How to prevent food allergen cross contact

Food allergen cross contact can contribute to your food business having to recall your food product from the market-place due to undeclared allergens. In this post, gain a greater understanding of allergen cross contact and how to avoid this issue in your food business.

What is allergen cross contact?

Cross contact of food allergens is similar to cross contamination in regard to food safety.  It may occur during receival, storage, preparation, food handling or food service.

Cross-contact happens when one food comes into contact with another food and their proteins mix. As a result, each food then contains small amounts of the other food. These amounts are so small that they usually can’t be seen with the naked eye.

You may not think that this is an issue but even a tiny amount of food protein has caused reactions in people with food allergies.

Direct or Indirect?

Cross contact can be identified as Direct or Indirect. Direct cross-contact is when an allergen is directly applied and then removed. Indirect cross-contact is when the allergen is not directly applied.

Examples of cross contact

To give you an idea of where cross contact can happen in your food business I have put together a few examples that you may relate to.  Prevention strategies have also been included for your reference.

  • A food handler using a pair gloves to put different toppings (cheese, nuts, egg) on a pizza or a sandwich, then using the same gloves to top another pizza/sandwich. To reduce the risk of indirect cross contact always change your gloves when they have become contaminated and thoroughly wash your hands.
  • Using the sample production equipment to manufacture different food products (which may or may not contain allergens) without adequate cleaning in-between different products.  To reduce the risk of indirect cross contact always clean equipment between allergenic and non-allergenic food products.
  • Food handlers using the same utensil to serve or scoop a food product or ingredient that contains allergens and then using the same utensil to scoop or serve non-allergenic food. To reduce the risk of indirect cross contact always use separate scoops and serving utensils.
  • Peeling cheese off a cheese-burger to make it a hamburger. To reduce the risk of direct allergen cross contact, discard any affected product if you make a mistake.
  • Removing shrimp from a salad.  To reduce the risk of direct allergen cross contact, discard any affected product if you make a mistake.
  • Scraping peanut butter off a piece of bread and then using it to make a different sandwich.  To reduce the risk of direct allergen cross contact, discard any affected product if you make a mistake.

The risk of cleaning equipment

It makes sense to use different equipment and utensils for allergenic and non-allergenic food ingredients, work-in-progress and finished product. But have you considered your cleaning equipment? This is a commonly missed area when preventing allergen cross-contact in your food business. The easiest solution is to make sure separate cleaning equipment is identified and used when cleaning in your food business. If this is not possible, ensure that the cleaning equipment is thoroughly cleaned between use.

Allergen Awareness Training

To help you become more familiar or to refresh your knowledge in food allergens, my Allergen Awareness online course is now available. To find out more details on this on demand training, please click here.

Share your experience

Do you struggle with allergen cross contact in your food business? Have you ever had to recall food product because of an undeclared food allergen. Share your experience with the HACCP Mentor community by leaving a comment below this post.


16 thoughts on “How to prevent food allergen cross contact”

  1. we use almost all allergen in our site except nuts. our control measure are train staff, cleaning equipment and validate. We already had risk assessment and based on the risk assessment we do cleaning of equipment and cleaning.

    We tried to use different equipment for different allergens, but it did not work well.

  2. Good morning to everyone . In my experience is better to use different colours for cleaning equipment and utensils for allergenic and non-allergenic food ingredients, .

  3. Thanks for sharing this useful information.
    I have one doubt if we use soy dietary fiber in our product as one of the ingredients then shall we declare it as an allergen?

    1. Hi Amit. If it is a requirement to declare soy in your country of manufacture and any country that you export your food product to, then yes – soy will need to be declared.

  4. I always recommend that the process is plotted out (as per HACCP) and each stage of the process assessed (do not forget storage) for the potential of cross-contamination.

    In relation to hygiene/cleaning, I find that colour coding and separation of the equipment is essential. In addition there are a number of rapid verification swabs available on the market that provide a level of assurance, in that the allergens have been removed completely or to an acceptable level.

    I also recommend (where possible/practical) that colour coding of clothing and other PPE is implemented to reduce the potential of cross contamination.

  5. Allergen should be declared by the producer company. They should provide allergen awareness training for their workers to prevent cross contamination.

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