With the ever-increasing food recall rates due to undeclared allergens, now is the time to revisit three simple ways to prevent allergen contamination in your food business.
1. Know your raw materials
You cannot prevent allergen contamination in your food business if you do not know they are in your business. Having a thorough knowledge of all of the raw materials that are used by your business is the basis of any good allergen management plan.
List out every raw material that you purchase and the ingredients that are in each of these. From the list, you can then quickly identify what raw material contains what allergens. Double-check your information against the finished product specification and raw material packaging provided by the supplier.
To verify the accuracy of your information, you may then also undertake some type of chemical or physical analysis on receival.
2. Supplier advisory
Having extensive knowledge of the practices of your suppliers is integral to producing safe food. Find out from your suppliers what allergens are present in their production sites. This could be as easy as making a telephone call, having them complete a supplier questionnaire, or reviewing relevant audit documentation.
Even if you only receive non-allergenic materials or ingredients from them, you still need to consider the overall risk that their allergen control systems are robust.
All floors, walls, ceilings, equipment, surfaces, or utensils have the potential to be contaminated with allergens. Adequate cleaning is a basic good manufacturing practice that should be second nature within your food business with allergen cleaning no different.
Cleaning procedures should be documented and implemented for hand washing, allergen spills, product change-over, start-up, and end of production. Don’t forget to include procedures for ensuring that the equipment you use to clean your items is also ‘allergen clean’ eg. brooms, dustpans, wipes, cloths, mops, vacuum cleaners, protective clothing
To verify the correct implementation of your cleaning procedures, you can undertake allergen swabbing in conjunction with your visual inspection. Just remember that clean means – you can’t see it, you can’t feel it and you can’t smell it.
The way that you store raw materials, work in progress and the finished product can contribute to allergen contamination. It is recommended that you separate the storage of materials that contain allergens, especially those that contain peanuts. If you have limited storage capacity, always store allergenic materials on the bottom racks. This reduces spillage onto non-allergenic materials that may be stored in the same area. Always make sure that all materials are labelled and identifiable at all times.
5. Maintenance lubricants
Maintenance chemicals can have hidden allergens. You may have identified and assessed all the maintenance chemicals on site but what about those used by contractors? External contractors may introduce unintended allergens by using chemicals that have not been adequately assessed. Your business can insist on only certain chemicals being used or complete a review of chemicals each time the contractor comes on-site.
If you can work to prevent allergen contamination from occurring, your day is going to be a lot less stressful. You can then avoid the potential for product recall and continue to provide your customers with a safe and legal product.
I would love for you to share your thoughts on other ways to prevent allergen contamination. Just leave a comment below this post so others can learn from your knowledge and experience.