Using a wire mesh belt for oven cooking can lead to many problems depending on belt speed, oven temperature, product being cooked and quality of belt materials. Hatfield Inc.'s meat processing plant in Emmaus, PA, experienced many of these problems. About four years ago, the company installed a new oven to make a variety of precooked meat products, patties and collagen links.

"The oven runs 12 to 16 hours a day at temperatures ranging between 450° F to 600° F," says Galen Cassel, plant operations manager. "However, pork sausage mixtures tend to have a tacky consistency and can cause problems not only in cooking but also in sanitation and maintenance."

Due to the intense heat, the oven's original mesh belt curled up over time and sausage products slid together instead of maintaining their orientation across the belt, according to Cassel. "In addition, product particles would stick to the 100-ft. belt and be caught in the oven's automatic washing system, clogging the screen."

Last spring, Hatfield installed a Flat-Flex XT belt from Wire Belt Co., after determining the original belt's tension and heat capabilities did not match the application. The Flat-Flex belt's more open mesh and the XT-design's improved physics improves belt life, reduces stretch, increases processing speeds and reduces waste.

"We kept a detailed log of belt performance and maintenance for the first three months of operation," adds Cassel. "The belt 'seasons' very quickly and product release is very good. Oven operators report a 50 percent drop in particles caught in the auto washer. Product orientation is maintained on the belt that remains flat despite the intense heat."

Cassel notes improved airflow with the wider mesh. "We get better heat transfer with the XT belt allowing us to increase our processing speeds, thus improving throughput."

Wire Belt Co. of America, 154 Harvey Rd., Londonderry, NH 03053. Tel.: (800) 922-2637; Fax: (603) 644-3600