The possibility of glass fragments contaminating baby food is a source of tremendous anxiety, and manufacturers spend heavily on safeguards to minimize the risk. The best solution may be elimination of glass jars, and the NatureLock line from Fremont, Mich.-based Gerber Products Co. is a move in that direction.

Low-acid fruits and vegetables including applesauce, pears, carrots and peas are being packaged in aseptic, thermal formed plastic cups formed on a Hassia TAS 28/80 filling machine. The horizontal form/fill/seal machine is the same as the unit used for pudding at Hunt-Wesson's Waterloo, Ia., facility, according to Charles Ravalli, president of Morganville, N.J.-based Hassia USA Inc. That plant was Food Engineering's 1999 plant of the year. The machine steam-sterilizes cup materials and foil lidding and can output up to 1,200 barrier-plastic cups per minute. The Gerber package also features a snap-fit overcap.

NatureLock uses a high-temperature, short-time cooking process that Gerber officials say yields higher quality, more flavorful products. Only three 3.5 oz. servings are available in plastic, with a 12-month shelf life.

The process has not been validated for particulate, so other NatureLock varieties remain in glass jars.

NatureLock products are bundled into four-packs, adding organization to shelf displays and helping to move multiple units, another drawback of individual glass jars.