The Basics of Sanitary Packaging Systems

The Basics of Sanitary Packaging Systems

When most people think of a sanitary packaging system, they think of the material that is used to build the packaging machinery.  Others jump right to the filling machine and think immediately of keeping the product safe through the pathway during the filling process.  However, sanitary packaging systems must take much more into consideration to protect a product from dust, debris and contamination.

Conveyor System

Sanitary style power conveyors will often use a raised belt system to allow for quick and easy clean up of spills and drips.  While the design itself may be sanitary, the actual operation of the conveyor system must also be sanitary to protect against contamination.  This means the conveyor must run free from collection points, or areas on the system where product or debris may collect, break down or otherwise create the potential for unsanitary conditions.  The construction of the power conveyor will help guard against such points to some degree, with components being welded and polished versus tapped and drilled - the smooth surfaces less likely to allow for accumulation of any item.

Bottle Cleaning Machine

Bottle cleaning machines - rinsers and washers - would seem to be a plus for any sanitary packaging system.  However, the existence of one of these packaging machines on a line does not in and of itself equate to sanitary packaging.  Rinsing machines will often use air, water or even a cleaning solution to remove debris from inside bottles.  Unclean air or water, or a cleaning solution that is abrasive or breaks down the equipment itself, can actually keep the packaging line from being sanitary.  Though these machines come into play before the product is introduced, construction material and manufacturing must again ensure no debris build-up will move with the bottles to the filling machine.  Similarly, cleaning solutions must be compatible with the product and the packaging machine material to keep the entire process sanitary.

Filling Machine

Filling equipment for sanitary packaging lines do have the unique issue of moving the actual product from the bulk tank to a holding tank, through the product pathway and into the containers.  The design and construction of the filling machines must be drawn up and completed in such a manner that there is no product build up at any point in this journey.  This again means welding and polishing at certain points, using sanitary quick clamps versus hose barbs or other threaded connections and ensuring that all components, such as fill heads and tubing, are compatible with the product.  Many filling machines also include clean in place, or CIP, systems.  The solution used to clean the pathway during this process must also be compatible with the product and materials in use to keep the filling process sanitary.

Capping Machine

Once the product is in the bottle, many might assume that the sanitary battle is complete.  However, the product is still exposed to the environment and the cap has yet to properly seal the product.  Unlike bottles, caps do not move through a bottle rinser or washer prior to placement on the bottle.  Product can still become contaminated if a cap allows dust, debris or other contaminants to intermingle with the liquid.  In some cases, caps will be sanitized using UV light or other methods to ensure that the placement and tightening of the caps will not leave the product susceptible to contaminants.  

Clean Room 

Even if all of the packaging machinery on a sanitary line is well constructed and protects against contamination during the packaging process, there may still exist a danger for debris and dust to do their damage.  Some environments simply contain an excessive amount of dust and other contaminants.  Packaging lines in these types of locations may take advantage a clean room for some or all machines on the line.  For instance, to ensure the process, versus the machinery, is sanitary, a clean room may be built around the rinsing, filling and capping machines.  By using HEPA filters to keep the air in the clean room as clean as possible, the containers and products are protected from the environment until the product and package are safely sealed.  Labeling, bundling, packing and other packaging machines may or may not be completed inside the clean room area.

Each and every packaging machine on a sanitary line must be compatible with the other equipment being used, and the above is obviously not an exhaustive list of the packaging equipment that might be found on a sanitary line.  A sanitary filling machine may still leave a product compromised if the power conveyor system allows product, dust or debris to accumulate in and around the fill area.  A bottle rinser that requires personnel to constantly be in or near the rinse area for maintenance and troubleshooting may lead to contamination.  Even something as simple as unclean air moving caps to the automatic capping machine can ultimately contaminate a product.  As the rules surrounding the packaging of food and other ingestible products become more and more strict, packagers and those manufacturing packaging machinery must focus on keeping the entire process of packaging sanitary from the loading of bottles to the packing and shipping of the same.