Making baby formula packaging safer

by | Apr 12, 2023

It’s hard to imagine a more important area of food safety than baby formulas. Bad enough when a foodborne illness hurts anyone, but when infants are affected, the repercussions are so much worse.

In 2008, contamination of infant formula affected 300,000 babies in China, resulting in several deaths. A 2012 salmonella outbreak in France led to criminal charges. And in the U.S., a bacterial contamination in 2022 caused a serious nationwide shortage of powdered formula.

2022’s baby formula shortage stemmed from a product recall by a Michigan facility where unsanitary conditions and contaminated products, which led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to temporarily shut down the facility.

In the wake of continued problems, the FDA has called for improvements in infant formula safety across the supply chain, including manufacturers, packers, distributors, exporters, importers and retailers.

So the question is, can more be done, and where are improvements possible?

Why packaging matters

While none of the above problems were related to packaging, it’s still a part of the manufacturing process that’s vitally important to safety, as the industry well knows. That’s because any contamination in packaging materials can undo all of the safety measures that are taken to protect the formula itself.

In fact, packaging safety is so important that some companies are even focusing on aseptic packaging as both a safety issue and a competitive market advantage. (I’ll come back to this later.)

That’s why Pulsed Light is now in the spotlight as a way to improve the safety of infant formula packaging. As in other food industries, formula packagers have relied on relatively old techniques for sterilizing packages before filling. These primarily include heat and chemicals, both of which have drawbacks. Using heat to sterilize takes a long time and limits the materials that can be used. Chemicals come with their own problems, including the need to manage and dispose of them properly, and protecting workers from any harm.

Pulsed Light doesn’t have any of those issues. It generates energy without heat, so it can be used with any materials. It also works at production speeds, with only a few flashes of Pulsed Light needed for full sterilization.

Proven and FDA-approved

Pulsed Light’s ability to destroy or deactivate virtually every known pathogen is well established by years of research and practice. In the pharma industry, Pulsed Light is one of the hurdle technologies used to maximize safety. In addition, Pulsed Light is approved by the FDA for use with food products, so it can be applied to packaging with confidence.

All of this makes Pulsed Light ideal as a solution for aseptic packaging in the baby formula industry.

Now, I want to come back to the idea of creating an advantage in the marketplace. Public concern with food safety has never been higher, especially given the global coronavirus pandemic of the last few years. Any contamination that gets into the formula or the packaging can have disastrous consequences.

These issues are greatly heightened when the food product in question is infant formula. Protecting the packaging process with Pulsed Light can not only improve safety, it can give customers the confidence they’re looking for when choosing an infant formula. And when it comes to infant safety, consumer confidence is everything.

Getting started

XENON “PurePulse” technology is available in many lamp and housing configurations to fit any production setting. XENON also offers a benchtop unit for research use by OEMs, food packagers, and universities who want to conduct their own research.

There is no magic bullet for solving the safety problem in infant formula. But there are concrete, proven, and effective steps that could be taken right now to make formula safer. And adopting Pulsed Light in the packaging process is one of them.

To learn more about Pulsed Light and aseptic packaging, contact XENON today.