Many different options exist for packaging beverages into rigid or flexible containers. Processing options include hot fill, cold fill and aseptic. Packaging containers include bottles (glass or plastic), cans, lined paperboard cartons and flexible containers (pouches).
Hot fill is a process where the product is heated and filled at a high temperature to sterilize the product and the container and closure. Hot fill is relatively inexpensive and appropriate for non-carbonated beverages and liquid food products such as fruit and vegetable juices, nectars, soft drinks, enhanced water and teas. Hot fill products have a shelf life ranging from 6-12 months.
During cold filling, a container is pressurized by cooling the product. The cold product is added to a cold container. Cold filling is common for fresh products including juice and milk and aerosol applications such as sodas and other carbonated beverages.
Aseptic fill is a technique where the product is flash pasteurized by heating to 180-220 degrees for a few minutes and then cooled and filled at room temperature. The container and closure must also besterilized prior to filling and the filling process takes place in a controlled, sterilized environment. Aseptic fill is appropriate for high acid products (less than 4.5pH) and the aseptically filled product is shelf stable at room temperature for up to 18 months without refrigeration. Aseptic processing eliminated the need for preservatives in the product and has gained popularity due the recent trend toward all natural and organic beverages.
Sodas and other carbonated beverages are typically filled into either glass, aluminum bottles, aluminum cans or PET containers. Canning and bottling lines utilize special equipment called a counter pressure filler where the container is pressurized with CO2 and then sealed or closed.
Beverages containers include glass bottles, cans, plastic containers (PET, HDPE, LDPE), lined paperboard containers and flexible containers such as pouches. Flexible containers are popular for juices and other food beverages. Some pouches include a plastic fitment for a spout. Flexible containers can be pre-formed or produced and filled simultaneously on a vertical or horizontal form, fill and seal machine (FFS). Flexible containers are frequently used for children’s beverages. Beverage cans made from paperboard are the most recent trend in beverage packaging. Beverage cans, traditionally made from metal, aluminum or tinplate have become more expensive over the last several years whereas paperboard has remained consistently cheaper. Also, paperboard containers are more environmentally friendly since they can be more easily recycled than other glass or plastic containers.