Packaging materials play an important role in food processing. Organizations spend a great deal of time identifying the right packaging for their products and processes. From bottling to food packaging, end users want to ensure they are operating efficiently in order to provide consumers with a quality product. Even when choosing the right packaging for the product and process, issues can still arise. One of the problems that can occur is the bacteria that reside within packaging materials.
Manufacturers take the necessary steps of sanitizing produce or introducing various wash methods to clean food products. While these are helpful measures, bacteria can be hidden and grow in the packaging materials, causing harm in many ways. Some examples of bacteria found in packaging include E. coli and Salmonella. Failing to remove bacteria can reduce a product’s shelf life, causing unnecessary waste. Also, bacteria can produce harmful side effects on consumer health, and even death, if not removed entirely from the packaging process. In order to minimize any issues with the end product, manufacturers use sterilization to remove harmful pathogens from the process.
Hot Air Sterilization Processes
Sterilization end users rely on different methods to ensure that harmful bacteria are eliminated from equipment and packaging. Sterilization, which can be used on metal, glass, or porcelain, can have cycle times lasting up to 30 minutes. One of the methods utilized in the sterilization process is hot air, which achieves precise temperature regulation and safe process control. Not only can end users achieve a repetitive process, but it is also environmentally friendly and nontoxic. Two examples of hot air implementation would be static and forced hot air.
With static air, end users introduce hot air from a location near the bottom of a tunnel or an enclosure and let the heat dissipate toward the top. An example of static hot air implementation would be a hot air oven or autoclave for pasteurizing glass jars and tin cans. While this method does provide a level of sterilization, it is not an effective solution for a couple of reasons. The first is that the temperature profile will not be uniform, meaning that certain surfaces will receive more heat than others. The second reason is that it will require a longer dwell time for the heat cycle, which may have a significant impact on product quality. This means that packaging companies will not be able to get the necessary throughput required to meet manufacturing demands.
With forced air, hot air is introduced by a compressed air source or blower system. An example of forced hot air implementation would be dry sterilization for beverage filling processes. This is a preferred method for a majority of the end users for a couple of reasons. With forced air, you get better temperature uniformity within the process, which allows the heat to be evenly distributed over the product. Forced air also decreases the necessary dwell time in the process, which can reduce manufacturing process time.
Hot Air Sterilization Benefits
In industrial beverage filling systems, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is used in combination with hot air. First the containers are pre-heated using air heaters to get the surface temperature of the container to approximately 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In the next step, H2O2 is evaporated at around 392 degrees Fahrenheit. To ensure the vapor doesn’t cool down while flowing to the nozzle, double-walled tubes are used. These tubes are heated from the outside to avoid the cooling down of the vapor. To heat the tubes, hot air is blown into them. This hot air is typically generated by electric air heaters due to the precise temperature control those heaters offer. Nowadays, many companies are using hot air recycling systems, such as the Leister RBR blower and DF-R air heater combination, to help improve the efficiency of dry aseptic decontamination systems.