Log in or Register for enhanced features | Forgotten Password?
White Papers | Suppliers | Events | Report Store | Companies | Dining Club | Videos
Drinks Business Review
Return to: DBR Home | Suppliers

Preform Sterilization and Aseptic Blowing

Published 08 August 2013 | By GEA Procomac

Following to the introduction of ABF, the only Aseptic blower on the market for PET bottles that is coupled with an Aseptic filler, GEA Procomac has received a number of questions from customers involved in sensitive beverage filling. The new aseptic blowing technology introduced on the market by GEA Procomac has generated a lot of interest and so here, the company’s Director of Sales and aseptic specialist Flavio Salvadori, answers those questions.

Is ABF suitable for any range of products?

"ABF is validated for high and low acid products. The range of speed on 1L container goes from 12.000 bph (6 cavities blower) to 48.000 bph (24 cavities blower). We are currently manufacturing a 14 cavities and a 24 cavities Aseptic Blowers for the South East Asian market."

How did you approach preforms sterilization?

"Preforms sterilization is one of the critical aspects of Aseptic blowing. As there is no further treatment on the bottle after blowing, the preforms have to be sterilized both internally and externally and we do it in one single step with a controlled flow of Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide (VHP) after the heating oven."

Why are you underlining the importance of one single step of preform sterilization?

"This is to avoid any risk of cross contamination. If you sterilize the external preform surface before the internal, during the following steps of the blowing process contamination can be transferred from inside the preform to the outside thereby contaminating the preform external surface together with the machine surfaces in the controlled contamination area. Look at the very well know wet PAA technology: internal and external sterilization of the bottles are always carried out at the same time."

Coming back to VHP treatment, can you give us further details of the control of the Hydrogen Peroxide parameters?

"Control of the process parameters is a pillar of aseptic technology. The sterilant pressure, temperature and concentration has to be always under control to guarantee a repeatable process. This is the main reason why the use of other means of sterilization like UV lamps has always been limited to ESL applications."

Let's focus on this, do you believe UV lamps are not suitable for Shelf Stable beverages Aseptic applications?

"It's not in my opinion, it's a specification of Aseptic technology: any process parameter has to be under control. The efficiency of a UV lamp decreases during the lifetime of the lamp itself, therefore it cannot be considered under control."

What is the big difference between ABF technology and other clean blowing technologies on the market?

"The reply is in the question. The difference is that clean does not mean aseptic. Aseptic design is a multi-disciplinary approach to the analysis of each potential risk of contamination and to the minimization of the identified risks. Let me give you an example, the example of the biker. It is possible (and it is also very nice) to drive a motorbike without wearing the helmet.

"The bike has been designed by the manufacturer to give protection to the driver. But if something goes wrong and the biker has an accident, wearing the helmet is a good way to avoid injury. Coming back to your question I may say that a clean environment is a good practice to control contamination, but only an aseptic environment can guarantee sterility of the final product. A clean environment surely helps to reduce the risk but only an aseptic environment can bring the risk to a minimum."

How can ABF guarantee the sterility of the preform and the bottle?

"ABF has been designed according to a basic rule of Aseptic design which is the clear definition of a sterile zone. Our blower is the only Aseptic one in the market, since it is the only blower with a clearly defined sterile zone. Once the preform is sterile it enters the Microbiological Isolator and it remains in this sterile zone right through to the aseptic capping of the bottles after filling."

Can you give some details about a Microbiological Isolator in the Beverage and Dairy Industry?

"As a Surgery Centre in a hospital is where surgical procedures are performed, the Microbiological Isolator is the environment where aseptic blowing, filling and capping operations are performed. As during surgery everything has to be sterile to avoid infection, the same is true for blowing, filling and capping operations."

How is this achieved in a Microbiological Isolator?

"GEA Procomac introduced the Microbiological Isolator in the sensitive beverage industry in 1996. We have used the same concept for the Aseptic blower. At first we physically separated the dirty mechanical parts from the sterile zone. Second we designed every component in the sterile zone to be cleanable with foaming agents and to be sterilizable with Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide. We then pressurize the environment with a redundant HEPA filter station to classify the sterile area in class 100."

Did you qualify the microbiological isolator with Strip tests?

"Of course we did: to be able to fulfill the Aseptic validation protocol of the ABF, the machine has to be challenged with Strips inoculated with Bacillus atropheus. This is the only way to validate an Aseptic machine and this is the reason why a Strip testing phase is required under the Standard Aseptic Validation Protocols of all the major sensitive beverage players on the market."

You mean that without Strip testing of the sterile zone an Aseptic machine cannot be validated for the major players filling sensitive beverages on the market?

"Yes I mean this. And I would like this to be underlined for our customers who are co-packing for the major players. ABF is the only technology suitable to be validated under the Aseptic Validation Protocol of any player of the market."

How do you comment the following statement: 'Blowing is less critical than filling from a microbiological point of view as it is a dry area'?

"Aseptic is a no compromise technology and every aspect shall be kept under control. It is a matter of fact that surgery is performed in a dry environment, nevertheless every precaution (sterile clothes, sterile instrumentation, sterile environment, etc.) is taken to protect the patients. The same is for Aseptic blowing and filling: everything shall be done to protect the sensitive products."