An effective allergen management program can mean the difference in ensuring that your food business produces food that will not harm the ‘at-risk’ consumer. In this post, learn the key elements that should be included in every allergen management program.
What is an Allergen Management Program?
An Allergen Management Program is a documented system that serves to identify, control, educate and communicate the risk and presence of food allergens in your business, from raw materials through to finished products. There are many different components that need to be considered when developing an allergen management program for your food business. The key areas include:
Raw Material Status
The allergen status of every raw material handled or present in your food business needs to be identified. This involves identifying and documenting what food allergens are present in each raw material. Make sure that you also include non-food items including maintenance and cleaning chemicals.
Having a good understanding of your supplier allergen vulnerabilities is imperative to the success of your own program. At a minimum, you should ask all your suppliers, what other allergens do they handle in their facility that might not be declared via ingredient declarations. Sloppy cleaning practices and the potential for cross-contact can indirectly impact your business through the supplier’s raw materials.
Ingredient Specifications and Recipes
If you are using raw material or finished product specifications to make assumptions about your level of allergen risk, how current are they? Ensure that any documentation provided by suppliers is routinely reviewed for updated information.
This goes the same for your own recipes or formulations. Ensure that you identify which allergens are present in each product recipe.
HACCP requires the identification of allergen hazards (also known as chemical hazards). Your HACCP plan needs to identify any potential allergen hazards that may occur at each step in your process. Effective control measures or allergen preventive controls will need to be documented to control this potential risk.
Allergen-specific production procedures are required to be documented and implemented. This will include procedures relating to receival, storage, identification, processing & preparation, rework, cross-contact, packing, labelling, dispatch, and transportation of food products containing allergenic materials. Make sure that you also include maintenance activities.
The Cleaning Process
Procedures for effectively cleaning equipment, utensils, food contact surfaces, and non-food food contact surfaces are required. Ensure that you include between batch cleaning and responding to allergen spills. Validation and verification activities of all cleaning practices should also be included as part of your allergen management program.
The label or information provided on the finished product packaging is the primary means of communicating the allergen status of the food product to the customer or consumer. Your allergen management program needs to include procedures on developing ingredient statements, advising precautionary statements, and verifying correctness to raw materials and formulation. Packaging changeover procedures are also required.
Reviewing your Allergen Management Program
Completing regular reviews of your allergen management program will ensure that your program remains up-to-date, effective, and continues to assist in the production of a safe food product. Your program should be reviewed (at a minimum) whenever:
- A customer complaint is received regarding allergic reactions
- There is a change to raw materials or suppliers
- There is a change in the way you manufacture your finished product
- There has been an introduction of new machinery
- There is a change to cleaning practices and procedures
If you have completed an allergen risk assessment within your food business, it is also advisable to review your entire program if any assumptions in this risk assessment change.
Educate all food handlers
All foods handlers regardless of their position within your food business should undertake training in food allergens. HACCP Mentor provides a number of online training options that allow all food handlers within your food business to increase their working knowledge of food allergens and allergen management. Check out our Understanding Allergens, Allergen Awareness and VITAL® Online for Allergen Management courses by clicking here.
Have your say!
This post has only covered some of the basics of an allergen management program. Share any additional ideas with the HACCP Mentor community by leaving a comment below.