Sunday, March 25, 2012

Some thoughts on contamination and packaging

I've seen quite a few people lately talking about how they aren't sure why their products went off given that they are almost obsessive about cleanliness, and I think part of the problem might be the open mouthed containers they are using. (Find the discussion in this recent post on cetyl alcohol as well as on the Dish forum.)

Give some serious thought to the containers you are planning to use with your products. The less access to the air for your product, the lower the chance of contamination. A bottle with a disc cap or turret cap is less likely to get tons of air exposure than a jar, so the bottle with the disc cap is less likely to experience contamination. You can be as obsessively clean as you want with your utensils and work containers, but if you don't put your products into a really clean container that has low access to the air around us, contamination is a strong possibility.

As an aside, if you doubt the power of exposure to air, think about how yeast gets into some breads - from the air! Alton Brown - all hail Alton Brown! - tells us more about the yeast in the air in this clip on how to make sourdough bread starter! Click here for sock puppet hilarity! 

Don't get me wrong - I love jars. It's bad enough we have to worry about the air - and is the air in your bathroom the cleanest in the house? - but we have to think about what our end user is going to do with our products! Will they leave the lid off or cap it when they're done in the shower? (This was one of the reasons my mom wouldn't let me have "expensive" hair care products as a teenager. I kinda had a problem with tidiness and putting caps on things!) Will they stick wet hands or less-than-clean utensils into the jar? 

You don't need to clean containers you've received from your supplier. If you've kept them in a bag in a fairly dust free location, they are clean. Don't waste your time and energy on cleaning an already clean container!

And a final note, when creating products, use distilled water. Don't use water from the tap as you don't know what metals or bacteria might be found in our local water supply. You might have the best water in the world - Chilliwack had that designation one year - but that doesn't mean that there aren't bacteria or other beasties that could contaminate our products! And the metals can speed up rancidity through auto-oxidation (click here for rancidity post). 

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8 comments:

Lise M Andersen said...

Great post Susan (as usual!). I will actually put sample amounts of my products in jars and 'throw everything I can at them' in the way of dipping wet fingers, leaving the lid off, etc etc to see how they fare. It's a way of doing a simple test on a product. Aside from that, I am a real fan of the airless container for the exact reasons you describe in this post.

Clive said...

I do not agree about cleaning containers. It's essential to clean containers received from your supplier. The first time I thought it 'unnecessary' the result was black mould. Everything needs to be cleaned. The worst problem is seals - those foam plastic seals for jars can't really be cleaned 100% and can be a focus for mould growth.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lise! I do this regularly with my products to see how well they stand up to every possible assault in the real world. They've all done quite well, fortunately! I haven't tried airless containers yet, but I must in the near future.

Hi Clive! I appreciate your perspective, although I disagree. As someone with a company, you have devices and equipment to ensure a bottle is washed out and dried completely - as a home crafter, I don't have that option, and I will more than likely leave some dish soap or tap water in the container, which causes more problems than it solves! From a manufacturer's point of view, cleaning your containers might be a good idea - from a home crafter's point of view, it's not.

Nedeia said...

I always wipe clean my containers, where possible, at least with alcohol. I feel better that way.

Kayln Reeves said...

It was a very disappointing moment where you find out that your package has been contaminated due to inappropriate packing. Variation of temperature might be the reason for this but I think the solution itself must start within ourselves.

Alex said...

Hi Susan! I hope you're having an awesome New Year :) Thank you for this great educational blog! I have a question. Is it a bad idea to move products from their original container into a different one? For example, a hand soap. I am trying to limit contamination.

- Alex

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Alex. Thank you for your kind words! Can you give me more detail? You're moving hand soap from one container to another? Why are you doing this? What kind of container are you putting it into? Is this a new container or an old container? And is this an actual soap or a detergent based soap?

Alex said...

Thank you for your response, Susan! It's hand soap, and I'd like to move it into a prettier container. I'd like to put it in a foaming pump bottle (a new one, although I'd be reusing it eventually.)

- Alex