Fundamentals of allergen management
As a leading cause of food recall globally, unexpected or undeclared allergens and the misrepresentation of food continue to make news headlines.
GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) and retailer food safety standards have high-level expectations and prescriptive requirements for allergens. While these requirements are critical to producing safe food, they are often limited to the direct operations of the manufacturing facility and do not necessarily include allergen risks in other sectors of the food supply chain. There is little gain if manufacturers have rigorous controls in place to prevent contamination through equipment and production processes, if a raw material containing an unexpected allergen is then received and used.
Understand the unique risks and allergen status of all raw materials. While this information should be detailed in a product specification, its accuracy and reliability will depend on the technical knowledge and competence of the author. Often product specifications are completed remotely without a site assessment being undertaken to identify actual allergen risks.
Apply a rigorous risk assessment to identify the potential for allergen contamination at each step in the manufacturing process. The flow of allergenic material, from receipt through to finished product despatch, needs to be mapped to identify specific points of potential contamination. A control measure then needs to be applied at each potential point of contamination to prevent, eliminate or reduce the allergen risk. These controls may be identified either through HACCP or pre-requisite programmes.
Know your supplier(s) and communicate regularly on the source(s) of raw materials so that inherent allergen risks are understood. If a raw material is intended for use in a product that makes a ‘free from’ claim, this needs to be known by the supplier to ensure changes to the allergen status are prioritized and communicated.
Implementing, monitoring and reviewing the ongoing effectiveness and sustainability of controls such as segregation of allergenic products or production scheduling to minimize the frequency of changeovers between allergen and non-allergen-containing products.
Stringent rework procedures are necessary to ensure allergens are not added into allergen-free products. Special waste-handling and spillage procedures will be required to ensure the removal process isn’t a source of contamination into other areas of the facility. The effectiveness of controls will depend on the training and actions of food handlers as human error is a significant risk factor in allergen contamination and product mislabelling. Increasing the maturity of your food safety culture can help embed and evolve allergen-related safety in your organization.
Allergen contamination can occur at any stage of the food supply chain from primary production, transport, storage, manufacturing through to food service. This topic is discussed more broadly in our article Allergens - Ongoing Challenges in the Global Food Industry and our Allergens Facility Mapping Guide can help you identify and visualize the allergen risks in your business to support the implementation of controls that will protect your business, your brand and the people who enjoy your products.