizing solution you choose, it’s important to ensure that you follow all safety protocols when handling these products and use them correctly according to manufacturer instructions. Doing so will help ensure that your environment remains clean and free from harmful bacteria or other microorganisms that could cause illness or infection.

The following table outlines the advantages of various sterilizing solutions:

AdvantageDescription
Steam under pressure Cost-effective and relatively easy to use; low cost and high efficiency in killing bacteria.
Dry heat sterilization Hot air at high temperatures between 160°C and 180°C to kill microorganisms on surfaces or instruments. Usually more expensive than steam under pressure but can be more effective in certain situations. 
Ultrasonic cleaningUses waves of acoustic energy propagated in aqueous solutions to disrupt the bonds that hold soil particles together; ideal for medical settings where precision is essential. 
Chemical sterilization A chemical such as glutaraldehyde solution can be used for sterilizing heat-sensitive medical instruments, disrupting cell walls of microorganisms, preventing them from reproducing and causing infection. 

Sources:

4.7 Ancillary process equipment

Ancillary process equipment can be used for a variety of applications, such as pumps, blowers, and heating equipment. These items are used to support the main process plant items and ensure that they run smoothly. Additionally, ancillary equipment can be used in food processing and innovation centers to create new products for the marketplace. It is also necessary for power generation operations, with types of ancillary equipment including paralleling switchgear, utility grade switchgear and custom controls.

For pharmaceutical production lines, ancillary equipment such as labelling machines, capping machines and bottling machines are essential for streamlining the process. Hosokawa Micron also provides access doors, ball valves, charging hoppers, powder finishers and samplers to complete the process.

Overall, ancillary process equipment is necessary to ensure safety and quality in aseptic fill line systems as well as other industries such as food processing and pharmaceuticals.

The following table outlines the benefits of ancillary process equipment:

BenefitDescription
Support main process plant items Used to support the main equipment and ensure that they run smoothly. additionally, ancillary equipment can be used in food processing and innovation centers to create new products for the marketplace.
Power generation operations Types of ancillary equipment include paralleling switchgear, utility grade switchgear and custom controls. 
Pharmaceutical production linesAncillary equipment such as labelling machines, capping machines and bottling machines are essential for streamlining the process. Access doors, ball valves, charging hoppers, powder finishers and samplers also available. 
Ensures safety & quality in aseptic fill line systems An essential component of food processing and pharmaceutical industries for ensuring safety and quality. 

Sources:

4.8 Simplification of line handling

The latest trend in line handling is the simplification of processes to reduce costs, energy usage and environmental impact. By streamlining systems, producers can make each task more efficient, thereby reducing the need for multiple fluids and steps.

Ideal aseptic systems now have fewer critical process parameters that need to be monitored and managed throughout beverage production. This approach allows producers to focus on reducing the number of fluids used while still maintaining product quality and safety standards.

Additionally, some systems are utilizing Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) vapor sterilization for both beverage bottles and PABA sterilization for intermediate SOPs. This further reduces the complexity of operations while also increasing efficiency.

The following table outlines the advantages of simplifying line handling:

AdvantageDescription
Reduce costs, energy usage and environmental impact By streamlining systems, producers can make each task more efficient, thereby reducing the need for multiple fluids and steps.
Fewer critical process parameters Allows producers to focus on reducing the number of fluids used while still maintaining product quality and safety standards. 
Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) vapor sterilization for both beverage bottles and PABA sterilization for intermediate SOPs Further reduces complexity of operations while also increasing efficiency. 

Sources

Wrapping up

It’s clear that aseptic filling technology is becoming increasingly complex and important in the beverage industry. By understanding the different processes involved as well as how to leverage ancillary equipment, simplify line handling and properly sterilize products, producers can remain competitive while ensuring safety and quality standards are met. As such, we hope this guide has been a useful resource to help boost your industry knowledge and improve your results.

If you’re looking for a partner to help with your aseptic filling needs, look no further than iBottling. Our knowledgeable and experienced team can offer advice and guidance on all facets of the process, ensuring you get the most out of your operations. Contact us today – we’d love to hear from you!

Picture of John Lau.
John Lau.

John Lau, oversea project manager, an engineering graduate with expertise in optimizing beverage production equipment during his university studies, is now at the helm of global projects in the industry. Committed to educating clients on the benefits of customized equipment solutions that notably boost operational efficiency, Lau views this specialization in tailoring bottling machines as a key facet of his professional commitment.

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