Conveyors in Soft Cheese Production: Adhering to New Hygiene Standards

, Conveyors in Soft Cheese Production: Adhering to New Hygiene Standards

The potential of foodborne illness is a constant concern for producers and distributors, who prioritize consumer safety above all else. Reducing the risk of contamination and pathogens in food production is a main priority. It affects everything from the production process to equipment used on the line and how it is cleaned.

One group of high-risk foods for contamination and foodborne illness is dairy and cheese, so it’s no surprise that it is one of the most heavily regulated food production industries next to raw meat and ready-to-eat foods. Recently, the FDA released new strategies for improving the safety of soft cheeses, including cheese sauce and queso fresco-type products. These new recommendations come after increased Listeriosis outbreaks in queso fresco-type cheeses.

Listeriosis and Dairy Products

Listeriosis is a bacterium that causes foodborne illness, including gastrointestinal upset and, on occasion, severe illness. Soft cheeses are especially prone to listeriosis growth because they are high in moisture, low in salt, and non-acidic, creating an ideal environment for the bacteria to thrive.

Cheese can get contaminated with the listeriosis bacteria through improper or infrequent cleaning of production and handling machinery and non-hygienic practices by staff handling the cheese products. Additionally, improper climate control of the production and storage facilities can encourage faster spoilage and bacterial growth of these less shelf-stable products.

The FDA’s strategy for preventing future listeriosis outbreaks in soft cheese products includes:

  • Development improved pathogen detection methods and processes within manufacturing lines.
  • Development of inspection, sampling, and monitoring processes.
  • Developing a process for compliance to the FDA Product Safety Rule, primarily aimed at reducing the risk of contamination.

How can conveyors serve this strategy?

Preventing foodborne illness starts with the production equipment itself. Clean, hygienic equipment reduces the risk of contamination during processes and makes cleaning between product batches easier and faster. Conveyors must maintain the highest level of sanitation in cheese production because they touch the product through every production stage.

Features of Hygienic Conveyors

FDA Approved Materials

Hygienic food handling conveyors are built with polished stainless-steel frames and FDA-approved belting and plastic components. These materials are designed for effective sanitation and to reduce the risk of contamination during production. Additionally, for higher sanitary environments such as raw meat and dairy processing, sealed motors, gearboxes, and bearings are utilized to ensure the cleaning processes don’t negatively affect the conveyor’s moving parts and that the lubricant from the motor or bearings does not contaminate the product.

Minimal Flat Surfaces and Crevices

Minimizing contaminants should be the priority when designing food processing equipment. Conveyors built with minimal flat surfaces and hard-to-clean crevices are ideal because they do not contribute to particle buildup within the equipment that could, in turn, contaminate products on the line. This is especially important for dairy processing conveyors, where particle buildup in frame seams, between components, or under the belt can lead to spoilage and bacterial growth.

Easy-Cleaning Accessories

A conveyor system that goes above and beyond basic sanitation needs includes easy cleaning accessories and features. This could include quick-release tail and belt lifters to allow one operator hands-free access for cleaning under the belt or clean-in-place modules that brush or spray the belt down while the conveyor is running. Proper equipment sanitation is one of the primary causes of downtime on the line, so utilizing a conveyor system with accessories to speed up the cleaning process is vital to the facility’s efficiency.

Designed to Operate in Wide Range of Environments

From high-pressure washdowns to cold temperatures, conveyors should be designed to meet the needs of your unique operation while operating efficiently in the facility’s environment. For example, in a facility that requires all equipment to be sanitized with high-pressure washdowns, special motors, controls, and bearings must be used to ensure water does not get inside the components and cause excessive damage. Designing a conveyor with the environment in mind means every component is specifically chosen to ensure no excessive wear on the machinery and that operators can remain safe while working around the system.

Built for Easy Integration

Inspection and quality control are at the forefront of ensuring food products are safe and of the highest quality for consumers. The FDA’s strategy of facilitating improved inspection and sampling processes is vital for the early detection of pathogenic contamination but could also increase production time with lengthy product testing. One solution to this challenge is automating the inspection processes with intelligent technology solutions.

With intuitive controls and custom programming, conveyor systems such as photo eyes, metal detectors, sensors, and sampling equipment can be easily integrated with inspection technology. Automating the sampling and quality monitoring process eliminates the risk of human error and can reduce contamination risks often caused by overhandling products.

3-A Certified Conveyors from Dorner

At Dorner, we understand how vital sanitation is in cheese and dairy production, so we have designed the AquaPruf Ultimate. This line of conveyors is 3-A certified for dairy and raw meat production, meaning they are always built with the highest level of sanitation in mind. Every component is made of stainless steel polished to 32 microinches or FDA-approved plastic and silicone. Additionally, these state-of-the-art conveyor systems feature quick cleaning and belt changeover features to allow for toolless disassembly in less than 3 minutes.

Even planned downtime for cleaning can affect your bottom line, so it’s essential to have a conveyor system that facilitates fast and thorough cleaning to get you back up and running with a sanitized system as fast as possible.

Sanitary Conveyors for Every Step in Production

Careful quality control and diligent hygienic practices in dairy and cheese production are vital to ensuring products are of the highest quality and safe for consumers. The new FDA guidelines for soft cheese processing offer an opportunity for facilities throughout the food production industry to examine their sanitation processes and implement automated monitoring technology to improve productivity and quality.

Dorner offers conveyor solutions to transport food products efficiently and hygienically through each step in your production line, from transporting raw ingredients to inspection and finally packaging the finished product. Contact us to learn more about our cheese-handling conveyor systems.