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Conveyor Belts and the Pressure of Sanitation

The food processing industry uses several types of conveyor belts depending on process and application: fabric belts, monolithic belts, plastic modular belts and steel belts. While all these products are food grade, compliant with EU and FDA regulations, and USDA approved, they have their caveats.

Plant managers are acutely aware of the risks posed by contamination from the likes of salmonella and listeria, as well as the resulting impact of product recalls on brand reputation. Despite this, there is a competitive pressure on plant managers to maintain, or even further minimize the cleaning window to increase productivity, while increasing the overall hygienic standards. 

What can plant managers do to minimize cleaning time while maintaining, and even improving, food safety? One way is to assess your use of conveyor belts, a component that plays a pivotal role in food safety and one that can ultimately save cost and time.

Traditional fabric belts are generally not completely resistant to the most aggressive chemicals used in today’s food protein processing industry. This means that in some cases, if not well selected, cared for and maintained, fabric belts can degrade, become difficult to clean and become a host for bacteria.

Monolithic belts are extruded from a single material, typically polyurethane, which prevents degradation and delamination, making them the easiest to clean. However, they are less robust, can stretch under heavy loads if not reinforced, and can sometimes exhibit a lower resistance to harsh cleaning agents.

Plastic modular belts have been used across the food industry for many years, favored for their reliable performance and ability to operate in difficult environmental conditions. This includes extreme temperatures, impacts, cuts, abrasion and the presence of harsh chemicals that make life very difficult for most other belting types.

In the last 20 years plastic modular belts have had some incremental hygienic innovations in their design, especially in the hinge area, which can sometimes be difficult to clean. 

Plastic is certainly the cheaper option in terms of initial investment cost but steel has significant advantages in certain applications, particularly in high temperature or aggressive environments where plastic simply wouldn’t be an option, or where durability is important and total cost of ownership is more important than purchase price.

Solid and perforated steel belts have applications across the food industry but there are other types of steel belts. Steel wire belts can be a good choice when frying, or enrobing a baked product with chocolate. Steel mesh is widely used for crackers and similar products, and steel slats can be used for baking with pans or aluminum sheets.

You can read the rest of this article in the Autumn Issue of Asia Pacific Baker & Biscuit magazine, which you can access by clicking here

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