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Finding the right conveyor for a food production environment

23 August 2021

Helen Northcott offers advice on identifying conveyors and systems that will withstand the rigours of a demanding food manufacturing environment. 

An Internet search for the phrase ‘hygienic conveyor systems’ will yield over 4.3 million results.  With such a vast choice it can be overwhelming to know where to start when looking for a conveying solution suitable for the needs of a hygienic, wash-down food production environment

For washdown areas in food factories I would always recommend looking at solutions that are constructed from  stainless steel. While painted and powder coat finished mild steel will look clean at the start and be cheaper than stainless steel, after a very short period, cleaning with harsh chemicals and high-pressure water sprays will take their toll and the surface coating will erode and the base metal will start to rust. This will result in unsightly and unhygienic surfaces on the machine.  In time this could affect the structural properties of the conveyor.

Any material coming into direct contact with naked food products should be FDA approved for food hygiene.  Always look for conveyor belts that are made from FDA approved plastic materials such as acetal and polypropylene or stainless-steel mesh belting.

Conveyor construction comes in different forms, depending on the type of belt used – folded flat metal sections for flat belts or folded side sections with supporting wear strips for modular plastic or metal belts.  Regardless of the belt, look out for construction that is clean and free from obstructions that can snag or gather debris.  Any strengthening, return edges on flat metal sections should be sloping to minimise build-up of debris and will allow water and cleaning fluids to drain easily and not pool.

Support frames are an area which can be overlooked but being under the conveyor are places where debris can build up.  Look for support frames that minimise the number of flat horizontal surfaces and reduce the areas where debris can accumulate. While it might be tempting to go for support stands with lots of height adjustment, this type of frame is not very hygienic with sliding sections providing cracks and crevices which will harbour bugs. It is always better to have fixed support stands at the height you need with minimal adjustment, such as adjustable height feet to make allowances for floor drainage slopes.

Cleaning considerations
Material choice and construction are only part of the solution in the quest for hygienic conveying.  Another area to look at when specifying conveyors for a food production environment is how easy the machines are to clean.  Even the most hygienically constructed conveyor will need to be cleaned and this should also have been considered in the design.

Belting should be able to be easily washed down in place, with features like flip tails and de-tensioning drive arrangements to allow tensioned belts to be slackened off so the reverse of the belt and the deck below can be easily cleaned.   Low tension modular plastic belts should be easily liftable so that wear strips and the inside of the conveyor and under the belt can be thoroughly cleaned. 

Some of these arrangements coupled with cantilever support frames, will also allow belts to be removed quickly without tools for more thorough deep cleaning.

Other recommended easy-clean features to consider include spaced off bearings and brackets, hinged under trays and quick-release belt joiners.

Helen Northcott is technical sales at Western Mechanical Handling UK Ltd.

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