Starzen Group*, an innovator in the meat industry, marked a milestone in May 2008, celebrating 60 years since its founding. With all of the group’s business establishments steadily advancing toward acquisition of SQF2000 certification**, Starzen Group’s efforts in safety management are particularly impressive. In November 2005, Starzen Group’s Iwaki branch became the first facility in the Japanese meat distribution industry to receive the certification. Since then, 41 additional facilities in Japan have passed the certification exam.
SQF2000 is the international standard for both food health safety and quality management. Currently, all seven of the Starzen Meat Group (SMG) plants, which conduct meat slaughtering and processing for the Starzen Group, are working toward certification acquisition.
In June 2007, Starzen Meat Group’s Ishikari Plant, which is the group’s main plant in Hokkaido, acquired SQF2000 certification by SGS Japan. Specializing in subprimal pork and beef cuts, the Ishikari Plant has earned a solid reputation as a manufacturer of premier brand products such as Hidaka pork and Saloma black beef that are painstakingly tailored to user specifications. In order to attain SQF certification, the Ishikari Plant spent over a year reviewing and analyzing its hardware and software, identifying necessary improvements. In an effort to expand and upgrade plant facilities, they decided to install the SeamFree™ Minimum Hinge Flat Top conveyor belt, a product of Intralox, a world leader in the manufacturing of modular plastic conveyor belts.
Ishikari Plant Manager, Mr. Nobuo Ito, says, “Considering the steep rise in the price of feed grains and other factors raising domestic livestock, Hokkaido is certain to grow in importance as a center of production. Up till now we have been placing top priority on securing safety and high quality as a meat processing plant, and in this sense the acquisition of SQF2000 is significant. From now on, we will pour our energies into developing and securing human resources. We will also build a mechanism that makes production areas visible while strengthening partnerships with producer groups.”
At the heart of product manufacturing is the cut line. About 12 meters each of efficiently placed line equipment cuts the beef and pork. Running on the pork cut line is the SeamFree Minimum Hinge Flat Top belt, an Intralox belt designed with superior cleanability in mind. The belt requires less cleaning time and water volume, thus greatly reducing time and labor necessary for conveyor sanitation. Further enhancing cleaning efficiency, Intralox’s unique, patented Angled EZ Clean Sprockets allow for access to 100% of the belt’s critical underside. They also improve efficiency by eliminating belt mistracking and the need for tension adjustment.
“We clean the conveyors once a day,” says Mr. Koji Nishida, Deputy Manager of Pork Processing. “After the end of work, we give it a water shower while running it for 40-50 minutes. At the end, we sterilize them with alcohol and diluted chlorine. We haven’t compared the necessary water volume for cleaning to that of previous belts, but cleaning is easy because the sprockets are angled and the belt joints open well. We used to sometimes get things like dark patches and dirt on parts of the old belts, but not on the new ones. The water after cleaning also used to be a bit slimy, but now the water drains off well, with no dirty water residue. It has been over a year since we installed them, and we still get no noticeable dirt.”
According to Intralox, the SeamFree Minimum Hinge Flat Top conveyor belt reduces cleaning time and water usage by as much as 65% and makes cleaning easy by decreasing the number of hinges by 66% to enhance rod exposure. Since the entire surface has a uniform structure, corner sections move smoothly and there are no pockets or sharp corners to catch and hold debris. The belt also incorporates many new technologies, including patent pending flumes that channel food waste from the belt quickly, and a drive bar mechanism that prevents sprockets from pressing debris into the hinges. The belt’s superior cleanability makes it ideal for applications, in which hygiene is paramount, such as the meat processing industry.
The Ishikari Plant was the first Japanese factory to utilize the SeamFree Minimum Hinge Flat Top belt. According to Mr. Masashi Shindo, General Manager of Yuasa Promotec Co., the company in charge of expanding and upgrading the Ishikari Plant’s facilities, “Actually, about 15 years ago, Ishikari Plant was also the first plant in Japan to introduce modular plastic conveyor belts and became the pioneering user of plastic belts in meat processing plants. At the time, steel belts had been the norm, due to cost considerations. But with steel belts, replacement is problematic and a big job, and when synthetic flat belts are used for many years, the flat belts can become frayed and the material can find its way into the products, creating serious contamination problems. The superiority of plastic belts has been proven in the areas of better safety and hygiene management, and also when you consider running costs, and find that they don’t wear down and are durable and can withstand impact.”
Plant Manager Mr. Nobuo Ito adds, “In order to achieve safety and peace of mind, you can’t avoid higher costs for hygiene and inspections. It’s up to all of us at the food plant to figure out how to absorb these costs and secure profits. You also need to completely eliminate contamination. Intralox’s modular plastic belts have helped us achieve this aim.”
* Starzen is Japan's largest meat dealer, with businesses ranging from importing meat and breeding livestock to the processing and sale of meat, ham, sausages and other processed food products. It owns 23 subsidiaries including Starzen Meat Group, one of its five core operating companies.
** The SQF (Safe Quality Food) Program is a global food safety and quality certification program. Launched in 1994, the program is administered by the SQF Institute, a division of the Food Marketing Institute. SQF Certifications have been issued to companies operating in Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East and North and South America.
Reprinted with permission from The Meat Journal Japan, May 2008
The Meat Journal Japan is a major monthly magazine, published by Shokuniku Tsushin Co., Ltd. in Japan. It features meat and poultry industry trends, market analysis and technology.