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What is Flash Pasteurization and Why Your Brewery Needs it

As a craft brewer, your customers are going to expect their favorite beers to have their best flavors. But after you’ve worked so hard to create the perfect batch of beer, it could all be ruined before the customer even gets to press their lips against the container. 

You want to make sure the beer tastes the same from the time it leaves your facility to the moment someone tastes it. Why leave the shelf life of your beverages up to chance? 

It’s becoming more evident that breweries, especially those aiming for broader distribution, will need to consider pasteurization. It helps prolong the shelf life of their beer without compromising the quality of your beer or its flavor. 

In this blog, we’ll take a look at what flash pasteurization is, how it works, and why flash pasteurization might be the best choice for your brewery. 

What is Flash Pasteurization?

Flash pasteurization, also called high-temperature short-time (HTST), is a process used to heat treat certain foods and liquids. The process for beer starts with a cold beverage. It’s heated to a very high temperature for a short period of time before being quickly cooled. Flash heat exposure can kill bacteria, molds, and yeast which helps extend a beverage’s shelf life. 

Flash pasteurization helps to maintain the beverage’s natural flavor and often eliminates the need for preservatives. This ensures customers can enjoy a fresher, tastier product for longer. 

How Flash Pasteurization Works

The rapid heating of flash pasteurization is done in a heat exchanger, which typically has three sections:

Regeneration Section
This is where most of the heat transfer takes place. There is the raw incoming product on one side of the plate and the pasteurized product on the other side. The incoming product is being pre-heated by the existing product, which is in turn being cooled by the incoming. This recovers 90% or more of the energy and reduces utility costs for both heating and cooling.

Heating Section
After exiting the regeneration section, the product has been heated to within 15-20°F of the pasteurization temperature. It travels through the system to be heated to a specific temperature. Steam is used to heat water and pumped through the heat exchanger on the opposite side of the plate from the product. 

Hold Loop
After reaching the desired pasteurization temperature, the product travels through the Hold Loop, which retains the pasteurization temperature for the specified time (normally 15-30 seconds). Exiting the Hold Loop, the product then passes through the pasteurized side of Regeneration. The existing product is cooled by the incoming product on the opposite side of the plate. The exiting temperature of pasteurized regeneration is typically within 10-15° of the incoming product temperature.

Cooling Section
Product exiting regeneration passes through cooling to be cooled to the final desired temperature. Glycol or another cooling medium is used. 

Breweries must use hygienic filling technology to prevent contamination after pasteurization. This helps to ensure beverages are bottled or canned in a sterile environment. Flash pasteurization requires rigorous quality control, and any deviation from the process can compromise a beverage’s quality or safety. 

Which Beverages Need Flash Pasteurization? 

The main reason you should consider flash pasteurization is that it maintains the quality and taste of your beer over a longer period of time, and can extend its shelf life.  This process can also be used with several other kinds of cold beverages, including: 

  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • Milk
  • Smoothies
  • Sports drinks
  • Wine

For beverage producers looking to deliver superior-quality products, flash pasteurization is a viable option. However, there are benefits and drawbacks to the process that might sway a brewery’s decision to incorporate the process into its beer production. Here’s a look at a few:

Advantages of Flash Pasteurization

Flash Pasteurization is Best for Highly Perishable Beverages

Flash pasteurization is the only viable option for highly perishable beverages like beer. Especially when brands want to extend their product’s shelf life without compromising on taste

Flash Pasteurization is Preservative Free

Flash pasteurization does not use preservatives. The high temperatures are hot enough to slow the growth of bacteria and other microbes. This can be a big advantage for companies that want to make all-natural products while maintaining quality. 

Disadvantages of Flash Pasteurization

Flash Pasteurization is a Long-Term Investment

Flash pasteurization is a long-term investment because of the technology and advanced equipment involved. However, investing in a system not only maintains your great flavor but also gives you the opportunity to reach new markets.

Flash Pasteurization Requires Quality Control

Flash pasteurization requires rigorous quality control before and after the process to ensure safety and quality. However, for most pasteurization systems, you can rely on advanced monitoring technology to help automate parts of the process. 

Flash Pasteurization Can Kill Beneficial Bacteria

Flash pasteurization does not have the ability to differentiate between good and bad bacteria. Flash-heating a beverage will kill everything. This could be an issue for companies that want to preserve probiotic bacteria (e.g.: kombucha). 

For breweries looking to produce high-quality beers without sacrificing taste, freshness, and nutrition – the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Why Flash Pasteurization is a Must-have at Your Brewery

The shelf life of your beer is an important factor when considering shipping, warehouse time, sitting on a store’s shelf, and even time it may sit in a consumer’s refrigerator. Pasteurization is the right choice but it’s important to note, that there are actually two types of pasteurization that make sense for breweries, depending on your product and overall goals: 

  1. Flash pasteurization: This process is more common in the craft brewery industry and is used most often by larger breweries. Flash pasteurization is done before packaging. An added benefit of flash pasteurization is that it helps with the quality of beverages beyond just beer. As brewers begin to expand product lines into seltzers, teas, or coffee — they can be confident they are creating quality beverages that will last. 
  2. Tunnel pasteurization: This is a continuous pasteurization process with multiple steps to treatment. After a beer is bottled or canned, it is passed through the tunnel, hence the name. The downside to tunnel pasteurization is that the process is not as energy-efficient as flash pasteurization. And tunnel pasteurization is typically a much larger investment than flash pasteurization and requires a significant amount of space. 

Regardless of which process you choose, one thing will remain constant: After working so hard to formulate the perfect batch of beer, it doesn’t make much sense to leave its shelf life up to chance in kegs and with distributors. It is almost impossible to control keg cold storage once it’s in the hands of distributors. Beyond that, you want to ensure that you’re not sacrificing taste or freshness when it comes to a product you’ve poured your heart into.

This technology is constantly evolving, and up-and-coming equipment advancements mean that flash pasteurizers can be placed in different areas within breweries taking up a lot of floor space. And over time, many more models are becoming more affordable for smaller-scale breweries. 

Get Started with Shelf Life Systems 

Flash pasteurization might be the right choice for your brewery. It could help you produce high-quality beers and extend their shelf life. However, you need a pasteurization partner who can help you with the process. 

Get in touch with the Shelf Life Systems team today to learn about our pasteurization systems and how we can help you extend your beer’s shelf life.