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Without aseptic filling machines and equipment, industries across the world would grind to a halt. From food manufacturers and distributors to pharma developers, businesses are able to guarantee the safety of their products and support the health of their users — and this means banishing germs.

To achieve this high level of reliability and to essentially guarantee health and safety, businesses use aseptic packaging machines and deploy processes with asepsis at their very core. Only a comprehensive approach will do — a focus on the total eradication of germs and pathogens at each and every stage and the elimination of potential weak points in the process.

Read on to learn more about this as we examine the difference between antiseptic and aseptic processes and look at the development of aseptic machines and procedures over the years.

The Difference Between Antiseptic and Aseptic Processes

Antiseptic and aseptic processes are often discussed in the same breath and may even be considered the same thing. The two concepts have similar meanings, and the words themselves look and sound very similar, but they are crucially different. This difference comes down to the etymology of the words’ prefixes, derived from Ancient Greek.

  • Antiseptic – The prefix “anti-” refers to the Greek word for “against”. This simply refers to any process designed to remove, reduce, or otherwise combat pathogens.
  • Aseptic – The prefix “a-” is derived from the Greek of “without”. So aseptic processes are those without pathogens at all, rather than simply those designed to reduce or fight against contamination.

In this sense, aseptic processes should be more effective and more intensive than antisepsis. Antiseptic processes involve an attempt to get rid of some of the germs and pathogens within the system — aseptic processes, by definition, utilize an environment completely free of germs.

The History of Aseptic Packaging Machines and Processes

In the early days, fully aseptic processes were almost impossible. Aseptic packaging or filling machines were unheard of, and instead, often imperfect antiseptic processes were deployed to try to rid materials and pieces of equipment of germs.

Over a century ago — before the 1920s — pharmaceutical manufacturers and producers were relying on Bunsen burners and boiling water to apply germ-killing heat, resulting in unreliable sterilization results. Sometimes germs would be removed without leaving any remnants behind, but sometimes, they wouldn’t be. It wasn’t until the 1920s that sterility requirements for manufacturers arrived, and the world began to take notice of the importance of disease prevention in manufacturing.

The first example of an aseptic process came back in 1913 when a Danish firm achieved a completely germ-free packaging process using metal cans. A decade later, in 1923, a can of milk was sent from South Africa to London in an aseptic can and was unveiled at a trade show in the British capital, still fresh and drinkable.

More Sophisticated Methods of Sterilization

The development of aseptic filling equipment was spurred on by advances in the pharmaceutical and food industries and was accelerated still further by the advent of World War II in 1939, followed by American involvement in 1941. All of a sudden, vast supplies of food were required and had to last for weeks or even months at a time, supporting the troops from the European theater to the Pacific theater, as well as keeping people fed at home.

In addition, sterile medical equipment was required. Whether treating patients in the field, at triage centres, or in hospitals themselves, survival depended on sterile injectables and reliable packaging. Aseptic packaging machines became crucial as the fill/finish method of development took center stage. Machines and production lines were now not only responsible for adding the contents to the packaging in a sterile manner but also closing and sealing this packaging to the same high standards of asepsis. This idea of filling and finishing would become key to the ongoing development of aseptic filling equipment and associated processes.

By the 1950s, new methods of sterilization were becoming common. This was in part due to serious incidents in the past, in which the contamination of blood and plasma supplies had led to outbreaks of Hepatitis and other conditions related to infections in the blood. Ultraviolet light treatment and strict temperature controls were utilized to prevent further outbreaks. These methods were developed further over the coming decades, with 176° Fahrenheit heat treatments used to curb rising HIV rates in the 1980s and vaporized hydrogen peroxide treatments deployed in the 1990s.

The Development of Isolation Technology

Asepsis is about more than just sterilizing materials and killing germs — it’s also about isolating key aspects of the filling and packaging processes from the outside world. As sterilization methods became more advanced, isolation technology developed alongside them, creating a more comprehensive process.

One major leap forward in this area was the HEPA filter. Introduced to aseptic processes following World War II, HEPA filters help to remove airborne particles from filling and packaging environments, adding another line of defense against infection.

But isolators proved problematic. What about processes that required hands-on interaction from members of staff around the facility? How could these procedures be protected, and how could germs and pathogens be eliminated from these areas of the aseptic filling machinery infrastructure? One way was to use RABS or Restricted Access Barrier Systems. RABS brought rubber sheeting and gloves into the equation — fitted onto the side of machines, these rubber components enabled personnel to use their hands and interact with the filling process without needing to expose sensitive materials to the risk of contamination.

Automation Continues to Enhance Aseptic Procedures

Today, a more comprehensive and complete approach to aseptic processes and machinery has been achieved, largely thanks to more sophisticated technology. By automating key aspects of the filling and finish process, human interaction is restricted to operating external systems and overseeing the procedure from the outside.

This is proving crucial to taking aseptic filling practices forward and achieving pharmaceutical batches, food offerings, and other products that are completely free from germs and pathogens. As we look towards the future of filling and finishing, automation is going to play an ever more vital role.