The global beverage industry is changing as consumers place a premium not only on high-quality, green products but also on more user-friendly, practical packaging with improved sustainability credentials. As the innovation leader in aseptic blow-fill-cap processes, GEA helps manufacturers produce attractive, long-life products that meet these high standards. The market launch of the GEA Decontamination Blow Fill System DBF signals an advance in aseptic technology for a wider range of beverages: manufacturers now have a solution dedicated specifically to filling high-acid, sensitive, shelf-stable products and ESL beverages such as juices, nectars, isotonics and those containing pulp and cereal particles. In this way, GEA is transferring the food safety, flexibility, cost effectiveness and sustainability benefits that characterise dry aseptic filling to DBF production processes.
A dedicated solution for sensitive beverages
“Compared to hot fill or retort sterilisation, with dry aseptic processing and filling it’s possible to produce lightweight, innovative bottles that consume minimal amounts of raw materials while at the same time allowing a variety of attractive container designs, and fill them with preservative-free beverages,” says Donato de Dominicis, Managing Director of GEA Centre of Competence for Blowing, Filling & Packaging (Sensitive Beverages). “This is an area where we are pioneers. Yet not all sensitive beverages need to be produced under the same processing conditions. That’s why we decided to offer a solution tailor-made dedicated to specific categories of sensitive products. That solution is GEA DBF.”
Characterised by high acidity (pH below 4.5) or low acidity (pH above 4.5), those sensitive beverages can be stored at ambient temperatures or refrigerated. Manufacturers must be very selective in their choice of processing and filling solutions for this category of products because their sensorial qualities and shelf life suffer when exposed to light, oxygen and temperature changes. Container decontamination is a key aspect of the process because it is a reliable and effective means of extending shelf life.
Environmentally friendly and safe VHP sterilisation
Within the dry preform sterilisation solutions, the GEA Aseptic Fill System ABF, already successfully established for low-acid, shelf-stable beverages such as dairy products, has been the inspiration for this development. GEA DBF relies on a dry decontamination process using hydrogen peroxide vapour (VHP). With no compromise on food safety, it features a decontamination treatment performed in a single point for a reliable and robust performance. The processed preforms are then stretched with sterile air into sterile bottles so to enter the aseptic filling module, where they are also aseptically sealed. No water and less chemical consumption are required for decontamination.
Resource-efficient preform decontamination
DBF works on the same principle as ABF, meaning that plastic preforms, rather than the bottles, are sterilised. The upshot is that it is possible to reduce bottle weights compared with conventional systems. In addition, less sterilising agent is needed because the preform’s surface is smaller than that of a bottle and simply structured. GEA sterilises the preforms’ interior and exterior surfaces in a single step as soon as they leave the oven. This is more efficient than processes that treat the surfaces separately.
Making manufacturers more flexible
Positioning the blower module outside the aseptic isolator makes system changeover quick and easy. “We prioritise maximising flexibility for the benefit of our customers,” says Massimo Nascimbeni, Product Manager for Blowing & Filling at GEA. “Consumers expect beverage manufacturers to offer a varied product range and to respond quickly to consumer trends. Our job at GEA is not only to provide the technological framework to support this flexibility but also to design the production processes so that they meet our ultimate objective – guaranteeing food safety, irrespective of product, format or closure changes.”
Suitable for versatile end products
One of the reasons GEA DBF is so versatile is that it’s ideally suited to producing an exceptionally wide spectrum of drinks, ranging from still to carbonated, clear to viscous products as well as those with fruit or cereal particles up to 10 x 10 x 10 millimetres in size. On top of that, the DBF system is targeted to beverage producers with SKU variability because changeovers from large-volume to single-serve containers and different neck finish dimensions can be performed in next to no time. This gives manufacturers a great degree of freedom when it comes to designing bottles.
Smaller footprint, lower TCO (Total Cost of Ownership)
“Our main goal is to ensure plant availability and economic viability for beverage producers. This is achieved by our new GEA DBF, which combines functional flexibility and quality with manageable investment and operating costs,“ concludes Nascimbeni. Efficient use of utilities is just one way of reducing operating costs. Quick changeovers and the small footprint typical of integrated blow-fill solutions also contribute.