Sanitation standards in all food processing industries have been on the rise, and this has been especially prevalent in the meat processing industry. As meat processing applications (particularly slaughtering, cutting, primary processing, secondary processing, and sausage manufacturing) are typically moist, they are more susceptible to contamination and pathogens.
Since all meats behave differently when being cut, cooked, and processed, it’s important to consult with an expert before choosing a belt. The purpose of this article is to provide you with general background information, but Eaglestone’s application engineering team is always available to recommend the right belt for your unique application.
Productivity in Meat Cutting and Primary Processing
Traditionally, when most meat and poultry cutting was done off the main production line on adjacent cutting boards, the conveyor belts of choice were made of fabric coated with PVC or urethane, yielding a non-porous surface that is well suited for sanitation. However, as line speeds increased, removing the product from the conveyor to cut was detrimental to productivity.
The industry has gravitated towards cutting on-belt, which demands a conveyor belt that can withstand constant slicing actions. The plastic modular conveyor belt is ideal for this type of application. They are non-porous and non-absorbent, abrasion and corrosion resistant, can handle heavier loads, and fluids can pass through.
Plastic modular belts also allow for faster conveyor speeds, and can be used in tight transfer applications as well. Belt sections can be easily replaced when necessary, minimizing line downtime.
Sanitation is Paramount
While traditional plastic modular belts can be washed down during sanitation, they are made up of inter-locking pieces of plastic with many nooks and crannies that can trap bacteria and pathogens. Plastic modular conveyor belt manufacturers have made many design enhancements over the years to reduce bacteria accumulation points, but there are other belt options.
Positively driven homogenous polyurethane (PU) conveyor belts are ideal for many non-cutting meat processing applications. These solid extruded belts feature a smooth, uniform surface to prevent bacteria and biofilm buildup. There are no crevices, interlocking parts, or hinges, and the belts are positively driven from molded drive bars on the bottom side. This effectively reduces the number of moving parts in the conveyor, simplifying both sanitation and maintenance.
The homogenous polyurethane belts are welded into a single piece using heat or HF welding, eliminating the need for adhesives that can deteriorate over time. These belts can meet even the strictest sanitation requirements, and are quickly becoming the norm for conveying portioned meats that are about to be packaged.
Metal and Fabric Conveyor Belts
While plastic modular and homogenous polyurethane conveyor belts have replaced metal conveyor belts in many applications, operations such as meat breading, battering, seasoning, baking, and freezing still utilize stainless steel conveyor belts. Stainless steel is chemical and bacteria neutral, and will not alter the taste of the food that it comes in contact with. It also is heat resistant, durable, and easily sanitized.
Coated fabric conveyor belts, along with elastic homogeneous belts, remain well suited for niche meat processing applications as well; specifically check weighing and metal detection. The lighter, thinner homogeneous elastic material allows for more accurate weighing of product, while the lack of static-dissipating carbon filaments in these belts makes them invisible to metal detectors.
Eaglestone’s experts can assist you in selecting the right belt for your next project. When you need help choosing the right belt or if you have any other sanitary meat processing conveyor application questions, contact us.