Allergen Management an effective way to prevent allergies
Food is the elixir of life, our thriving force and our sustenance. However this food can be the life propagator and also a lethal killer. Food borne problems are many and one of the greatest snares for the food companies are the allergens present in the food. An allergy is the intolerance of food protein by the body. Allergies can be mild, severe or sometimes even cause death due to anaphylaxis.
The food producers have to ensure that their products are not consumed by an allergic person. The allergic individuals show a variety of impacts in consumption of specific allergy causing foods like peanuts, egg, gluten in wheat and milk, etc.
The people who are allergic to some foods have to take precautions while consuming a particular product that may contain the allergens. They have to solely rely on the description of ingredients provided on the product label. It has to be taken seriously to provide all the necessary information on the label to prevent any unwanted allergies that might even cause death.
An important way to manage allergens is through an allergen management system. It is a food safety initiative in by a food company that expresses its interest in effective allergen management and displays its seriousness to ensure safe food to its consumers.The allergen control plan is a written document prepared by the company that involves storage, handling, processing, packaging and identification of allergenic foods and ingredients. The allergen control plan should be enforced, audited and upgraded regularly. The plan when updated should be informed in the company, if there is an introduction of a new product, a change in the process and also if a new person is hired or there is a change in responsibility of the presently working personnel. Every person in the factory should be informed about their role in the allergen control plan. This could be effectively done through documented training.
A possible allergen control plan can be suggested that can be useful for the companies dealing with allergenic products. This is not a comprehensive plan but can be useful to frame a background for the development of an effective allergen control plan.
- Form an allergen control management team that may comprise of representatives from all concerned departments like production, quality, regulatory/labeling, research and development, food safety, engineering and many more according to the company. It may be if a company is small, an individual can represent a number of operations in accordance to relevance with the company.
- Risk assessment should be conducted to identify specific allergens for selection of management control procedures.
- An allergen flow diagram to be prepared to identify the point they are present or are entering the product during the process
- Allergen control plan should be prepared for specific product processing facility.
- Review and update the plan at periodic intervals and especially when the new productsâ€™ ingredients are added or process protocol is changed or new equipment is added to the process.
Designing a new product:
The designing of a new product should be done with reference to the allergen control plan. The new product which is being developed should not be full of allergens that it be difficult to implement a successful allergen management plan.
- Allergens should only be added to a product if they make an appreciable difference in taste or functionality of the product.
- Suppliers can be interrogated for the suitability of allergenic ingredients in their formulation.
- The allergens present and not present in manufacturing facility during the product formulation.
- Prior production all the ingredients to be reviewed by a specific process
- Minimal usage of allergens should be allowed to avoid if they produce no functional effect on the product.
Cross contact prevention during processing:
- Long runs for allergenic products to be processed to minimize the changeovers with no allergenic products.
- Allergenic and non allergenic production areas to be segregated if possible otherwise non allergenic foods to be processed before allergenic foods.
- Traffic of raw material supplies, employees and packaging materials to be limited during manufacturing of allergenic products.
- Separate process lines if close to each other by physical barriers for allergenic and non allergenic products.
- Prevent the falling of allergenic product on the non allergenic line.
- Dedicated equipments and tools to be used for allergenic products.
- Allergen products staff should be identifiable to prevent cross contact of allergenic products
- Reuse of products like oil, water should be avoided.
- Allergenic products should be easily identifiable using tags or colour codes, etc while on the processing line.
Validated and verified allergen cleaning
- Cleaning and sanitizing of equipment should be easy
- Written protocols should be maintained
- No dead spots should be present in the production
- Cleaning validation and verification procedures should be present with their records.
- Identify the effectiveness of the allergen control plan through internal and external audits.
Review of product label /packaging usage and control
- The product being manufactured should have a label that is required in the target market and should adhere to Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004
- The companies cannot add â€œmay containâ€ as a precautionary labeling according to FDA.
- Labels should be reviewed prior to their receipt for their accuracy
- Line Personnel should be trained to ensure labeling is changing when a changeover takes place
Â Personnel training:
- Training to be provided to personnel at all levels for allergen awareness and control
- Specific documented training for jobs of greater responsibilities
- Consequences to be highlighted if the plan is not followed during trainings and the reasons for the protocols followed.
Allergen control management plan is apriority now for all the companies if they are dealing with the allergenic products. The companies that receive raw materials from various suppliers should ensure that they are also following an allergen control plan. Prevention of cross contact with allergenic products and efficient allergen control is betterthan to bear the brunt of recalls and withdrawals .This results in a high economic loss and tarnishes the brand image as well. Thus it is important for all food business operators to implement a dynamic and robust allergen management system.