Este artículo describe el esquema general de la fabricación de refrescos, desde materias primas y preparación de jarabes hasta embotellado.
Soft drinks are beverages produced from (mineral) water with sugar or sweeteners. Generally, soft drinks contain carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide has three functions:
- It provides a cooling sensation: through the evaporation of the gas heat is extracted from the tongue.
- It lowers the degree of acidity (pH 2.2 - 3.6), slowing down the growth of microorganism. However, other preservatives may be added in addition.
- It poisons the air that is possibly present above the soft drink, making it impossible for fungi to grow, due to the lack of oxygen.
If the product does not contain any carbon dioxide, it is considered a ‘flat’ or "still" drink. Additionally, flavourings, fruit- and plant juices, edible parts of fruits or plants and acid are added. Mineral water itself also belongs to the group of soft drinks.
Since the production process is very similar, the term ‘soft’ also applies to value added products, such as energy drinks and isotonic drinks. The market of refreshing beverages based on whey is showing a strong growth. There is also an strong increase visible in the number of ‘light’ soft drinks. Sweeteners are added to these drinks, replacing the sugar and thus lowering the consumers’ calorie intake. Acesulfame, cyclamate, aspartame and saccharin are the only sweeteners allowed.
Soft drinks make up for a large part of the non-alcoholic drinks category.
The Dutch Commodities Act sets a number of requirements for the labeling and naming of soft drinks:
Mineral water: Mineral water extracted from a source and bottled at the source.
Fruit Lemonade: Whether it is a carbonated beverage or not, with less than 0.5% of alcohol, it has to consist of water, sugar, and between 10 to 25% fermented or non-fermented fruit juices. Only organic acids, flavouring extracts and / or natural aromas are allowed to be added. The sugar, sucrose or glucose level, should be between 7 and 15%. Artificial sweeteners are not allowed.
Tonic: The presence of quinine should be indicated on the product label. In addition to a sugar content of more than 5%, the product must contain at least 40 mg of quinine per liter.
Lemonade-aerated: A bright, fizzy drink with a sugar content of at least 8%, in which the use of artificial colourings and flavours is allowed. This product does not contain any juice.
Caffeinated aerated: The presence of caffeine must be listed on the product label. These products may contain up to 150 mg of caffeine per liter, and may only be manufactured with ortho-phosphoric acid, to a maximum level of 600 mg per liter.
Soft drink production process
Systems for the production of soft drinks generally consist of a storage tank (a silo for the storage of the raw materials such as sugar, colouring and flavouring agents), a water treatment unit, a mixer, a pasteurizer or UHT sterilizer, a system for the adding of carbon dioxide and filling line. All systems can be cleaned automatically, by means of CIP (Cleaning In Place).
Soft drinks mainly consist of water. Due to the possibility of a chemical reaction between the calcium and other minerals in the water, and the colouring and flavouring agents, it may be necessary to soften and filter the water. It is important that the bacterial count of the water is sufficiently low.
- Drinking water is not free from micro-organisms. By law, the drinking water provided by the water company, must meet the 10 cfu/ml (measured at 22°C) at the supply point of the water company. The absence of organic carbon (clean water) prevents these microorganisms from growing further. As soon as sugar is added, microbial growth is triggered.
Sugar can be supplied in solid or liquid, in syrup form. The flavour of the product is determined by its sweet and sour ratio. For this reason, in addition to sugar, often an acid is added to the product. Next to citric acid, in the production of cola also phosphoric acid may be used.
Sugar syrup is microbially stable at 70°Brix. This means that that the sugar content is so high that any microorganisms present cannot withdraw any water from the syrup in order to grow. In fact, the water from the microorganisms themselves is extracted and they dehydrate. A large number of microorganism species do not survive at high concentrations of sugar.
However, condensation falling on the sugar syrup allows spores that are present there to grow into living and dividing microorganisms. If a sugar syrup tank is not isolated well, substantial amounts of mildew are found on the surface of the tank.
The basis of soft drinks, the syrup, is made up of water, sugar, acid, colouring and flavouring agents. This syrup is prepared by dissolving these ingredients into water to 65°Brix.
Sugar can be dissolved in two ways:
- Warm: dissolving at 70 to 80°C, filtering and cooling to 15°C
- Cold: dissolving by intensive stirring in cold water, filtering, and pasteurising.
Usually, the sugar is added with a flow meter. With the help of a flow meter with a density measurement (mass flow meter) the sugar content can be measured directly. The density is a measure of the sugar level (also called Brix). The Brix value represents the weight percentage of sugar in the food product. ? In the following table of Oechsle/Brix, the relationship between the density and the Brix value is given.
|°Brix||Dichtheid bij 20°C||°Baumé||°Brix||Dichtheid bij 20°C||°Baumé|
When instead of sugar, sweeteners are added, the required sweetness is determined through measuring the electrical conductivity of the solution. Measuring the density will not give accurate results due to the low density change of the solution.
The order in which the other ingredients are added varies per recipe. The colouring and flavouring agents and acids are usually only added in low concentrations, and are easy to dose by hand or by dosing pumps. When fruit juices are added to the syrup, the product should be pasteurised before impregnation.
The syrup must be given time to settle, so that any air whipped in can escape. This can also be done by using a vacuum deaerator: a rotating disc or plate over which the liquid (syrup) flows, while the surrounding space is continuously maintained under vacuum. It is also possible to bottle the syrup undiluted. Consumers can dilute the syrup themselves at home and optionally add carbon dioxide.
Syrup with fruit juices or with a pH of 3 or higher must be pasteurized at 80°C for 20 seconds before impregnation. This temperature is sufficient to kill off all living, vegetative cells. Only the spores, a survival mode for a number of species of microorganisms, may still be left behind. As long as the pH is lower than 4.6, they cannot develop into vegetative cells, which can grow further. If the pH turns out to be higher than 4.6, then the product must be sterilised or has a limited shelf life under refrigerated conditions.
Impregnation is the process of mixing water with carbon dioxide. The solubility of carbon dioxide gas in water depends on the pressure and the temperature of the water. The colder the water, the higher the solubility.
Carbon dioxide, however, is more soluble in air than in water. A balance will occur between the carbonic acid in the water and the carbon dioxide in the air. In a vacuum boiler the water is de-aerated as much as possible. After that the water is impregnated with carbon dioxide under high-pressure.
Mixing the syrup and the carbonated water can be done in 3 ways:
- Premix-method: In this method, two separate filling systems are needed, because the syrup is filled into the bottle before the carbonated water is added.
- Trimix or Intermix System: With this system, the carbonated water and the syrup are mixed in the proper ratio by using metering pumps.
- Mixing In-line: During the pumping of the syrup, water is added in-lin. With a static mixer in the pipeline, the solution is mixed well. Checking if the correct mix ratio is achieved can be done by measuring the density of the solution. Subsequently, the in-line impregnation process takes place. After impregnation, the solution is mixed again by a static mixer.
The majority of soft drinks are filled under pressure into bottles (glass or PET) or cans, achieving a maximum CO2-content of 8 grams. After filling, the bottles are immediately closed off with a (sterile) crown cap or a cap with plastic layer. In order to prevent airborne infections, often sterile air is blown over the bottle opening. Sometimes block packaging is applied.
The final step of the bottling process is labeling the packages with a labeling machine.
Food Safety & Hygienic Design
The preparation area must at least comply with GMP: being visibly clean before use, and no long term presence of water remaining after cleaning.
The syrup tank is seldom or never cleaned because of the supposed shelf life. As long as there is no mould growth, this is acceptable. The top of the tank - including manhole and air vent - must be heated and isolated for that purpose.
Pasteurisation is the critical step in the production process to kill off any microorganisms. It is important that this part of the production process is well designed - according to EHEDG-guideline no.1. In order to pasteurise, often a plate heat exchanger is used. It is known that these exchangers - even when new - will start to leak, but even more likely after time. Regular inspection is key in order to make sure the highly deformed thin plates of the plate heat exchanger do not suffer from stress and crack corrosion.
After pasteurisation, the whole line, including filling machine(s), must be hygienically designed: meaning cleanable to microbial level. Unless the product is pasteurized after filling, then GMP is sufficient. However, even this is not a license to be less careful during the pre-processing phase or cleaning the processing equipment less frequently or not fully, or extending the production run. Large amounts of heat-stable toxins produced by microorganisms (in particular of *S.aereus), may still be toxic after sterilization and will form a threat to the health of the consumer.