What Makes Belting USDA/FDA Approved?
If your business processes food, you know that there are strict requirements that must be followed which have been set by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration). That is because any material that comes into contact with food must meet certain regulations due to the possibility of any contamination on these materials transferring to the foods, making them unsuitable for human consumption. Many of the food recalls that happen each year occur because of unsanitary conveyor belts which then transfer bacteria to the products. There are simple things you can do, however, to ensure that your belting system is USDA/FDA approved and therefore eliminate your risk of contamination and recalls.
How The Regulations Began
The FDA first began regulating what are known as food contact materials (the materials that come in contact with foods at some point during the production process, including conveyor belts) in 1958 and the regulations now include a wide range of materials, both those involved in production and in packaging. The FDA considers these food contact materials to be one of the three types of “food additives”: those that are meant to direct food additives, secondary food additives and indirect food additives (which is the category in which food contact materials belong).
When setting the regulations, the USDA and FDA relied on basic health considerations. They wanted to ensure that all types of food can be processed without difficulty. That means that in order to meet regulations the belt must be able to transport meats, vegetables, fruits, baked goods and other items without risk of contamination. They should also be able to function in all types of environments, whether they are wet or humid. To further reduce the possibility of contamination due to bacteria, conveyor belts should have minimal or no hinges and pins as these are areas where bacteria can thrive.
In order to be approved by the USDA and FDA, a belting system must be able to pass an extraction test. This test is meant to determine the quantities of the substances found on the belt itself will end up extruded into the processed food. There are also regulations that allow for the FDA to calculate the extraction without requiring testing but in these cases, the estimates based on the calculations are designed to be slightly higher than the actual value. The goal in following the regulations is to have the smallest extraction number possible, which can be done by following their suggestions of materials to be used.
One of the materials that best meets the USDA and FDA regulations for belting is stainless steel. That is because this material is very easy to clean effectively and it is not likely that any part of the belt itself will come off and enter the food, thus creating a favorable result in the extraction testing. Other materials have also been approved for conveyor belts including plastic, as long as they meet the same requirements and are able to maintain the cleanliness of the food. In most cases, these surfaces will be smooth on top.