In the food industry, a number of different methods can be used to move material from one point to another. Employees can work by hand, meaning that they physically carry the materials from place to place. The other option is conveyor belts or automated equipment that can transport material without any additional physical labor on behalf of the worker.

What are the sanitary standards for conveying in this type of processing environment? What precautions should food manufacturers take when using material handling systems?

These questions and more will be answered in our blog post below.

The Importance of Sanitation in Food Processing

In the United States, foodborne illnesses affect an estimated 48 million people each year. What’s more, around 128,000 of these cases are life-threatening or result in death.

With figures like these being reported on a yearly basis by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is evident that keeping food safe has become one of our nation’s most important concerns.

The FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) aims to protect the public by focusing on making food production safer. What’s more, FSMA has introduced new legislation that will require specific preventative measures to be taken in order to avoid contamination events from occurring.

The ultimate goal here is to shift from reacting to contamination events after they have occurred, to being proactive in the prevention of these incidents from ever occurring. What this means is that food plants are now required by law to implement certain standards before material can be conveyed using conveyor belts or other automated equipment.

Cleaning vs. Sanitation

When talking about a food processing conveying system, it is important to make the distinction between cleaning and sanitation.

By definition, cleaning refers to the process of removing certain types of dirt and debris from a conveyor. If food bits or other items have become stuck in cracks and crevices, you can clean them out using a high-pressure washer system (either air or water). This will essentially force contaminants away from the equipment without actually killing any pathogens on contact – simply moving them to a different area.

Sanitation, on the other hand, is designed to kill any microorganisms that may be living on the conveyor belt itself. Sanitation will remove all organic matter from a surface while also killing off bacteria, molds and other harmful organisms in the process.

When it comes to food safety requirements and food hygiene and processing standards, it is crucial that conveyor systems include both features. The equipment must be cleaned on a regular basis to ensure the safety of the product, but it also needs to incorporate sanitation measures at all times so as not to compromise food quality or safety in any way.

The Sanitary Standards For Conveying In Food Processing

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have published comprehensive guidelines for conveying equipment across the food processing industry. These standards cover everything from the construction of conveyor systems to whether or not gloves are required for individual employees who will be working with food handling equipment on a regular basis.

So what are some of the specific requirements that must be met in order for an automated system to pass FDA inspection? Let’s take a look at the requirements in greater detail, as well as some of the reasons why these standards are so crucial.

  • Conveyors must be constructed free from cracks and crevices where product can accumulate. Conveyor equipment should not have any openings or seams that might result in contamination or provide access for pest activity to occur.
  • Conveyors should be made of smooth, easily cleaned and sanitized materials. Conveyor belts must not present a tripping hazard for employees who are working in the area. If necessary, safety guards can be installed to avoid this problem.
  • The FDA requires that food processing plants only use conveyor cleaners if they meet specific sanitary standards as well. What this means is that conveyor cleaners must be constructed from materials that are safe to come into contact with food. Conveyor cleaners should be designed in a way that prevents them from coming into direct contact with products during use.
  • Conveyors must also incorporate features that will allow for thorough cleaning and sanitization of the equipment on an ongoing basis. What this means is that conveyor systems must have spaces where product can fall through or be swept away during the cleaning process.
  • Employees working with machinery need proper training when it comes to sanitation procedures and equipment.

There are also many different sanitary standards for conveying foods concerning temperature and humidity levels and air pressure – all factors which can affect an item’s shelf life or freshness. Food grade conveyor systems must be designed to accommodate the specific needs of different industries (agriculture, meat, poultry, bulk solids, frozen products, etc.) and their sorting process.

3-A Sanitary Standards

The 3-A Sanitary Standards represent the guiding principles behind the design and fabrication of equipment that comes into direct contact with food. These are not regulatory standards, but rather voluntary guidelines developed by industry experts for companies to follow when constructing conveyor systems in their factories or processing plants.

The primary goal of 3-A Standards is to protect public health by adhering to the highest quality and safety standards. Companies should not simply aim to pass FDA inspection, but rather strive for compliance with these voluntary guidelines at all times in order to ensure the best possible results when it comes to protecting employees and customers alike from contamination or injury.

There are over 70 different 3-A Sanitary Standards for these equipment categories:

  • Cheese and Butter Equipment
  • Concentrating Equipment
  • Conveyors and Feeders
  • Farm/Raw Milk
  • Filters
  • Heat Exchangers
  • Instruments
  • Valves and Fittings
  • Vessels

Food preparation and equipment are subjected to sanitary design and installation inspections. Regulators from the federal, state, and local levels conduct inspection on a regular basis.

3-A Sanitary Standards and 3-A Accepted Practices are utilized as acceptable sanitary standards for dairy and food processing equipment. These Standards and Practices have a long history of assisting state and federal regulatory authorities in their work. Furthermore, some state regulations have incorporated 3-A Standards.

Here are a couple of example standards defined in 3-A Sanitary Standards.

Materials

The materials section describes the criteria for materials of construction. A conveyor system must be constructed from only safe, food-grade materials in order to pass inspection and achieve compliance with guidelines.

In many cases, the material used will vary depending on whether or not product comes into direct contact with it during use. Accepted materials must be non-toxic, non-flammable, and able to withstand exposure to food products as well as cleaning chemicals.

The 3-A Standards use AISI 300 Series Stainless Steel as a benchmark for many types of equipment due to its ability to withstand long-term use, corrosion resistance, and ease of cleaning. Metals that are not on the list of accepted materials are not allowed for use in dairy or food processing equipment.

Non-metal components must also meet certain requirements outlined by the standards before they can be used to construct conveyors or other pieces of equipment. Rubber, plastics, rubber-like and other synthetic materials are subject to a number of specific criteria.

Fabrication

Equipment fabrication and construction criteria are outlined in great detail across the 3-A Standards. The primary focus is on smooth, clean vertical and horizontal surfaces which are easy to keep sanitary and safe from contamination.

Manufacturing must be done so as not to create sharp corners or edges anywhere along the exterior surface.

Sanitary criteria include surface finish standards such as smoothness, which need to be free of flaws like pits, folds, and crevices, limitations in radii, drainage necessities, accessibility for cleaning and inspection, and design needs for the proposed cleaning technique including Clean in Place (CIP), Clean out of Place (COP), or manual cleaning.

Conclusion

Automated conveyor systems can dramatically improve productivity levels while also ensuring that food remains fresh and free from contamination at all times, but only when they are designed to suit each individual business’s needs. What works for one plant may not work as well in another location depending on factors like humidity, temperature control requirements or other variables – which is why it’s important to speak with a conveyor systems expert before making any purchases or investments.

The experts at these reputable companies will be able to help you find the ideal material handling equipment for your food processing plant, including wash-in inserts and belt cleaners designed for removing debris while simultaneously killing pathogens along the way.

On that note, please don’t hesitate to contact Cablevey for more information on the use of enclosed tubular drag cable and disc conveyors in food processing and how you can keep your conveyor safe and sanitary at all times. We would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.