It takes more than good staff training to carry out effective allergen management in food production.
Now more than ever, food allergies need to be recognised by food manufacturers. If not diagnosed and treated correctly, a food allergy can cause serious health issues. Food allergy symptoms can be triggered by consuming foods classified as allergens. Common allergens include peanuts, dairy, eggs, and soybeans.
If manufacturers choose to produce foods with allergens, then it’s part of their responsibility to disclose this information. Warnings on labels must be provided to ensure that consumers are aware of allergens present in their food. Alternatively, manufacturers can choose to produce foods that are allergen-free. Effective measures must be put in place to prevent food from being contaminated by any food allergens.
For any food manufacturer, it’s crucial to come up with an effective allergen management program. Throughout the entire lifecycle of a product, hazards in the form of allergen contamination need to be identified and handled correctly. An effective allergen program will include steps for training, identification, management, labelling, and validation. Here are the five steps that all food manufacturers should follow for effective allergen management.
1. Staff training
Any food processing environment relies on the knowledge and expertise of its staff to ensure day-to-day operations run smoothly. The same can be said for allergen management. Staff need to have a thorough understanding of what allergen management is and how to implement it throughout their daily tasks.
All staff in a food processing environment need to have allergen awareness training. This training teaches staff how to identify allergens on site. Staff will also understand the management systems in place to identify and manage allergens. So if there is any risk of contamination with allergens, a staff member should effectively be able to identify that risk and know what to do to prevent contamination.
In a food processing environment, all allergens need to be identified. Every single ingredient making its way into a food factory needs to be identified and classified. This process of identification is especially important for food manufacturers that produce highly processed foods. It can be very easy for allergens to be overlooked when they are already partially mixed with other ingredients.
Food processing factories need to create an allergen matrix to identify ingredients with allergens. This matrix identifies where allergens are stored and how they combine with other ingredients into finished products. Staff training is also crucial for this step to ensure specific allergens are identified and managed correctly.
3. Manage cross-contamination
Cross-contamination is just one of the ways that food allergens can mistakenly get mixed into foods. A food manufacturer may produce multiple products within the same factory. You may have some products that are intended to be allergen-free while others are not. That’s why in some cases you may come across food packaging that states “may contain traces of nuts.” In some food processing environments, it becomes difficult to guarantee that there isn’t a small chance of contamination.
Crucial areas to focus on for preventing cross-contamination includes proper cleaning and storage procedures. Food allergens can easily come into contact with multiple work surfaces if proper cleaning procedures are not followed. For cleaning and storage to be effective, staff need to be trained in spill management and correct storage. Proper cleaning schedules and procedures also need to be designed to suit the unique requirements of a food processing environment.
Correct labelling on foods can play a crucial role in protecting people from consuming food allergens. After food allergens are identified during the food production process, they need to be included in food labelling. The FSANZ (Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code) states that all food suppliers must declare food allergens whenever they are present as ingredients, components of food additives, or components of processing aids.
It’s important to note that retailers and importers are also responsible for providing food allergen information. In some factories, it’s common for imported ingredients to arrive pre-packaged. These ingredients still need to have proper food allergen labelling on them. This ensures all allergens are recognised throughout the food production process.
Finished product labels must be compliant with all FSANZ requirements. Some of the most common food allergens that should be listed in product labels include:
- Tree nuts
- Sesame seeds
The process of validation in a food processing environment ensures that all systems are working the way they should be. Audits need to be carried out to ensure that the allergen matrix, labelling, cleaning, and staff training are done correctly. Testing plays a huge part in this validation process.
Tests such as allergen detection can be carried out at a food processing plant to check every step of an allergen management system. Allergen detection tests can be carried out on work surfaces and in the products themselves to confirm if cross-contamination and cleaning measures are effective.
Train your staff in effective food allergen management
Do your food processing staff know about food allergen management? Are any of these five steps being implemented in your workplace? At the National Food Institute, we cover many food safety topics including food allergen management. Through our workplace based training courses, we teach students the importance of identifying and managing food allergens. Training should be an essential part of any factory’s food allergen management strategy.
Would you like to find out more about our workplace based training courses? Ask one of our training consultants today.