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Preventing Cross-Contamination in Allergen & Specialist Production Processes

Processing Area

As we’re settling into the ‘20s, it’s clear to see that food innovation now is far more advanced than it was at the start of the millennium. The variety of products on the supermarket shelves are an indication of this, thanks to consumers now making more informed decisions about what they’re eating and listening carefully as to how their bodies respond. Of course, this isn’t just limited to a consumer’s lifestyle preferences, such as opting whether or not to eat meat, but actually focuses on those with life-long intolerances and allergies to certain ingredients including nuts, dairy and gluten.

Thanks to recent advances in testing processes to recognise such conditions, those affected are able to manage their condition(s) more effectively, taking individual tolerance levels into account. When combined with increased media scrutiny and attention on some high-profile failings from food manufacturers in recent years, it’s more important than ever to recognise the duty of care and overall responsibility that producers in the industry hold in having a clear allergen management program as part of their operations.

Adhering to good manufacturing practice (GMP) to minimise all risks within this area is key across all areas of the business, running right through from raw materials handling and preparation to packaging and labelling. The easy solution here would be to create ultimate isolation through totally separate sites, but we know that’s often an impractical and unrealistic approach for many SMEs. There are a number of modifications that should be considered within an existing facility’s design and operational flow to ensure that cross-contamination is prevented. Let’s take a look:

Production Lines & Conveyors

Where production systems are operating for both allergen and non-allergen produce within the same area, any cross-over of open lines should be avoided to prevent contamination through spillage and leakage. This also includes all tools and containers used as part of each process, including measuring and weighing instruments, where they should be colour-coded and labelled appropriately. Integrating physical barriers between lines and conveyors, utilising hygienic and food-safe partitioning systems to do so, is effective in being able to completely isolate areas, where openings can be formed to accommodate equipment. Of course, maintaining a clear schedule to operate lines at different times is also sensible.

Robust & Consistent Clean-Down Schedules

A thorough cleaning regime should already be a permanent feature of adhering to food safety standards, but arguably, they become far more important when dealing with allergen ingredients. One of the key advantages of integrating food-safe partitioning within a facility is its durable and easily cleanable finish, so it can withstand a variety of disinfecting products that meet the recommended BS EN industry standards. Its standard white colour visibly highlights dirt and debris that needs to be removed.

Personnel Management

As part of a good allergen management process and contamination prevention, staff should be allocated to dedicated areas and not be required to move between allergen and non-allergen production. However, if this isn’t possible for any reason, or to accommodate shift changes, then appropriately located handover rooms or air locks should be integrated into the design of the facility. These environments should be equipped with adequate hand washing stations and new PPE to reduce potential contaminant spread.

Separating Storage Facilities

Where raw or semi-finished ingredients need to be stored, separate facilities should be constructed to completely isolate allergen produce. This could be in the form of dual compartment rooms, especially where temperature control is required, or partitioning within a larger existing space, with clear segregation through floor colour or physical barriers. All produce should be clearly labelled with allergen information, whether that be in their original packaging or new containers.

Testing Protocols  

As part of a business’ quality control processes, testing should be undertaken regularly to ensure that the consumer’s requirements and expectations are consistently being met. Of course, any element that is identified as below par must be analysed further and rectified immediately. Allergen testing should follow this pattern, where spot-checks should be periodically carried out to analyse and record potential breaches, so that any anomalies can be stopped from leaving the factory.

Dedicated facilities within the premises should exist for this purpose so that the risk of contamination and subsequential mix-ups are reduced, while testing and analysis on a larger scale could be managed by a trusted food safety laboratory and research service.

It goes without saying that allergen management is paramount to ensure consumer safety, trust and brand reputation. The process should be meticulously followed and continually updated as per industry guidelines, which often include upgrades and modifications to factory design. Stancold have been working with food & drink businesses nationwide for over 70 years, designing and installing food-safe partitioning systems to segregate and reconfigure manufacturing workspaces that meet changing demands of the industry.

This helpful guide from Food & Drink Europe explores other considerations of allergen management for the industry, including staff training, supplier management and consumer information.

If segregating your existing space to better manage your allergen safety processes is a consideration right now and you wish to discuss your requirements, get in touch with our food & drink specialist, Sam Taylor, on 07768 670 150 or send an enquiry here.


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