Digital Magazine

Battling the Biothreats

Thank Goodness for Converters, Indeed!
A few months ago, I can remember complaining about those "annoying" safety seals. You find them on your ketchup container, underneath your shampoo cap, on your ibuprofen bottle. "If someone can find a way to thwart these," I remember thinking as I struggled to remove a particular seal, "they’d have to go to a lot of trouble—and expense."

I don’t think I’ve ever removed a safety foil lid intact; all my sealed containers at home indicate signs of my tampering.

Then everything changed. September 11th happened, and not even a full month later, people began getting sick from anthrax. A headache brought on by the constant media drum of anthrax, biological warfare, Ground Zero, war in Afghanistan, terror alerts, death, suffering, and destruction took me to my medicine cabinet.

Upon opening my aspirin bottle, I felt relief without even taking a single pill. Part of the foil lid was still sealed to the bottle’s mouth; I never bothered to peel the rest of it off. "At least this is safe," I thought to myself.

The irony wasn’t lost; I realized it was only a short time before I’d been complaining about the sealing lid. And while I know that nothing can keep out everything, those sealing lids continue to give me comfort. "Thank goodness for converters," I thought.

The No-Tox Product Protection
Thank goodness for converters, indeed. In our increasingly insecure world, the technological feats of the converting and packaging industries continue to restore that necessary sense of well being we all need to get "about our daily lives," as our leaders have suggested we do. Sealing lids—definitely a converted product—helped do it with the product-tampering problem we had in the 80s.

And in this still very new millennium, another converting industry product may help restore a sense of safety to the mail and shipping industries. Colorcon, a division of Berwind Pharmaceutical Services, recently announced it filed a patent application for its No-Tox AM product line.

According to Colorcon, the company’s No-Tox products business unit (which has been manufacturing No-Tox printing inks and coatings for decades) has launched its new No-Tox AM inks and coatings using the AgION antimicrobial technology.

"AgION Technologies is a Boston-based biotechnology company engaged in antimicrobial R&D," reports Colorcon. "Its flagship product, sold under the AgION trademark, is an advanced highly effective antimicrobial compound that can be used in a wide range of materials including plastics, metals, and fibers used in the manufacture of biomedical, industrial, commercial, and consumer goods."

Reportedly, the antimicrobial performance of the FDA-approved No-Tox AM product has reduced a broad spectrum of bacteria and molds below detectable limits in laboratory testings. Dr. Richard Podhajny, a Colorcon scientist and PFFC’s material science contributing editor says, though it hasn’t been tested against anthrax, Colorcon is optimistic about its possibilities. "This is one of the most effective antimicrobials that we know. In everything we’ve tested it against, it’s destroyed the bacteria. We’re trying to test this material’s [effectiveness] against anthrax in a US facility; we expect to make an arrangement for that shortly."

Colorcon says this development positions it as a key provider of AgION antimicrobial technology, which is suitable for use in food, pharmaceutical, and medical packaging. "We’re the first printing ink and coatings manufacturer worldwide to focus on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliant products for this and other applications in the industries we serve," says Michael Gettis, No-Tox Products’ director of business development. "On June 9, 2000, the FDA approved the AgION compound for use in all food contact polymers. All No-Tox inks and coatings are manufactured in a dedicated current Good Manufacturing Process (GMP) facility," he continues. "As we expand the application of the AgION antimicrobial technology, we will continue to provide leadership in our industry."

What Are Antimicrobials? How Do they Work?
In its announcement release, Colorcon addresses many of the questions converters, packagers, and even consumers likely will be asking.

According to Colorcon, microbes that contaminate packaging materials typically are controlled by using heat, steam, and radiation or by the addition of antimicrobial additives. "[These] additives are materials that are able to reduce or eliminate the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and molds," reports the company.

Among the most common antimicrobial materials are organic acids and their salts, reports Colorcon. For example, Potassium sorbate is used frequently with polyethylene (PE) materials to preserve such foods as cheese. Oxygen-scavenging systems, another antimicrobial method, absorb oxygen gas within the package and reduce oxidation of food components, which prevents growth of aerobic microorganisms like mold. And flushing a product with selected gases can control mold growth, says the company. "For example, gas rich in sulfite can prevent or delay fungi development. Sulfites, nitrites, and low-molecular-weight alcohols also have antimicrobial properties." Colorcon also identifies some other antimicrobial materials, which include enzymes, preservatives, and sterilizing materials (antimicrobial peroxides, ozone, eugenol, nisin, and lysosome).

The No-Tox Technique
"The AgION delivery system provides for the continual, slow release of silver, a natural antimicrobial compound, ensuring packaging longevity and integrity," says Colorcon. "The ‘silver bullet’ used in No-Tox AM coatings is based on silver ions contained in zeolite. This is an inorganic material that’s incorporated into the coating. The silver ions are released in the presence of surface moisture," says the company. "Less than 0.001 percent of the silver is in the coating itself, but it’s so effective that its shelf life is typically the life of the package," Colorcon adds.

Application: Coating vs. Extrusion
According to Colorcon, the application of an antimicrobial can take several approaches. One, suggests Michael Gettis, is to put the antimicrobial into the film by adding it to the extruder during film co-extrusion. "The disadvantage of doing this is poor cost effectiveness," Gettis says, "since antimicrobial material that’s not exposed to the film surface generally is unavailable to provide antimicrobial activity."

An alternative to the extrusion application of antimicrobial is to apply the antimicrobial additives as a coating," Gettis continues. "This has the advantage of placing the specific antimicrobial additive in a controlled manner, where the material is needed and not lost. In addition," he adds. "the coating can be applied at a later step, minimizing the exposure of the product to contamination."

The unique characteristics of No-Tox AM coatings, says Colorcon, are unlike other antimicrobials. "These coatings are extremely effective, do not degrade in hostile environments, are long lasting, and can be applied with standard coating equipment (direct or offset gravure) available to the packaging converter," the company reports. "No-Tox AM can be applied to a variety of substrates, which include paper, foil, nylon, and corona-treated films like PE, OPP (oriented polypropylene), or PET (polyester). Coated substrates, such as Tyvek®, can be coated as well."

What Next?
While the post office is taking measures to cleanse the mail—a network news broadcast recently reported on possible sterilization techniques through ultraviolet and electron beam technology—it’s certainly not the only entity using technology to help protect us. Colorcon’s release of No-Tox AM provides evidence of the converting industry’s attention to the matter.

Another company reveals its rapt attention to this issue with its recent product release of envelopes you can "look through." Mail-Well, Inc., based in Englewood, CO, first reported its intention to produce safety-oriented envelopes on November 6, 2001. In mid-November, the company reported receiving initial orders for two million safety envelopes. Says the mfr., "Mail-Well has received two separate orders for one million Visulope safety-window envelopes." The co. says Visulope permits visual detection of unusual substances within an envelope by allowing mail handlers and recipients to look through windows that wrap around the bottom of the envelope.

"We are pleased that our direct mail customers are responding positively to the Visulope concept," says Bob Hart, Mail-Well president/CEO. "The Visulope is a product that we were able to put into production quickly that speaks specifically to the current need for greater security and comfort in our mail system. [It] can be customized to any mailer's specifications, and we can deliver it very quickly in quantity," he adds. More information about Mail-Well products can be found at www.mail-well.com.

With its arduous R&D efforts and its innovative technology, once again, the converting industry is stepping front and center to face a national crisis. No-Tox is one product that may offer us a better sense of safety. Not only does it have implications right now in the wake of the anthrax-in-the-mail problem, but it, and other products like it, could be even more useful in protecting our food, medical, and health-products supplies. For more information about Colorcon and its No-Tox product line, visit colorcon.com.

Keeping reading PFFC and pffc-online for further developments on this subject.

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