09 August 2017
Dairy milk hasn’t always been the convenient beverage it is today. Before the advent of the glass milk bottle in 1879, consumers needed to bring their own bucket or keg to a distributor to be filled. Although the glass bottle was a big leap forward, it still needed to be hand-washed, and the milk had a short shelf life. The need for better packaging and processing technology continued to grow, especially with the advance of modern retailing.

Swedish Tetra Pak founder Ruben Rausing, who was fascinated with American food packaging, had an idea to create a package to store milk that was made with minimum material but still delivered maximum hygiene. He developed the first paper-based package for liquid products, a tetrahedron-shaped carton and Tetra Pak’s first package.

Even with this innovative new package, the filling process still presented a challenge to milk’s longevity. The flow of the milk had to be stopped and restarted with each package, allowing enough time for airborne bacteria to get in, thus shortening the milk’s shelf life.

According to Rausing, the problem was solved over lunch with his wife, Elisabeth, when she suggested filling the milk above the next package continuously and then sealing it off in the same way they made Christmas sausages.

This comment inspired the continuous filling method that would be recognized as one of the greatest food innovations of the 20th century by IFT (Institute of Food Technologists). To prevent unsterile air from coming into contact with the milk as it was being filled in the cartons, milk was filled through a machine from the top of each unit and sealed off below the liquid level so no unsterile air came into contact with the milk.
The bacteria-free milk, along with the invention of aseptic packaging technology, achieved what other packaging failed to do by extending milk’s shelf life, which made milk distribution to all corners of the world possible. Tetra Pak’s modern filling machines still use some of the same principles originally used by Rausing, while evolving to be faster, more efficient and hygienic, and use less energy and resources. Tetra Pak’s eBeam, for example, is a package sterilization technique that uses electron beams in place of hydrogen peroxide. The eBeam eliminates the need for chemical sterilization, meaning fewer chemicals need to be stored and treated, leading to reduced consumption of water and energy.

Today, Tetra Pak has 17 different types of filling machines to supply billions of people with safe food and beverages worldwide, and it continues to innovate new technologies to make food processing and packaging safer, more efficient and environmentally friendly.

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