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7th December 2021  Content supplied by: Hygiena International Ltd

Food Allergies - Their Impact and the Most Robust Methods to Manage Them

Together with experts in the field, Hygiena™, a leader in food safety testing, has put together a series of videos to cover food allergies and the most robust allergen control methods to manage them.

Here is the first episode of a 7-part series, which talks about allergies in general and explores the reasons why food manufacturers need to control them.

Summary of Episode 1 - Why do allergens need to be controlled?
Food allergies are abnormal hypersensitivity reactions to an otherwise harmless protein in food. They are a growing global public health concern, which can occasionally even lead to death. Likewise, food intolerances such as glucose intolerance can include a broad spectrum of reactions. In addition, there are illnesses such as coeliac disease - a lifelong autoimmune systematic disorder triggered by gluten found in barley, rye and wheat.

Many regulators across the world have published legislation, standards or guidance documents on how to declare allergens on pre-packed foods. Food businesses need to control allergens:

1. To ensure regulatory compliance;
2. to drive food safety standard compliance; and
3. to protect consumers from harm, and, indirectly protect its brand's reputation.

The impact of food allergens on food businesses can be grave if not properly controlled. In the past decade, product recalls due to undeclared allergens have consistently topped the ranks in multiple countries. Often these recalls could have been avoided if appropriate, simple and robust management plans were in place.

A lack of allergen control does not only lead to consumer reactions and potentially loss of life but it can also lead to food recalls which cost companies large amounts of money, diminished consumer trust, leads to brand damage and ultimately a loss in sales.

Summary of Episode 2 - What is an allergen management plan?

An allergen management plan is an organization’s formal documented plan, describing all the controls and processes that should be in place in order to be able to manage allergens, from start to finish. Typically, allergens need to be controlled at multiple stages of manufacturing: from ordering and receiving ingoing ingredients through to final product packing.

The objective of an allergen control plan is to prevent and mitigate the risk of allergen cross-contact and the presence of undeclared allergens in a final product. Typically, an organization will have a combination of controls in place. This episode will talk you through each one of these.

Summary of Episode 3 - Allergen Cleaning as a Control
Here are some questions to consider when designing an allergen cleaning regime

Is the product soil easy or difficult to eradicate? Does processing alter the product in any way that it becomes more challenging to remove? How clean do you want your equipment to be after cleaning? Do you want it to remove all detectable allergenic residue or do you simply want your equipment to be visually clean? After having carried out a thorough risk assessment review throughout the entire manufacturing process, the next step is to choose the right methods to effectively carry out your allergen cleaning regime.

There are various valuable tools available when building an allergen cleaning regime:

  • Mechanical energy, which may include scrubbing, product or water turbulence and high-pressure water jets;
  • thermal energy, for example, warm water or hot CIP washes; and
  • chemical energy, the action of the cleaning chemical or detergent on food soils.

The extent to which each tool is used will depend on which option offers the most appropriate and practical cleaning method. For example, where it is not possible to use alkaline detergents, a lot of scrubbing may be needed. Likewise, in instances where wet cleaning may not be applied, because it can affect the quality, safety or stability of your product, dry cleaning methods must then be used.

Summary of Episode 4 - Allergen Cleaning Validation and Verification
In Episode 3, you’ll recall us talking about the importance of allergen cleaning to remove allergen residues from shared equipment and utensils. In this episode, we’ll be presenting various allergen controls and touching on validation and verification.

Let’s talk you through the terminology

Validation is the process of gathering evidence to prove that a cleaning regime can effectively and repeatedly remove allergen soils. It is ideally carried out prior to implementation of the regime, essentially to demonstrate that the cleaning objectives have been met. Verification, on the other hand, proves that the validated allergen cleaning regime was performed correctly and remains effective, which is why it is carried out on an ongoing basis.

Neither validation nor verification should be done without completing thorough visual inspections, also known as physical audits. This is complemented by analytical analyses to test for example, finished products, work-in-progress, rinse water, flush material, environmental surface swabs or a combination all of these. When validating, it is best to use a method that yields quantitative results in order to establish whether allergen-cross contact has occurred after cleaning and if it has, by how much. Testing rinse water or environmental surface swabs using rapid and reliable onsite testing kits are ideal for supplementing cleaning verification.

When validating your allergen cleaning regime, make sure to prove that it can consistently achieve your cleaning goal by testing the same worst-case scenario, analyzing the same type of samples, and using the same testing method. If each data set shows that the target allergen residue was removed and no cross contact occurred, you can conclude that the regime was valid.

Without proof, we can never really be sure that an allergen cleaning regime is and will remain adequate and effective, therefore validation and continuous verification is a crucial part of effective allergen management.

In Episode 5 we’ll be highlighting some of the most popular allergen testing methods.

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Date Published: 7th December 2021

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