A key manufacturing concern in the food and beverage industry is how to guarantee final products are not only safe and free from contamination, but, also that the packaging retains its integrity from the product line to the store and throughout the shelf-life of the product. Leak detection systems integrated into the manufacturing process are a key solution in resolving these concerns and ultimately helping towards guaranteeing product integrity and consumer safety, other than preserving taste, aroma and color which add to a delightful consumer experience.
Gianmarco Pincelli, Technical Sales Manager of Bonfiglioli Engineering, spoke to us about the types of inspections that guarantee the safety of food packaging, illustrating the technological solutions that guarantee the best results.
There are a variety of test types using different technologies, based on the features and packaging of the product to be tested, to identify the presence of holes or weak seals that may compromise package integrity.
The inspection technology that is mainly used is the Vacuum Decay Method (VDM), outlined in ASTM F2338-09 which is a non-destructive test that, by means of vacuum, detects probable leaks on several hermetically form-filled and sealed packages.
This technique requires the product to be tested be inserted into a testing chamber in which vacuum is created. Analysis of the pressure variation after a given time-interval identifies the presence of leaks and determines the extent of the leak as shown in figure 1.
Figure 1: Pressure variation at diverse time intervals
This type of test can be performed in various ways depending on the characteristics of the packaging. If the container is a bottle, for example, only the cap area can be tested. There are at least two advantages of this type of solution: first, it decreases the size of the test chamber which considerably shortens the time necessary to create the vacuum and detect pressure variations, and second, it also allows much quicker format changes, improving plant productivity and offering flexibility.
Vacuum Decay Method is not the only technology that can be applied to the food industry. Lid deflection can be used for containers closed with plastic or aluminum foils (like yogurt pots, many infant food products, ready-made meal trays etc.) and is based on the control of the movement of the plastic or aluminum film sealing the container. Special motion sensors or optical laser detectors check the proper positioning of the protective membrane without touching it, thereby ensuring delicate handling and zero alteration of container features.
Specific products of the food industry also require specific testing methods based on regulatory requirements: for example, milk must be bottled in an aseptic environment, since it can be easily contaminated by micro-organisms if it comes into contact with oxygen. Checking for leaks on the top of the bottle and ensuring that the heat-sealed cap is hermetically sealed, extends product shelf-life and reduces the risk of bacterial proliferation.
Although Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) for the food & beverage sector do not require companies to implement leak detection control systems, these tests offer extremely positive results for optimal product quality leading to consumer protection and enhanced brand image in the market.
Thanks to the application of the technologies described above, coupled with the option that Bonfiglioli Engineering offer for customization, leak detection equipment quickly and accurately tests the presence of leaks or potential leaks due to:
This test can be applied to various types and materials with caps or heat-sealed films from coffee capsules to energy drinks, from baby food to ready-made meals, to milk and dairy and pet food.
Leak detection and packaging integrity assures that damaged products do not get to the market, protecting consumer health; at the same time, it protects companies against the risk of product batch recalls with serious consequences in terms of corporate reputation.