If you go back in time, hygienic practices weren’t even heard of let alone carried out. Medicines were made primarily of plants and whatever else was on hand and even, during the Victorian period when pharmaceuticals became more main stream, they weren’t very worried about how sterile the compounds were.
Today of course, pharmaceuticals are big business and having a product delivered to a patient sterile and ready to go is the norm. We’re talking eye drops, ear drops, injectables, infusion products and the like, all things that have to remain sterile until ready to use.
By definition, something that is sterile has the absence of any viable microorganism, and the specification is unchanging and independent of the manufacturing process of the drug in the first place. To make a sterile product then, means filling and sealing the product containers under high quality environmental conditions, with care and with the same practices in place day after day.
When you are talking foods, beverages and medicines, keeping them sterile is a process called aseptic processing. This means that the sterile product is packaged in such a way as to keep its sterile rating. It is accomplished by flash heating which uses less energy than other techniques while (in the case of food) retains more nutrients. When you are talking pharmaceuticals, the ante is upped and the procedure also includes the use of clean rooms, bacteria retaining filters, and either dry or steam heat.
Some examples of food and drinks being in a sterile container include tetra juice boxes and drink pouches, but for medicines, they are stored in plastic or glass containers as these materials form a tight seal against microbiological organisms, contaminants, and degradation of the substance being carried. Using aseptic processing means you no longer need refrigeration and it makes worldwide import and export safe and economical.
Aseptic containers range in size from tiny ones that hold just a few ounces of medicine to ones that can hold eight million gallons in a tank on an ocean liner. Companies that package these medicines and the like can then send their product all over the world, knowing that once it reaches its destination, it is still a viable, sterilized product and will remain that way until it is used for a patient.
The next time you have a prescription for eye drops or have medicines administered by injection or drip, you can be sure those medicines are sterile, all thanks for aseptic processing.