All too often the biggest surprise comes from the problems most ignored. Most of the time it’s unintentional. In some cases, the main culprit comes from the least likely suspect that sat at the bottom of the list and never raised an eyebrow or gave any other sign of suspicion.

Maybe that’s why bakers find themselves shocked and amazed when they discover that the perpetrator in a food safety offense is the spiral system or a lone conveyor that nobody paid much attention to in the first place.

Washing and sanitizing conveyor belts not only eliminate debris, bacteria, dirt and mold particles but also reduce damage and increase belt life.

“The focus has shifted from responding to contamination issues and, instead, proactively attacking them with prevention,” said Kevin Quinn, sales manager, Douglas Machines Corp.

Food safety investigations typically discover that bakeries have a variety of tools to clean conveyors, but some hidden harborages are not completely removed during the process or may fail to emerge during quality assurance inspections.

And that’s especially true on older equipment.

“The challenges are meeting expectations for cleaning — visually clean or cleaning to an allergen or microbiological level — with legacy equipment that has hygienic design flaws,” observed Cari Rasmussen, food safety specialist, Commercial Food Sanitation, an Intralox company.

[Related reading: Making conveyors work by the tip of their nose]

Since enacted in 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act has prompted an increasing emphasis on how to most effectively clean coolers, freezers and other conveyorized systems, noted Søren Andersen, managing director, Scanico, a Middleby Bakery company.

And now the industry is taking clean-in-place (CIP) systems to the next level.

 “How can we as OEM manufacturers secure a higher standard for hygienic design, easy-to-clean equipment and complete CIP solutions?” Mr. Andersen asked.

Overall cleanliness starts with visual inspection as well as testing for microbial indicators, unlabeled allergens and foreign materials.

“With the expectations of ‘clean’ getting harder to achieve, sanitation and verification activities have become more stringent,” Ms. Rasmussen said.

Bakers also now have a greater understanding of when to periodically disassemble equipment for cleaning. Ms. Rasmussen added that verification methods — such as allergen test kits and adenosine triphosphate testing readers for detecting animal, plant, bacteria, yeast and mold cells — have become more sensitive.

Unfortunately, she noted, better detection also results in a tougher challenge for sanitation crews.

Mr. Quinn noted that different conveyor belt surfaces require their own cleaning methods. That’s why Douglas Machines offers two separate Cyclone Conveyor Belt Washer models.

Washing and sanitizing conveyor belts not only eliminate debris, bacteria, dirt and mold particles but also reduce damage and increase belt life.

Mesh conveyor belts require close inspection afterward due to their intertwined surface and how well they’re welded.

Stainless steel surfaces are easier to clean because they have a smooth, non-porous surface.

While plastic belts are also easy to clean, he added the eventual wear and tear caused by long-term use creates opportunities for cross-contamination.

Fabric belts are hardest to clean, especially in direct-product contact areas.

Don’t ignore the belt support frame, advised Kenneth King, commercial support manager, Ashworth Bros. Those belt support beds must be cleaned as well.

“Glazed donuts often result in sugar getting on the rails,” he said. “If belts are not cleaned daily, friction increases because of the belt’s interaction with the sticky or dirty support bed. This increases belt tension which results in increased wear on the belt.”

Snack producers should look for fully stainless-steel conveyors designed to minimize ledges and crevices where debris and contaminants can easily build, observed Blake Svejkovsky, general manager of product handling systems, Heat and Control. Such conveyors should also reduce product coating and seasoning buildup on their conveying surfaces.

He noted that horizontal motion conveyors accomplish these goals by eliminating the substructure and harder-to-clean areas found on some conveyors and greatly reducing product buildup by gently sliding product across their conveying surface.

“Drives designed with crevices and ledges are an easy target for debris and contaminant buildup,” he said. “Drives that are totally enclosed and have sloped surfaces have superior sanitation characteristics. These features minimize the total exposed surface area and reduce cleaning to a simple wipe- or washdown-and-go process.”

[Related reading: How to match snack conveyor speed with packaging capacity]

For bucket conveyors, Mr. Svejkovsky recommended cleaning interior sprockets, belt and bucket surfaces by employing strategically placed spray bars and manually power washing or wiping down frames and side guards.

“This combination ensures all conveyor surfaces are clean and minimizes cleaning time,” he said.

For regular sanitation, try belt-friendly brushes or scrapers. Otherwise, wire brushes and metal scrapers will score the belt and conveyor components and result in propagation of bacteria, advised Ricky Milner, technical service supervisor, Wire Belt Co. of America.

“Use halogen-free cleaning sanitizers and descaling products that are kinder to the stainless-steel belts,” he said. “Always rinse off any cleaning fluids thoroughly.”

He also recommended alkaline and acidic foam cleaners. During sanitation, watch out for what is called “shadowing” on equipment. This is caused by using an improper chemical-to-water ratio.

“A caustic burn can turn the equipment into a bluish tint that is caused by adding cleaning solutions in excessively high temperatures,” Mr. Milner pointed out. “A yellow/orange tint is from an excessive use of iodine. Also, pitted stainless steel comes from chemicals such as a high concentrate of chlorine.”

This article is an excerpt from the March 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on conveying, click here.