Some foods contain ingredients that trigger allergies. A number of these ingredients have been identified (eggs, wheat, soy, dairy products, nuts, etc.) and labeling laws call for these ingredients to be called out on product labels. When unlabeled allergens end up in packaged food, people get sick and sometimes die. This is a headache to the food industry, so it must take many precautions. Labels need not warn about possible ingredients which have no significant allergic effects, but otherwise should be as informative as possible. For instance, chocolate candy with and without nuts may be manufactured in the same facility. It is important to point this out to consumers who may be allergic to nuts and will have to seek natural allergy treatment if they are exposed to unsuspected allergens like nuts.
To respond to the demands of consumers and regulators, food producers adopt allergen control plans to mitigate the risk of accidentally harming a customer. Here are some of the typical recommendations found in an allergen control plan:
- Only add allergen ingredients to products when they make an important difference in taste or function.
- Interrogate ingredient suppliers about the allergens in their products.
- If the allergen is added in low amounts, consider dropping it from the product entirely.
- When receiving raw materials, check labels for allergen information or changes to same.
- Call out allergens by appropriately labeling each container, bag or pallet of raw materials. Use schemes such as color coding or tagging.
- Quarantine damaged containers of allergens.
- Store allergenic ingredients separately in clean, closed containers allocated to special storage areas.
- Use dedicated pallets and bins for allergenic materials.
- Demand that your suppliers have allergen control plans and insist on seeing them.
- Make sure your contracts with suppliers require them to guarantee the declaration of all allergenic ingredients and to inform you of any changes to the allergen status of raw materials.
- Schedule processing runs to avoid cross-contamination of allergens in other foods. If possible, segregate allergen and non-allergen processing areas and products.
- Clean and sanitize the plant when switching from a production run containing allergens to a run that does not.
- Add allergenic ingredients as late as possible in the process.
- Don’t let traffic patterns of allergenic and non-allergenic foods to cross.
- Try to use the same machines for similar allergens. For example, if you make different kinds of nut candies, use the same equipment for each.
- Dedicate and segregate tools, utensils and containers that will be used for foods with allergenic ingredients.
- Do not reuse cooking media on non-allergenic foods if it had originally been used to cook allergens.