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Mastering Allergen Management in the Food Industry

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Mastering Allergen Management in the Food Industry

May 17, 2022

Jack Payne
A bakery worker reviews information on a tablet.

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, more than 40% of children and more than half of adults with food allergies in the U.S. have experienced a severe allergic reaction. The trends don’t look good, either, with medical procedures to treat food allergy-triggered anaphylaxis up 380% from 2007 to 2016. All told, we’re looking at 90,000 emergency room visits and more than $25 billion in total costs.

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 monetary ramifications of a product recall—estimated at an average of $10 million—as well as the risk of hefty fines or even business closure for failure to adhere to food safety or labeling 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

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has identified milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans as the eight major food allergens, and Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) adds sesame to their list. Passed in 2006, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) noted that 90% of allergic reactions from food were due to the presence of the eight ingredients named by the FDA (or traces of them), and thus set forth requirements for clear labeling of such items.

Additionally, the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) and Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA) lay out additional declarations that are recommended for products that contain or are derived from any of those foods. While their specifications are not necessary under the law, they do serve an important purpose by keeping consumers fully informed and safe.

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA) includes requirements for food and beverage companies to have allergen control measures in place, but without a greater understanding of where the biggest risks are in your operations, you may not be doing all you can to protect end consumers—as well as your brand reputation. This next section will give you a better understanding.

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 organization 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.

2. Production

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 optimized cleaning processes below.

3. Handling

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.

4. Sanitation

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.

5. Packaging

Undeclared allergens continue to be the leading cause of food product recalls in the U.S., but with the right approach to packaging and labeling 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 organizational level at least once per year.

380%

increase in medical procedures to treat food allergy-triggered anaphylaxis from 2007 to 2016

ERP Features for Allergen Management in Food Manufacture and Production

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 labeled 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 labeled 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 minimize 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 Frost and Sullivan’s Product Leadership Award in North American ERP Software for the Food and Beverage Industry 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 maximizes 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 organizations 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’s ERP for the food industry and how it can help you conquer allergen management and your other top concerns? Feel free to contact us today, or schedule a personalized demo to see any of our solutions in action.

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