Aseptic processing and packaging is the filling of commercially-sterilized products into pre-sterilized containers.
Hot-fill takes place when you fill heated, commercially-sterile product in non-sterile packaging. The product is held for a predetermined time and temperature in order to sterilize the packaging prior to the filling process. The longer hold time at high temperatures reduces quality of the product. Only high-acid products can be hot-filled and held at ambient temperatures without refrigeration.
Retort takes place when you fill non-sterile product in hermetically-sealed, non-sterile packaging. The packaging is loaded into a retort pressure vessel and subjected to pressurized steam. The product is also exposed to high temperatures for a much longer period than in hot-filling. The additional time can significantly deteriorate the overall quality and nutritional content of the product.
Aseptic is a desirable alternative to hot-fill or retort processing because it doesn’t expose products to extended periods of high thermal temperatures, which can lead to vitamin, color, taste, and texture degradation. The aseptic process ultimately ensures a better quality product that can still maintain shelf-stable distribution.