With the pace of work and play picking up in Calcutta, “living out of packs” is the way to be. And aseptic packaging in tetrahedron-shaped cartons — used for everything, from milk to juice, cooking cream to table wine — is emerging as a vital ingredient of daily living.
But sipping from a pack of Nestle Slim milk, we scarcely realise that the bulk produce from farmers’ sheds was initially tested for antibiotics, aflatoxin and pesticide residues before being processed. Or for that matter, the Slice or Maaza, in six-layer Tetra Pak packages, underwent a weeklong incubation to check for bacterial growth before being commercially released.
Aseptic packaging — a process by which micro-organisms are prevented from entering into the package during and after packaging — is the way forward for the dairy and food-processing sectors, in a country where nearly half the farmer’s produce is wasted, feel food processing and nutrition experts.
“Today’s hectic lifestyle encourages production of free radicals in our bodies, which are linked to conditions like diabetes and hypertension. Aseptic packaging, which doesn’t use preservatives, can bring milk and fresh juice back into our daily diet to combat these free radicals,” said nutrition consultant A. Padmaja Prasad.
Why is aseptic packaging a healthier option' “Unlike cans, which require a lot of heat and time to sterilise, aseptic packaging uses the high temperature short time (HTST) or ultra-high temperature (UHT) process, that takes only three seconds. Nonetheless, it eliminates completely all the micro-organisms, while retaining all the nutrients,” observed J.S. Pai, at the Dynamix Dairy plant in Baramati.
“Aseptic packaging, which sterilises the package and the product separately and packs the product without allowing the fresh inclusion of microbes into it, helps retain all the nutrients in milk or juice,” added the food and fermentation technology department head in the University of Mumbai.
It’s a pity that only 15 per cent of the milk produced in India is processed in the organised sector, observed Surendran Menon, Aseptic Food Processing & Packaging Industry Association of India (AFPPA) coordinator. “The rest, retailed in the market, can have a high bacterial count and, hence, can be a health hazard to consumers.” Menon lamented that poor awareness of health benefits and the potential of aseptic packaging, coupled with “an irrational duty structure”, have prevented this technology from taking off. The fact in figures — the per capita consumption is 32 in Thailand, 20 in Pakistan, one in Bangladesh and just half a pack in India.
Calcutta can be the aseptic packaging hub to supply the entire Northeast, which is milk-deficient, felt Menon.