Aseptic processing is a processing technique wherein commercially thermally sterilized liquid products (typically food or pharmaceutical) are packaged into previously sterilized containers under sterile conditions to produce shelf-stable products that do not need refrigeration. Aseptic processing has almost completely replaced in-container sterilization of liquid foods, including milk, fruit juices, and concentrates, cream, yogurt, salad dressing, liquid egg, and ice cream mix. There has been an increasing popularity for foods that contain small discrete particles, such as cottage cheese, baby foods, tomato products, fruit and vegetables, soups, and rice desserts.
Aseptic processing involves three primary steps: thermal sterilization of the product, sterilization of the packaging material, and conservation of sterility during packaging. To ensure commercial sterility, aseptic processing facilities are required to maintain proper documentation of production operations, showing that commercially sterile conditions were achieved and maintained in all areas of the facility. Any breach of a scheduled process for the processing or packaging system means that the affected product must be destroyed, reprocessed, or segregated and held for further evaluation. In addition, the processing and packaging system must be cleaned and re-sterilized before processing and/or packaging operations can resume. Packaging equipment and packaging materials are sterilized with various mediums or combinations of mediums (i.e., saturated steam, superheated steam, hydrogen peroxide and heat, and other treatments).
Aseptic filling is an aseptic process that requires close coordination and complex interaction between personnel, sterilized product, the fill/finish equipment system, cleanroom, and support facilities, and sterilized filling components.
Aseptic filling differs from other traditional methods of food packaging in that the food product and the package are continuously sterilized separately and then meet in the sterile environment provided by the aseptic filler.
Aseptic filling technology can be applied to non-carbonated products, beverage products without preservatives for long-term maintenance, high acid/low acid/neutral beverages, and PET bottle beverage products.