Over the last few decades, our eating habits have improved considerably and all the changes we have experienced have championed nutrition and good health. When it comes to packaged goods, food sterilisation is now commonplace in the food industry.
Some of the improvements are intrinsically linked to food selection and preparation and match the production and industrialisation systems we use today. They encompass the growing, harvesting and processing stages or, in other words, all the processes that food goes through until it reaches the consumer.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO STERILISE FOOD?
Sterilising vegetable or animal-based packaged foods is key to ensuring that they reach consumers with all their nutritional and organoleptic properties (flavour, texture, aroma and colour).
Broadly speaking, sterilisation is a process that eliminates microbes, bacteria, fungi and viruses.
By sterilising packaged foods, we can destroy microorganisms without this having a significant impact on the characteristics of the product.
THE ADVANTAGES OF FOOD STERILISATION
One of the main reasons why companies choose to sterilise food is because it extends its shelf life to over four months. Furthermore, unlike pasteurised products such as yoghurt and dairy produce, sterilised products do not need to be refrigerated. This facilitates storage, transportation and product presentation.
An additional advantage for businesses and consumers is that sterilised and packaged foods are sterile until opened or until the packaging deteriorates. Once the package has been opened, however, the contents have to be consumed shortly afterwards.
HOW ARE PACKAGED FOODS STERILISED?
There are currently three different generic sterilisation techniques:
- Sterilisation using physical means. This consists of using heat or radiation to eliminate contaminants from surfaces or products.
- Sterilisation using chemical means. With this method, micro-pesticides are used to eliminate all traces of microorganisms. While it is used widely in the cosmetics sector, this system is not common in the food industry.
- Sterilisation using mechanical means. This type of sterilisation consists of using filters that can retain microorganisms. One very clear example is high-pressure sterilisation (high pressure processing or HPP) that involves subjecting foods that have already been packaged in flexible leak-tight and water-resistant containers to high levels of hydrostatic pressure.
Packaged foods are sterilised using commercial sterilisation processes.
STERILISING GOODS IN PLASTIC PACKAGING
When it comes to plastic packaging, autoclaves or retort processes subject the food to high temperatures. This does not affect its flavour or texture and allows us to store it in warehouses for long periods of time.
Heat treatment needs to be intense enough to kill any heat-resistant bacteria. During packaged food sterilisation, temperatures generally range from 115 to 127 degrees centigrade, although it depends on the product.
At SP Group, we produce packaging that can withstand retort sterilisation and autoclave processes and is ideal for preserving food in perfect condition. For example, our PP HB ECO products, which are manufactured using materials that can be sterilised and recycled. These are polypropylene-based products with high barrier properties and they can be used as an alternative to packaging that cannot be recycled and contains aluminium film, metal coverings or multi-material options.
This type of packaging is ideal for food products such as sauces and ready meals that undergo thermal treatment processes such as sterilisation, pasteurisation, hot filling and microwaves.
When used in conjunction with our packaging, these treatment processes equal a longer life for products, which in turn helps to fight food waste. Furthermore, our packaging is also incredibly recyclable.
Our baby food pouches with caps are classed AAA and are 96% recyclable. Our PP HB ECO pouches with zipper closures are classed AA and are 90% recyclable.
In all cases, temperature control is essential for guaranteeing the effectiveness of sterilisation processes. When it comes to selling products in the best possible condition, packaging has a key role to play.