Safety in food manufacturing is extremely important, especially when it comes to allergens. While most consumers don’t have any food allergies, there is still a risk to some of the population. For example, peanut butter is a common allergen that might not put your health at risk but could cause severe and even life-threatening reactions for someone else.
Therefore, managing food allergen risks in manufacturing is crucial to the health and safety of your consumers. Learn more about the major food allergens and how your manufacturing business can help prevent risks to keep consumers safe.
What Are the Major Food Allergens?
In the early 2000s, the Food and Drug Administration issued the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, identifying eight subcategories of the most common food allergens. This list includes tree nuts, peanuts, eggs, milk, wheat, soybeans, fish, and crustacean shellfish. A new change went into effect on January 1st, 2023, that added sesame as a ninth category.
You must clearly label all allergens on the FDA’s official list on packaging at least once to prevent the risk of a customer choosing a product that is potentially harmful to them. For instance, if you manufacture a protein powder containing whey, you must declare that there’s milk inside this product somewhere on the label.
How To Manage Food Allergen Risks
Now that you know the importance of managing food allergens and which ingredients are the most common allergens, you can better avoid risks in your manufacturing facility. Keep reading to learn the steps to make your processes safer.
Conduct a Risk Assessment
First and foremost, you can’t manage food allergens without knowing which ones are present throughout your manufacturing process. The first step in identifying allergens within your facility is to perform a risk management assessment. This assessment can help you discover which allergens are present in your foods and where they enter the production process.
When identifying ingredients that cause allergic reactions, a great place to start is to ask for a list from your supplier. Knowing what ingredients and sub-ingredients are in your raw materials can help you better manage allergen risks.
Here is a short list of questions you should contemplate throughout this risk assessment:
- Will cross-contamination happen, and how likely is it?
- Can air-borne cross-contamination occur?
- Is there a high enough amount of a specific food allergen to provoke a reaction in consumers?
- Are there allergens that could unintentionally make their way into your products?
- Are there common adverse reactions to a particular food?
Schedule Production Appropriately
Does your manufacturing business produce a variety of different products? For example, you might make peanut butter crackers and popcorn. In which order should you schedule the production of these products?
Making peanut butter crackers before the popcorn could cause cross-contamination of these products. Now when someone with a peanut allergy buys that bag of popcorn, there is a risk that it could cause an allergic reaction if you leave peanut residue behind during production.
Making all of your products that contain allergens around the same time can mitigate the risk of accidentally contaminating an allergen-free product. You could dedicate one day to making peanut butter crackers or leave this product until the very end of your production with a vigorous clean-up process afterward.
Never schedule the production of a product that contains allergens in the middle of the day. This provides the safest production process.
Isolate Production Lines
Along with scheduling your production of products strategically throughout the day, consider isolating your production lines. The fewer materials or allergens near the production area, the less contamination is possible. For instance, you might place a small roof over your conveyor belt to minimize contaminants from falling onto the equipment and product.
Isolating your production lines makes producing various food products much cleaner and safer. You might also separate production lines for specific foods. Instead of using the same conveyor belt for each product, have one belt for allergen-free products and one for products that do contain allergens.
Double-Check Labels and Supplier Packaging
It’s essential to double-check everything before you begin production on a food item. Accidentally using the wrong raw materials could introduce allergens to a product. The supplier you purchase your ingredients from should clearly label their products so that you know if you’re using something that contains allergens.
Even if you’ve bought the same ingredients from the supplier before, the recipe could change. Because of this, it’s crucial to double-check everything before using it in production.
The Importance of Sanitation
Sanitizing your workstations and equipment is paramount to removing allergens for the next production. No matter what, you should sanitize everything between runs and at the end of each day.
Having a standard procedure for sanitation is best, as you can encourage all employees to follow the same processes. For example, having instructions for cleaning your food conveyor belt will ensure that every employee doesn’t forget a step and understands what they’re doing. Aside from a sanitization procedure, you must also provide the appropriate cleaning products, such as sanitizers, detergents, water, and other cleaning chemicals.
Adequate Employee Training
Your procedures and processes can only be as successful as your employees make them. If someone doesn’t adhere to the rules or training, they will allow the risk of allergens contaminating a product. All employees should undergo proper training in handling, cleaning, and packaging products to prevent mishaps.
Additionally, every employee should wear the proper gear to handle the products. This might include hair/beard nets, aprons, gloves, boots, etc. They should change each garment if it comes into contact with an allergen. Furthermore, employees should also follow proper hand-washing instructions when entering the production floor to avoid bringing in outside allergens.
Manufacturers can manage food allergen risks by knowing what food groups cause the most allergic reactions, conducting a risk assessment, scheduling and isolating production appropriately, double-checking labels, thoroughly sanitizing equipment, and properly training employees. Be mindful of how you conduct business in your facilities to ensure the safety and health of your consumers.