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Aseptic processing is the production, packaging, transport, and storage of potentially perishable items in aseptic conditions so they remain free of contamination. This technique is necessary for the safety of food and medical products, to ensure that consumers can use them without concerns. Many nations have standards for aseptic processing and use inspectors to enforce them and protect the safety of the food and drug supply. Some of the most significant developments in this field occurred in the 20th century.
Production must take place in sterile conditions with aseptic processing. Excellent packaging is worthless if the food is already contaminated. Sterile conditions include the use of clean equipment, techniques like flash heating to kill bacteria, and well-trained personnel who know how to keep the environment aseptic. The precise processing necessary can vary, as some items like milk need to be pasteurized to be made sterile, while other items may be produced entirely in sterile conditions, like synthetic pharmaceuticals.
Packaging for aseptic processing includes vacuum containers and a variety of other packaging types, along with sealing methods. The goal is to get the product into the package quickly and to seal it tightly to prevent contamination and maintain a fresh flavor. The most appropriate packaging can depend on the product. Shelf-stable packaging for products like soups often takes the form of cartons or cans, for instance, while vaccines are packaged in vials suitable for cold conditions to maintain the integrity of the vaccine.
Transportation can be important with aseptic processing as well. While the products are packaged in clean packaging, the conditions of transport and storage may affect them. Usually it is necessary to avoid denting or puncturing packages, and the temperature needs to remain stable. Very high heat could cause the contents of a package to expand, for instance, potentially leading to an explosion. Monitoring techniques like temperature sensors on cases or the packaging itself are often part of the safety procedures.
Companies use a number of quality control procedures to supplement their aseptic processing. These can include regular tests of the production line and random packaged products for contamination, along with inspections by supervisors who confirm that employees follow the company's standards and practices. Government regulators can also inspect facilities and may revoke sale permits if they identify health and safety violations. Consumers rely on such inspections to protect them and can often access reports on recent inspections if they have specific concerns about the safety of a given product.
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