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02/16/06 | #20060032189 | Browse Patent Applications: Prev - Next | Browse Industry: USPTO Class 053

Process and method of sterilizing aseptic containers

Methods for sterilizing containers, which include sterilizing preformed, or partially preformed, aseptic containers. The method includes sterilizing the containers, heating the sterilized containers to an appropriate temperature, molding the heated containers, or partially preformed containers, by an orientation blow molding process, if necessary, and filling the molded containers with an aseptic material. The filled containers are then hermetically sealed with an aseptic closure. The sterilizing is accomplished within an enclosure completely filled with an atmosphere consisting of ozone in air, and further by bringing a sterilizing fluid consisting of ozone in oxygen, or ozone in air, or ozone dissolved in water into contact with internally disposed surfaces of the containers, and injecting the gaseous mixtures containing ozone, or ozonated water, into the empty preformed containers. (SCROLL BELOW TO READ THE REST OF THE PATENT...)



Agent: Air Liquide - Houston, TX, US
Inventor: Frederick W. Giacobbe
Class: 053426000 (USPTO), (Intl Class)

Brief Patent Description - Full Patent Description - Patent Application Claims



CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/601,371, filed Aug. 13, 2004, the entire contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND

[0002] The term aseptic packaging, in generic terms, means performing microbiological sterilization of product and package separately, and then filling the package with the product under sterile condition. The aseptic packaging and its extended term ultra clean, expand to cover a wide array of packaging material, shapes, and forms. This includes cups, bricks, pouches, bottles, and jars. These packages are generally made of paper, plastic, etc. Many foodstuffs, such as drinks, milk, milk products, sauces, soups, etc., are aseptically packaged to increase their shelf-life and product quality.

[0003] The technology for commercial aseptic packaging has been available for over 50 years, and has been used with great acceptance in Europe since the early 1960's. This process was not approved for use in the United States until 1981. Initially only used for single serving milk and juice containers, recently this process has grown in popularity. This is due to the reduction in cost of mass produced aseptic packaging equipment and the increase in energy costs over the past 5 to 10 years. Much less energy is required to run an aseptic plant, compared to a packaging plant with conventional technology, and the storage costs are greatly reduced, since there is no need to refrigerate. It is expected that the over 500 aseptic packaging installations in the United States alone produce between 15 and 20 billion packages a year. Today, aseptic packages range in size from small consumer juice boxes, to multi-thousand gallon commercial containers of orange juice or tomato paste.

[0004] In the traditional canning process, the food is introduced into a non-sterilized container, and then heated. The container is maintained at a high temperature for a sustained length of time (typically 20 to 50 minutes), which effectively cooks the food within the container as it disinfects the container itself.

[0005] Conventional aseptic container sterilization methods comprise the steps of sterilizing preforms, heating the sterilized preforms to a temperature appropriate to orientation, molding the heated preforms into containers by an orientation blow molding process, filling the molded containers with an aseptic material, and hermetically sealing the filled containers with an aseptic closure. One type of sterilization method is typically performed by dipping container preforms in a sterilizing solution, withdrawing the preforms from the solution, and thereafter, applying hot dry sterile air to the performs to remove the residual adhering solution.

[0006] The hot dry air used in the conventional method for drying preforms cannot be heated to very high temperatures due to the likelihood of deforming certain plastic or composite type preforms. Therefore, certain types of preforms may require considerable time periods for drying. Furthermore, unless dried completely, the preforms cannot be heated uniformly, which may be an important requirement in a subsequent plastic or composite type container blow molding process.

[0007] Another similar sterilization technique involves spraying hydrogen peroxide solutions, or oxonia solutions, a combination of hydrogen peroxide and peristaltic acid or hydrogen peroxide, and peroxyacetic acid, into, or into and onto, aseptic containers during the forming process [A. M. Mohan, Packaging Digest, Vol. 41, No. 7, pp. 26-29 (July, 2004)], and subsequently, blowing heated sterile air into the empty treated containers to remove and dry out the residual sterilizing solutions, prior to filling with aseptic materials and then, executing a final sealing and closure process.

[0008] For the foregoing reasons, a need exists within the industry for a system that will provide an aseptic container molding-filling method, which minimizes conventional usage volume requirements of sterile hot air needed for drying, and eliminates problems related to the disposal of waste hydrogen peroxide types of solutions. Additionally, a method is needed which makes it possible to sterilize and produce aseptic containers within a shortened period of time, and also keeps the container performs uniformly heated for a subsequent blow molding and sealing process.

SUMMARY

[0009] The present invention is directed to a method that satisfies the need in society, in general, for a system that will provide an aseptic container molding and/or filling method which minimizes conventional usage volume requirements of sterile hot air needed for drying, and also eliminates problems related to the disposal of waste hydrogen peroxide types of solutions. Additionally, the invention is directed to a method which makes it possible to sterilize and produce aseptic containers within a shortened period of time, and also keeps the container performs uniformly heated for a subsequent blow molding and sealing process.

[0010] The present invention provides a method of sterilizing and filling preformed or aseptic containers. The method includes the steps of sterilizing these containers by bringing a sterilizing fluid that is either gaseous ozone in oxygen, gaseous ozone in air, or ozone dissolved in water, into contact with internally disposed surfaces of the containers. The containers are then heated to an appropriate temperature, filed with an aseptic material, and then hermetically closed with an aseptic closure.

[0011] A second aspect of the present invention provides a method for automatically aseptically bottling aseptically sterilized foodstuffs or medical products. The method includes the steps of providing a plurality of aseptically sterilized containers and aseptically filling the containers with aseptically sterilized foodstuffs or medical products within an enclosure filled with partially ozonated air.

[0012] A third aspect of the present invention provides a method of automatically aseptically bottling aseptically sterilized foodstuffs or medical products. The method includes providing a plurality of containers, providing a means for aseptically disinfecting the containers using ozonated gas mixtures or solutions of ozone dissolved in water, and a means for aseptically filling the containers with aseptically sterilized foodstuffs or medical products within an enclosure filled with partially ozonated air.

[0013] A fourth aspect of the present invention provides an aseptic processing apparatus for aseptically bottling aseptically sterilized foodstuffs or medical products. This apparatus includes:

[0014] a) a sterile tunnel for surrounding a plurality of containers filled with slightly pressurized sterile air containing ozone;

[0015] b) a conveying apparatus for moving the plurality of containers through the sterile tunnel;

[0016] c) an exterior container sterilizing apparatus, comprising a container sterilizing fluid in-feed injector, a sterilizing fluid sprayer, and conveying apparatus for sterilizing an exterior surface of each container;

[0017] d) an interior container sterilization apparatus for applying a sterilant to an interior surface of each container;

[0018] e) a product filler apparatus for filling the aseptically sterilized plurality of containers with the desired aseptically sterilized products;

[0019] f) a lidding apparatus for applying an aseptic closure to each container; and

[0020] g) a container discharge apparatus for removing the containers from the sterile tunnel.

DESCRIPTION

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