Something To Eat Or Drink? Yes, Please!
Friday, October 4th, 2019
According to Research and Markets, the global beverage market is forecast to grow to US$1.9 trillion by 2021—great news for manufacturers. What’s slightly trickier is what consumers are actually asking for: a variety of high quality, hybrid products which are also sustainably produced. So, just how can manufacturers meet these ambitious criteria while producing as efficiently as possible? GEA believes that aseptic dual-fill technology is the answer.
Demand is growing for beverages that include solids, such as fruits, fibres, nuts and cereals. Acting as stand-in meals, “liquid food” has become increasingly popular as a result of people’s busy lifestyles and unwillingness to compromise on nutrition or mealtimes just because “time is of the essence”. Unfortunately, traditional, single-line pasteurisation systems are unable to process products with a solid content of more than 5 to 10 percent. The challenge then for manufacturers is to treat the products in a way that ensures product safety and meets shelf-life requirements, while maintaining taste and texture. Likewise, processors need to have flexibility to optimise the volume of solids in these products to meet increasing demand for greater ingredient variety.
Getting It Right From The Start—Prep And Pasteurisation
Manufacturers must accommodate the different requirements of liquids and solids throughout the entire production process given each requires a different level of heat treatment to achieve shelf stability. To prevent damage to these diverse products and achieve the best possible product quality—while minimising energy consumption—it is necessary to precisely balance the levels of heat used throughout the process.
Solid ingredients are generally delivered as a compote in a carrier fluid or in pieces. If delivered dry, they must first be mixed with a carrier liquid before further processing can take place, including pasteurisation or aseptic filling. Liquids on the other hand, are often prepared in advance, having already undergone deaeration, and may have had ascorbic or citric acids already added to them or even undergone homogenisation.
Next, each component must undergo pasteurisation. For a long shelf-life, microorganisms—including dormant spores—must be killed or inactivated. And while the application of heat destroys harmful bacteria and spores in foods, it can also adversely affect both taste and texture. Using heat unnecessarily is also expensive and wasteful, a major concern as companies strive to reduce their consumption and emissions. Therefore, heat must be applied intelligently, with a full understanding of its effect on each product. For fruit juices, pasteurisation at a minimum temperature of 85 deg C for 20 to 30 seconds is ideal. Less acidic liquids, such as vegetable juices, must be heated to a higher temperature. Finally, both solid and liquid ingredients pass through an aseptic balance tank before filling. This step prevents re-contamination and eliminates the need for further pasteurisation.
GEA Pasteurisation Solutions For Liquid Food
GEA’s Asymmetric Two-Stream Pasteuriser brings together two separate processing lines to manufacture a single product. An aseptic product holding tank is placed at the head of each line. The tank containing the solids uses a slow-moving agitator to ensure the consistent fluidisation of the product coupled with a modified atmosphere, either nitrogen or aseptic air, to prevent bacterial growth and oxidation which adversely affect taste and product appearance.
Treatment of the relative product in each line is based on exact specifications to minimise holding times and the detrimental effects of heat. Pressures within the system are kept below 4 bar to limit structural damage to product fibres or particles and both heating and post-holding cooling are optimised to ensure product quality and stability. Fluctuations in the pasteurisation units are prevented via a self-adjusting feedback system which continually monitors, analyses and adjusts the process to make it more efficient while reducing product losses. In-place cleaning or sterilisation is quick and efficient, requiring a minimum of energy and water. Taken together, these efficiencies mean switching products takes just 20 minutes, thereby reducing downtime.
Total Cost Of Ownership Significantly Reduced
After the appropriate heat treatment, the products are gently combined in a small, aseptic mixing tank before going on to aseptic or hot-fill bottling. By using this unique GEA technology, customers are able to manufacture products that contain up to 30 percent particle matter. This flexibility greatly enhances the manufacturer’s ability to design and produce new products and bring them to market quickly and profitably.
In addition to minimising the energy used within the system, the GEA Asymmetric Two-Stream Pasteuriser incorporates a GEA heat recovery system which recoups up to 87 percent of the thermal energy utilised, minimising the steam network load requirement and reducing energy costs. This significantly reduces the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the system over the lifetime of the plant and contributes to the overall sustainability of the process.
GEA Dual Fill Solutions Within Aseptic Production
To achieve the quality and variety demanded by consumers, GEA highly recommends a filling system that is both dual fill and aseptic. GEA was actually the first manufacturer to supply dual fill technology as part of an aseptic, cold fill process. Here’s how it works: dual fill technology uses an aseptic piston doser to accurately add the pieces of fruit in a separate process, whereas the liquid beverage is added in a second step via a volumetric electronic filler. This would be very difficult to achieve in a single stream process as the solid product tends to settle and separate from the liquid product during filling. Keeping the product in a constant state of agitation to maintain homogeneity is likely to cause product stress and loss of quality. When this method is used to keep products in suspension, individual pieces have a tendency to clump together which causes clogging and therefore makes them more difficult to process.
As with all aseptic processes, dual fill bottling takes place within a controlled microbiological environment that maintains sterility throughout the process. This approach can accommodate a wide range of drinks, including complex liquid foods such as yoghurt, RTD liquid meals and juices that contain pieces of fruit and fibre–have high or low acidity, are still or carbonated. Likewise, different products can be run on the same machine, and automatic sterilisation-in-place (SIP), which uses hot water, allows for quick product changeovers while eliminating any chance of cross contamination. The GEA aseptic dual fill system complies with the most stringent microbiological validation protocol specifications worldwide, including Europe, the Far East and the U.S. All sanitation and sterilisation cycles are automatically controlled at all critical points. The system can maintain a production level of more than 50,000 bottles per hour (BPH).
Aseptic dual fill is also the most flexible PET bottle filling system available for beverages containing pieces, largely because the aseptic process doesn’t require the application of heat. This means PET bottles can be much lighter, resulting in both material and manufacturing cost savings, as well as reducing the impact on the environment.
Dosing Valve Fills Accurately
A benchmark in the industry, GEA’s system achieves exceptional filling accuracy and allows for fruit pieces or cereals up to 10 x 10 x 10mm. This precision is thanks to a unique dosing valve, the GEA Piston Doser PX, which uses a highly accurate, cam-driven piston to draw the prescribed volume of solid particles into the cylinder before injecting them into the PET bottle.
Seamless Switching Between Different Liquids
Following the dosing phase, a standard volumetric electronic filler, such as the GEA Fillstar CX EVO, is used to add the liquid part and to complete the aseptic filling process. The Fillstar CX EVO is a multi-functional system that allows customers to seamlessly switch between different types of products, from still to carbonated aseptic beverages and vice versa. Product changeover times are significantly reduced as the integrated control unit can easily be reprogrammed. The changeover from contact filling to non-contact filling is fully automated without compromising system sterility. It can fill products with fibres up to 20 mm long and with diameters of 3 mm. Bottle size and shape—which are important for attracting consumer attention—can be easily adapted.
Maximum Flexibility For Efficient Production
Growing consumer demand for more sustainably produced, diverse liquid foods shows no signs of slowing down. Luckily, manufacturers today have access to superior pasteurisation and aseptic dual fill technologies which enable gentle processing while extending product shelf-life, without the need for preservatives. These new advances make experimentation more affordable and ensure products get to market more quickly. The improvements in the overall efficiency of the process means both manufacturers and consumers can feel better about these time-saving products.
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