Research and Development

Steam Autoclaves by Priorclave

Canned food has been a cornerstone of the food and beverage industry since the mid-1800s. And while tastes and products have changed a great deal in the last 200 years, production-level retort processing has remained largely the same:

  1. load food into steel cans or glass jars
  2. seal the cans/jars
  3. process them in a retort
  4. cool, inspect, label, package, and ship

This is a reliable process built on technology that completely transformed how people live. But it’s far from perfect: cans are heavy and bulky (an issue in times of soaring fuel costs), while jars are delicate (making for more expensive shipping and handling).

And while the retort process itself is extremely effective in terms of preservation, it’s resource intensive and plagued with its own issues (such as “retort flavor“—leading to canned foods high in salt and sugar and artificial flavorings that remain palatable even after high-heat processing for hours).

Over the last several decades, food and beverage manufacturers have increasingly begun to experiment with new food processing and packaging technologies.

Retorts for New Product Development

For example, retortable pouches and cartons offer a space and energy efficient alternative to glass jars and steel cans. The packages themselves require roughly 95% less material. Because retortable pouches and cartons have both a thinner profile and better thermal conductivity, they heat considerably faster in the retort. That results in a smaller environmental impact in both their manufacture and disposal.

They also lend themselves to a better consumer experience. With shorter heating times during processing, food flavors and aromas are less likely to be negatively affected. Also, the packages are easier to handle and open for children, older adults, and those with limited mobility (who may struggle to open cans or jars).

But this new packaging requires some changes to how retorts operate. Specifically, it requires a retort with an air ballast system (in food processing this is often called “air overpressure”). The air ballast comes on during the cooling procedure, equalising the pressure between the inside of the pouches to the outside chamber. In the absence of air-ballast, flexible containers and retort pouches will tend to burst.

Production-scale overpressure retorts are a big investment—in addition to simply being a big piece of equipment. No one wants to make such an investment only to learn that it isn’t quite right for the processing they’ve developed.

Drawing on our experience building custom research-grade autoclaves, we’ve worked closely with some of the world’s most prominent food manufacturers and packagers to develop air-ballast autoclaves that precisely mimic the conditions in a large overpressure retort, but at a smaller scale. These small-scale research and development retorts provide the ideal platform for food research and rapidly prototyping and testing new food packaging materials and thermal processing approaches.

Reliable, Flexible Research and Development Retorts

Every Priorclave autoclave is specified to your needs and custom built in our dedicated London factory. They are purpose designed to take on a full range of research tasks:

  • testing new packaging and process
  • processing foodstuff
  • sterilising tools, samples, growth media, waste loads
  • and more

But what truly distinguishes Priorclave is customer satisfaction. Priorclave customers consistently report 93% to 100% satisfaction with their purchase over the course of years—with that rating improving the longer they’ve owned the unit. In our most recent customer satisfaction survey, most owners rated installation and first use “very satisfactory,” with more than a quarter calling it “delightful.”

Ensuring that customers derive the full benefits of our autoclave and maximise their sterilising process we offer free lifetime technical support and consultation and one of the best warranty programs in the industry. Priorclave also maintains a network of factory-certified authorised service agents (ASAs) in the UK and around the world.
Wherever you are, we are as close as a phone call or mouse click.