Most people are unaware of the importance of keeping a conveyor system clean, especially in the food processing industry. A dirty or dusty conveyor will increase the risk for contamination, which can lead to dangerous foodborne illness outbreaks.

Food processors must maintain sanitary conditions when processing perishable foods in order to comply with local health regulations and avoid costly recalls or fines. Conveyor systems are an integral part of any manufacturing facility, which is why it’s important that they be kept clean at all times.

What cleaning options exist for conveyor systems?

This article explores some of the most common options for cleaning a conveyor, along with the different validation protocols that can be used.

Benefits of Conveyor Cleaning

In the food processing industry, cleaning and sanitation requirements are very strict. In fact, cleanliness is a major requirement in the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan that every food processing facility must have implemented.

Keeping your conveyor system free from debris or dust can help to prevent contamination of product and equipment. If there are hazardous materials on the surface of a conveyor, it can also be a health hazard for employees who are close to the system.

Performing regular cleanings will help conveyors remain in good working order and reduce breakdowns due to clogging or jamming of debris, dust or dirt within these systems. This saves time and money as production operations continue uninterrupted with no equipment downtime.

Be sure to use a cleaning method that targets the particular material being conveyed. If you are conveying a sticky substance, you will need to use a wet cleaning method. Dry brushing is often used on metal conveyor surfaces, while brushes with microfiber heads are best for glass and plastic materials.

Manual Cleaning

The majority of conveyor systems, especially conveyor belts, are washed manually, with a cleaning crew removing the material from the belt. This is a time-consuming process that requires shutting down production while these tasks are being performed.

If you have many conveyor belts in your facility, this can add up to a lot of lost productivity and money if it has been awhile since your last deep cleaning was completed on all of them.

Hand cleaning procedures are also unsanitary, as some of the material can end up on workers’ hands and clothes, which creates a cross-contamination risk for other areas where employees work in your facility.

Compared to automated, easy to clean processes, manual cleaning is unreliable and inconsistent. What may take a worker several hours to clean could be significantly reduced with the proper equipment and chemicals.

Hand cleaning is a required first step for many types of conveyors, but only as preparation before automated methods are used or additional hand-cleaning procedures can occur.

CIP and COP Cleaning Options

Clean in Place (CIP) is a more efficient method of cleaning conveyor systems that requires significantly less downtime than manual or hand washing.

CIP is often the preferred solution, since it uses chemicals and water for removing debris from within the system without dismantling the conveyor. There are many different types of CIP units depending on the size and complexity of your conveyors.

A CIP unit can be designed for a specific conveyor, or something that is more general-purpose. When using this type of equipment, you should have operators who are trained to use it properly and safely to prevent accidents. Using the proper chemicals will help cut down on clean time as well.

In contrast, Clean out of Place (COP) is a more time-consuming option. If you decide to use this method for cleaning, be prepared that it will require significant downtime as conveyor components are removed and equipment disassembled in order to clean and disinfect them properly.

Once completed, parts must be reassembled and tested before production operations can continue again on the affected lines. This method is also expensive as you will be paying for chemicals and labor, along with any parts that may need to be replaced if they cannot withstand the cleaning process.

This method of deep cleaning should only be used when a CIP or hand-washing procedure has failed to remove material from a conveyor belt adequately. If this occurs, it is important to determine why the CIP or hand-washing process didn’t work.

Tubular Drag Conveyor Cleaning

One of the best conveyor systems to use in food processing is a tubular drag cable conveyor. Cablevey, the leading manufacturer of these systems, offers a variety of cleaning options for their tubular drag conveyors.

All of these options are automatic, meaning a worker does not have to spend hours cleaning the system by hand or with a limited selection of chemicals.

Dry Cleaning

The dry cleaning mechanism involves several equipment items, such as:

  • Air knife – This cleaning device uses compressed air to blow away remaining material on the discs, without having to take them off.
  • Brush box – This equipment uses brushes to remove remaining material on the discs.
  • Sanitizing cleaner and sponge box – This equipment combines sanitizing fluid with a sponge pad to scrub the system clean. The sponge is run through the entire system, removing all contaminants.
  • Urethane wiper disc – A disc insert with a urethane blade is installed to remove remaining material from the tube.

Wet Cleaning

For wet cleaning, the equipment used in the process is similar to that of dry cleaning, but it uses water instead. Foaming agents and rinses are also used to remove any leftover material on the discs.

Here is an overview of the wet cleaning process:

  • Water rinse – Once the last of the food material has passed through the conveyor, a high-pressure water rinse is used to remove any residue and prepare the system for the next step.
  • Foaming agent – A foaming agent is used to make sure all of the material has been removed from the conveyor.
  • Sanitizing rinse – Once any residue and foam have been washed away, a sanitizing solution can be applied to kill any remaining bacteria or contaminates that may remain on the discs and in other areas of your facility.
  • Another water rinse – The last step consists of another high-pressure hot water rinse, removing any chemicals or sanitizers.

Validation, Monitoring, Verification

The best conveyor cleaning systems for food processing conveyors are ones that are validated, monitored, and verified by a third party. This will ensure that the cleaning protocol is effective and linked to the establishment of benchmark clean values.

Validation will involve comprehensive testing of different aspects of the cleaning/disinfection protocols. It should include extensive sampling, testing, and analysis of the conveyor system. 

An ideal assessment method is:

  • Sufficiently sensitive when detecting food residue and microorganisms
  • Equally effective on wet and dry surfaces
  • Repeatable/reproducible
  • Easy to use
  • Rapid
  • Inexpensive
  • Foolproof/recordable/tamperproof

Methods for assessing surface cleanliness or contamination can be divided into microbiological and non-microbiological.

Non-microbiological tests include:

  • Visual inspection – observing the conveyor’s cleanliness, spotting residue and contamination.
  • Protein tests – checking for the presence of animal proteins which are usually caused by meat and other food allergens.
  • ATP (adenosine triphosphate) tests – effective for monitoring bacteria and mold, residual food, and human contamination.
  • Other – several other non-microbiological tests can be used to check the cleanliness of a conveyor system, depending on what it is processing.

Microbiological tests include:

  • Cultural cultivation – allows microbiologists to culture any pathogenic or spoilage microorganisms that are found on the conveyor system.
  • Molecular methods – allow microbiologists to quickly identify spoilage bacteria and pathogens in food samples.

Validation protocols should be established using these test results, which will vary depending on what is being processed through the conveyor system. The best cleaning and sanitation process for your facility depends on several factors, including: what type of material is passing through it, what contaminants are present in your facility, and what type of product you are trying to produce.

Conclusion

There are many different options for cleaning conveyor systems in order to keep them running smoothly without interruptions or extended downtime.

If conveyors are not cleaned properly or if they have contaminants built up over time, it can cause problems in your facility and lead to product contamination.

In general, conveyors can be cleaned manually or with automated equipment, depending on the materials being conveyed.

Each conveyor manufacturer has their own cleaning protocols, so be sure to check with them first before attempting any type of manual or automated process. It would be best to rely on their expertise to help you choose the best cleaning option available.

For more information, contact a supplier for your specific type of conveyor system. They can provide additional options that may be effective in keeping your facility clean and free from contaminants or bacteria build-up over time.

If you are interested in food-grade conveyor systems specially made for food processing, please contact Cablevey. Our engineered solutions provide the best in precision and efficiency, giving you a clean system that is easy to maintain.