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How to Excel in Allergen Management in the Food Industry
How to Excel in Allergen Management in the Food Industry
17 May 2022Jack Payne
For many of us, the word “allergy” brings to mind some unpleasant—but certainly not life-threatening—symptoms commonly experienced as winter turns to spring. A stuffy or runny nose, the occasional itchy patch of skin and dry eyes are the sort of problems we all must suffer through occasionally or else treat with a relatively easily obtained over-the-counter medication.
Food allergies, on the other hand, are another matter entirely. When the consequences of a sensitive individual coming into contact with an allergen are as severe as anaphylaxis—which can send a person into shock due to a drop in blood pressure and occluded airways—it’s abundantly apparent that we must pay close attention to what’s in the products we eat.
And yet, UK hospital admissions for dangerous food allergy reactions are up 500% since 1990. The monetary cost is considerable, too, with approximately £900 million spent annually on primary care for allergic reactions and £68 million annually on hospitalisations for the same reason.
Those statistics alone likely drive home the importance of maintaining airtight allergen control at your food and beverage business. But in case the point needs further emphasis, consider financial ramifications of a product recall—estimated at an average of £8 million—as well as the risk of hefty fines or even business closure for failure to adhere to food safety or labelling regulations.
Now, with this all said, what do you need to know in order to truly master allergen management in the food industry?
In this post, we’ll cover the most problematic ingredients, some of the important legal requirements you need to know, the steps in your processes that warrant greater scrutiny and finally the tools that industry-specific enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions provide that will equip you to face this challenge. So, you’ll be ready to master allergen control in your food and beverage business.
The Major Allergens and Pertinent Regulations
According to the UK government, the 14 major food allergens are celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, peanuts, sesame, soybeans and tree nuts, as well as the paired categories of sulphur dioxide and sulphites. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) maintains the standards for businesses in terms of declaring these ingredients and also provides guidance to consumers on the topic.
The FSA requires that all food businesses provide allergen information to consumers for both prepackaged and fresh food and drink, and additionally provide food allergy training materials for frontline staff, managers, manufacturers and institutional caterers. Financial penalties can be levied by local authorities on those businesses found to be operating outside of compliance guidelines.
The latest development on this front as far as legislation is the implementation of new labelling standards for prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) food products, known collectively as Natasha’s Law. The widely accepted nomenclature refers to Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a teenager from west London who tragically passed away due to the allergic reaction she experienced after consuming a baguette with traces of sesame, to which she was allergic.
Critical Control Points
Critical control points (or CCPs) are those steps in the typical food and beverage manufacturing process where a food safety hazard can be prevented, eliminated or mitigated in some way. Obviously, because even trace amounts of allergens result in severe health risks down the line, prevention must be the crux of your approach to allergen management.
The following are the CCPs to focus on to keep cross-contaminations involving allergens to a minimum in your facilities:
1. Material Receiving and Storage
From the time you receive your raw materials, it’s the responsibility of your organisation to confirm that the ingredients and labels meet your own internal standards, as well as that of regulatory enforcement agencies. If you already know that your materials represent an allergen risk, extra care must be taken from the start, including providing gloves for employees and storing those products in separate, dedicated areas, below any other materials and sealed securely.
For food manufacturing companies that produce some products with allergen concerns and some without, the ideal scenario is to have dedicated production lines to keep the two categories of items completely separate. Of course, this isn’t always possible, and it’s in those situations that informed scheduling becomes critical for risk mitigation.
By grouping the runs of those goods with allergens together and following their conclusion with thorough sanitation before non-allergenic product manufacture begins, you should be able to prevent contaminations effectively. Still, be sure to see the notes on optimised cleaning processes below.
Safe material handling in facilities where allergens are processed begins with excellent employee training. Your staff need to know which ingredients can be problematic for sensitive consumers so that they treat them with the utmost of care and follow all necessary procedures to limit contamination—including wearing gloves, gowning and handwashing.
Maintaining high sanitation standards is vital for every food and beverage manufacturer, but it’s especially crucial if you work with allergens. Make sure that you account for shared surfaces and how particles can spread through the air during high-pressure spraying, and consider implementing physical barriers for an additional level of protection.
Thankfully, the number of food products recalled due to undeclared allergens actually dropped by 10% in the UK from 2020 to 2021, but there were still 79 such incidents recorded in the latter year. With the right approach to packaging and labelling your allergen-containing items, you can limit the chances that your company contributes to that statistic.
This is another area where training of your personnel can be critical, as something as simple as a “free from” label being placed on a box that may contain trace allergens represents a considerable risk. Individual staff should know to check printed labels before applying them and review product documentation periodically to understand which items merit more attention.
Barcode scanners can help automate these processes, but it’s still a good idea to review formulations and packaging specifications at an organisational level at least once per year.
increase in UK hospital admissions for dangerous food allergy reactions since 1990
ERP Features for Allergen Management in the Food Industry
At this point, we’ve covered the allergens to watch out for, your legal requirements as a food and beverage manufacturer and the critical points in the production process that require additional caution. It probably seems like a lot to keep track of, with plenty of opportunities to slip up along the way and potentially devastating ramifications resulting from mishaps.
Luckily, though, food ERP systems built for businesses like yours have emerged to help pick up the slack. These comprehensive, all-in-one platforms are the bedrock of digital transformation and offer purpose-built features that will help you truly own your allergen management efforts and proceed with confidence that your products are labelled appropriately and safe for consumption.
Formula and Recipe Management Tools
With the robust formula and recipe management functions that a good food ERP puts at your fingertips, you’ll always know exactly what went into your products. As soon as ingredients with allergen concerns become involved, your solution will flag and track that component throughout the item’s development and production lifecycle so that it never goes unaccounted for.
These same tools also help in the instance that a non-allergenic material must be replaced with one that does have allergen concerns due to unavailability. A good example would be when one protein isolate is swapped for soy—any iterations of the product affected by this switch must be labelled appropriately, and an ERP can help make sure that you don’t miss that critical step.
Complete Bi-Directional Traceability
When it comes to knowing what your goods come into contact with during the manufacturing process and where they head once they’re ready to ship, only the traceability features of an advanced food industry ERP system will suffice. You need to have complete knowledge in order to be confident that no allergen concerns are present in production, as well as complete insight of which outlets they are delivered to in the case that a contamination is caught after the fact and a recall is necessary.
The best ERPs out there—like Aptean Food & Beverage ERP—even help you automate the recall process when it is necessary. By immediately sending out important communications, helping you prepare required documentation and isolating both the source of the contamination as well as those lots that were affected, you can minimise the financial impacts of the situation, not to mention the negative outcomes that customers might face.
Additional Aptean Advantages
We like to think that we offer the superior system on the market, but you don’t have to take our word for it. Aptean Food & Beverage ERP won a prestigious award from Frost and Sullivan this year, demonstrating that our offering delivers on quality, reliability and performance for our clients.
Our flexible platform is also, available for deployment via the cloud on a software as a service (SaaS) model for those companies that want a lightweight and agile approach to their technology. This implementation method maximises accessibility, as all a user needs is a WiFi signal and a web browser in order to log in, complete key responsibilities and review important figures as they’re updated in real time.
Finally, consider our track record, with decades of collective experience in the food and beverage industry and firm understanding of the best practices that organisations like yours are leveraging for greater success. With more than 1,000 successful implementations to date, we’ve been part of driving excellent results for a sizeable contingent of businesses worldwide.
So, ready to hear more about Aptean Food & Beverage ERP and how it can help you conquer allergen management and your other top concerns? Feel free to contact us today, or schedule a personalised demo to see any of our solutions in action.
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