The preform that goes into a blow molding machine to make Coca-Cola bottles is very similar to the test tube needed for COVID-19 testing kits - leading scientists to realise that they could easily be repurposed. And with Coca-Cola’s strengths of scale, it is able to produce 7 million of these preform-based test tubes a week.
The tubes are made by Southeastern Container, a PET preform and bottle manufacturing co-operative funded and managed by a group of Coca-Cola bottlers.
Five COVID-19 testing companies in the US are currently in line to use the tubes.
Identifying potential test tube suppliers
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services collaborated with Oak Ridge National Lab to identify manufacturers who could address a supply chain gap of COVID-19 test collection tubes to support the increasing testing needs.
Through a series of personal connections, Coca-Cola was identified as a potential supplier. Discussions with Coca-Cola Consolidated – the largest Coca-Cola bottler in the US, which serves around 66 million consumers – confirmed that the bottle preform (the small plastic tube that is later blown into a bottle shape for beverages) ‘looked exactly like’ the test tube needed for COVID-19 testing kits.
Coca-Cola Consolidated provided samples of their preforms and the laboratory worked with COVID-19 testing company Longhorn Vaccine-Diagnostics to confirm that the tubes met test kit criteria.
“Coke bottlers have done what no other vialing company could do — in a few short days, they have fabricated a small, ruggedized vial from a plastic preform that does not leak, is large enough to hold any swab type, and importantly, they can make millions of tubes per week,” said Dr Luke T Daum, Longhorn Vaccine-Diagnostics.
COVID-19 testing kits include a swab, saline solution and a plastic tube to enclose the swab during transport.
Soda bottle preforms for a 20oz Coca-Cola bottle are the perfect size to hold the long COVID-19 swab. The preforms also come with a screw-top cap that is tamper-proof and safely seals the tube, preventing leakage and exposure during transport.
Once the test tubes are produced, they must be sterilized before they can be used in test kits. Sandia National Laboratories, a Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration lab with headquarters in Albuquerque, N.M., is using its Gamma Irradiation Facility and a team of radiation science experts to develop protocols for sterilizing the preforms without damaging the materials. This knowledge will be shared with medical sterilization facilities around the country that receive Southeastern Container tubes to sterilize.
Additional tests have also been carried out on the tubes by ORNL to ensure preforms are leak proof and that bacteria growth can be prevented by high temperature heating or cleaning with an ethanol solution.
The preforms will be manufactured by Southeastern Container (SEC), based in North Carolina, which is a co-operative funded and managed by a group of Coca-Cola bottlers. SEC ships PET preforms and bottles to over 50 Coca-Cola bottling and co-packing operations in the US and Canada.
ORNL’s collection tube manufacturing research efforts are conducted in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and funded in part by the DOE Office of Science through the National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory, a consortium of DOE national laboratories focused on response to COVID-19, with funding provided by the Coronavirus CARES Act.
Inset picture credit: getty/tzido