Introduction to Retort Pouch Technology

W. Scott Whiteside, Ph.D. Associate Professor Department of Packaging Science Clemson University

Retort pouches have been in existence for several decades with the only major market being MRE’s for the military. Since the late 1990’s, retail food products in retort pouches have experienced substantial growth. Much is known about processing shelf stable food products in rigid, metal cans, but the processing technology for retort pouches is different. This presentation will present an overview of current processing technology for retort pouches.

Thermal sterilization of low-acid food products (LACF), sometimes referred to as canning or retorting, has been a widely accepted means of food preservation for many years. Retorting produces a shelf stable food product that does not require refrigeration. The retorting process involves sealing a low-acid food product in a hermetically sealed container and applying sufficient heat to render the product commercially sterile according to FDA or USDA regulations. Commercial sterility is defined as the destruction of all viable microorganisms of public health significance as well as those capable of reproducing under normal nonrefrigerated conditions of storage and distribution. The retorting process also extends the shelf life of food products by inactivating many detrimental food enzymes. Prior to World War II, the packaging for these food products was typically rigid metal or glass containers. In the late 1940’s, the initial concept of a flexible package for sterile food products was developed. The United States military was the first major consumer of retort pouches in the form of meals-ready-to-eat (MRE) as a replacement for C-rations which were packaged in a rigid metal cans. FDA and USDA recognize qualified individuals trained in thermal processing techniques as process authorities. Process authorities specify the time, temperature and other factors required to render a food product in a retort pouch commercially sterile. Retort pouch products have a distinct advantage over similar volume products packaged in rigid metal cans or glass jar in that it has quicker heat penetration. Faster product heating allows for improved quality of the food product. Other advantages that retort pouches have compared to rigid containers is their lighter weight and easier opening. Retorting food products in flexible pouches has several key differences when compared to rigid metal cans. The pouch materials, styles, filling, sealing and retort systems.

Retort pouch materials, unlike metal cans or glass jars, are multilayer laminations with each layer providing a different function for the retort pouch. Functions needed in a retort pouch are heat seal ability, thermal stability, gas barrier, rigidity and printability. These functions can be provided in either 3 or 4 layer structures depending on the situation. Cast polypropylene provides a good sealant layer and has good heat stability at retort temperatures. There are two main types of barrier layers in retort pouches; foil and nonfoil. Foil retort pouches contain a layer of 0.00035” aluminum foil. Non-foil retort pouches can have several different materials. Currently, the most common non-foil barriers layers of retort pouches are coatings applied to polyester or nylon. These coatings are typically silicon dioxide or aluminum oxide. Both coatings have a potential for cracks to occur in the barrier coating due to flexing that occurs during the retort process or handling. Other non-foil barriers include ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) and polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC). EVOH is susceptible to barrier loss due to exposure to water. Stand-up type, retort pouches require adequate stiffness to function properly when filled with a food product. Retort pouches also need puncture or tear resistance to maintain the hermetic seal. Biaxially oriented nylon or

meaning the retort is loaded with a specified number of retort pouches and then processed.polyester provides good tear and puncture resistance. Continuous flow retort systems such allow for containers to constantly mover through the retort system. Without adequate air overpressure. One variation of this type of retort utilizes a high volume fan located in the rear of the retort chamber. full water immersion and water spray. A pure steam retort involves the introduction of pressurized steam through a series of perforated pipes. Similar to metal cans and glass jars. Another classification is whether the retort is equipped with overpressure capability. Pouch filling for retort pouches can be more problematic and slower when compared to rigid containers due to the fact that pouches have to be opened before they can be filled. retort pouches need to be heated above 240oF to begin thermal destruction of clostridium botulium spores. pouch swelling can continue until the retort pouch seals are stressed to the point of failure. also insufficient opening can lead to contamination in the seal area. The next classification is whether the retort system is batch or continuous flow. though the actual heating medium may change. there are some formfill-seal machines being utilized for retort pouches. since contamination from the food product in the seal area compromises the hermetic seal. Zippers. However. therefore the adhesives used can be a failure point in a retort pouch. Retort pouch seals must maintain a minimum of 1/16” on all side and ends seals for a proper hermetic seal. which is the main microorganism of concern in LACF. Retort systems can be classified several different ways. Retort pouches are typically premade and shipped to the final customer for filling. and spout fitments are also being incorporated in the many retort pouches. Retort pouch seals are generally inspected and a nondestructive test conducted every 30 minutes during production as are metal cans or glass jars. The final classification level is related to what type of heating medium is used in the system. . Retort pouch sealing can be difficult and variable. When a food product is sealed in a container. There are three basic mediums used for processing retort pouches. Food containers remain stationary in a still retort system and containers are rotated in an agitating retort system. located near the bottom of the retort chamber. sliders. Adhesives in retort laminations undergo severe strain. Container rotation allows for more even heating and often quicker heat transfer. called steams spreaders. Due to their flexible nature and their potential for expansion during processing. Typically retort pouch systems are batch systems. Retorts typically utilize pressurized steam as the heat source. Residual gas in a rigid container such as a metal can or glass jar expands also but the rigidity of the container does not require air overpressure to maintain container integrity. some residual gas is trapped in the container unless it is vacuum sealed. The retort is vented through a valve at the top of the retort until the complete chamber volume is saturated in steam and the retort has reached its processing temperature. Retort pouch processors also use “burst” testers to verify seal integrity. steam. which inflates the pouch to a particular air pressure to verify seal strength. sterilizing temperatures above 240oF. retort pouches are placed in metal or plastic racks to maintain pouch thickness during the retort process. Double seamed metal cans or lugged metal lids on a glass jars rarely experience these types of sealing problems. Retort pouch styles are typically pillow or stand-up. There can be several variations on each of these three basic types. Trapped residual gas expands as it is heated causing the flexible retort pouch to swell. Other seal test methods can include placing the pouch in a vacuum chamber to check for seal leaks or applying a specified compressive load on a filled pouch for selected time period. A destructive test such as ASTM D882 methods “A” or ”B” must be performed every fours hours. A retort is the piece of food processing equipment used to produce uniform. The first classification is either still or agitating. This type of retort is referred to as a steam-air retort. Steam retorts are characteristically difficult to maintain uniform overpressure due to the regular introduction of steam into the vessel. Overpressure capability is required on all retort systems that process retort pouches and is the major difference between retort systems for cans or glass and retort systems for pouches. Most retort pouches utilize polyester as the printing layer. It is typically used for products that are heat sensitive. The retort is then unloaded and the process repeated. The pouch opening operation can reduce filling speeds. The fan forces the steam throughout the retort chamber providing more even heat distribution. Consistent pouch filling and sealing are one of the key limitations of retort pouches compared to metal cans or glass jars. These types of systems are generally used for metal cans or glass jars. Retort pouch structures are adhesive laminations. sealing and processing.

National Food Processors Association. Washington. NFPA. Inc.. L. E. superheated water from the top heating vessel can be very damaging to the retort pouches located on the top racks of the retort. M. D. Flexible Package Integrity. The top vessel preheats the processing water to a temperature of above 270oF and discharges this water into the processing vessel. J.. S. G. D. REFERENCES Gavin. Food Packaging: Principles and Practice. The water spray retort is the newest type of retort processing technology for retort pouches. A water-spray retort utilizes a pump that forces super heated water. D. sufficient heat distribution is typically present in a water spray retort. Canned Foods: Principles of Thermal Process Control. and Culter.. 1993. Ohio. Proper water circulation is essential for proper heat distribution in a full water immersion retort. 2000. A cascading water retort is similar to a water spray retort except the superheated water is cascaded over the top of the retort pouches instead of being sprayed from the top and sides.C. Given that the process water is pumped through the heat exchanger. Water spray systems are recognized for improved control of the processing temperature and overpressure during the retorting process because the process water is heated and cooled through a plate heat exchanger instead of direct steam injection. Acidification and Container Closure Evaluation.. M. Hanser Gardner Publications.C. 1985. NFPA. 1995. NY. D. National Food Processors Association. through spray nozzles located at the top and sides of the retort chamber. Marcel Dekker. greater than 250oF. A. Bulletin 41-L. . Also retort pouches can float and move during processing in a full immersion retort system causing potential damage.A full water immersion retort has a large chamber located directly over the processing vessel. Washington..L. New York. The Food Processors Institute. 1989. Inc.C. Cinncinnati.. Full water immersion systems are also equipped with a circulation pump that ensures proper circulation of the process water during the retort process. Guidelines for Thermal Process Development for Foods Packaged in Flexible Containers. Selke. Washington. The initial discharge of pressurized. J. Robertson. R. This water spray design provides a very uniform heating pattern around the retort pouches. and Wedding. Hernandez. Plastics Packaging.

– Commercial sterility • C.D. Scott Whiteside. Botulium – Hermetically sealed container – “Canning” – Process Authority Retort Pouch Advantages • • • • Lighter weight Safer Microwavable Faster heating 1 . Nevada Introduction to Retort Pouch Technology Presented by: W. Associate Professor Department of Packaging Science Clemson University What is Retorting? – A method of food preservation • food and it’s container are rendered commercially sterile by the application of heat. alone or in combination with pH and/or water activity or other chemicals. Ph.2005 PLACE Conference September 27-29 Las Vegas.

2005 Retort Pouch Materials • Multilayer lamination – Functional layers • Barrier Materials – Foil – Non-foil • SiOx • AlOx • PVDC • Besela • EVOH • Styles – Pillow.Retort Pouch History • First Concept .1940’s • U. shaped • Features – Fitments. Military (MRE’s) early 70’s • Pet Food – late 90’s • Tuna – late 90’s • Various products . atm. stand-up. • WVTR less than 0. Zippers. atm. – Resistant to processing temperatures • 250 – 270oF (121 – 132oC) • 30 – 60 psi – Physical strength • Puncture • Abrasion 2 . Sliders Retort Pouch Materials – Title 21 CFR 177.S.05 g/100 in2/ 24 hrs.1390 • Resistance to penetration/migration – Permeability • O2 less than 1 cc/100in2 /24 hrs. Peg holes.

leaks.4 Ply-MRE Polyester Ink Adhesive Nylon Adhesive Aluminum Foil Adhesive Cast Polypropylene 3 Ply. delamination • Physical tests every four hours • Various methods 3 .Non Foil Pouch Polyester (barrier coated) Ink Adhesive Nylon Adhesive Cast Polypropylene Pouch Filling/Sealing – Filling • Pouch opening • Sealing issues – Seal testing • Visual inspection at start-up and every 30 minutes – Seals widths.

Pouch Retorts –All retorts are not created equal –Categories • Still or agitating • Batch or continuous • Overpressure • Process medium • 250oF = 15 psi –10 tons of force Why Overpressure? Air pressure Heat Expansion Heating Mediums • Steam • Water Spray • Full Water Immersion 4 .

Racks/Crates Overpressure Retort Full Immersion Retort 5 .

Scott Whiteside. 6 . Please remember to turn in your evaluation sheet. Associate Professor Department of Packaging Science Clemson University wwhtsd@clemson.D.Thank You PRESENTED BY W..

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