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Preventing Allergen Cross Contamination: A Must for Food Companies 

19/09/2023by admin0Read: 7 minutes

Are you aware of the concealed risk that resides in your kitchen? Organisations should be aware of food allergens to prevent cross-contamination in their products and ensure consumer safety. The allergen information on food labels is further instrumental in helping organisations prevent cross contamination.

In this blog, we have defined and discussed the relevance of allergen cross-contamination, and different food allergens, and how businesses can prevent cross-contamination of their products with efficient practices.

Allergen Cross Contamination

When allergenic chemicals accidentally move from one food item to another, contaminating it, this is known as allergy cross-contamination. Various methods, such as using the same cutting boards, tools, or utensils, or even airborne particles, might cause this. For those who are sensitive, even a very small amount of an allergen might lead to adverse effects on their health.

Importance of Allergen Cross Contamination

Importance of Allergen Cross Contamination

For the safety and well-being of people with food allergies, it is crucial to comprehend and manage allergy cross-contamination. Food organisations may avoid accidental ingestion of allergens and possibly fatal allergic responses by taking the appropriate precautions, such as adequate cleaning, separate storage, and clear labelling.

Impact of Allergen Cross-Contamination on Individuals with Food Allergies

Impact of Allergen Cross-Contamination on Individuals with Food Allergies

People who have food allergies are seriously at risk from allergen cross-contamination. A tiny quantity of an allergen in a meal that is intended to be harmless might cause life-threatening allergic responses like anaphylaxis.

However, we can safeguard the health and lives of those who have food allergies by understanding the effects and aggressively reducing any dangers.

Understanding Allergens

An allergic reaction to an allergen can range from mild to severe, with symptoms such as itching, sneezing, hives, difficulty breathing, and even anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition.

Common sources of allergens include pollen, dust mites, pet dander, mould, insect stings, certain medications, and specific foods.

Some common food allergens include peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, and tree nuts. These allergens can cause severe allergic reactions in susceptible individuals, even in small amounts.

Food Allergens to be Declared on Labels

The following table includes all the food allergens that should be labelled on food products:

Wheat soy, soya, soybean pistachio
Fish sesame pine nut
crustacean almond walnut
mollusc brazil nut barley*
egg cashew oats*
milk hazelnut rye*
lupin macadamia sulphites**
peanut pecan

A growing number of people are experiencing allergic responses to allergens. Recent studies show that between 4-6% of children and 3-4% of adults suffer from food allergies. It is significant to highlight those allergic responses to some allergens, such as peanuts and shellfish, can be very severe and may call for emergency medical treatment.

Identifying and Managing Allergens in Food Products

Identifying and Managing Allergens in Food Products

It is crucial for food producers and handlers to precisely identify and control allergies in their goods to prevent cross-contamination. To distinguish allergic foods from non-allergenic foods throughout manufacturing, storage, and preparation, rigorous standards must be put in place.

Cross-Contamination Vs. Cross-Contact

Cross-contamination occurs when allergens from one source transfer to another, contaminating it in the process. This can happen through direct contact or indirect contact via shared surfaces, utensils, or equipment. For example, if a knife used to cut peanuts is then used to chop vegetables without proper cleaning, it can lead to cross-contamination if the allergen proteins are transferred.

On the other hand, cross-contact refers to the unintentional transfer of small amounts of allergens from one food to another. This can occur even when there is no physical contact between allergen-containing food and allergen-free food. For instance, if food is prepared in the same area where an allergen-containing ingredient is present, the allergen particles can become airborne and settle on other food items.

Cross-contact can be caused by the following:

  • Using the same frying oil to fry various types of food, including allergens; using a single cutting board or knife for both allergen-containing and allergen-free items.
  • Reusing cooking implements, pots, or pans without thoroughly cleaning them
  • Using the same gloves and aprons while handling various types of food.

It is essential to note that allergens can be present in trace amounts. Even a tiny quantity of an allergen can trigger severe reactions in individuals with allergies.

For example, a person with a peanut allergy orders a salad but requests no peanuts. But a cutting board that was just used to chop peanuts is accidentally utilised to make the salad. A cross-contamination occurs as a result, contaminating the salad with peanut allergens.

Risks and Consequences of Allergen Cross-Contamination

Risks and Consequences of Allergen Cross-Contamination

Allergen cross-contamination poses significant risks and consequences for individuals with allergies. It occurs when allergens are unintentionally transferred from one surface to another, resulting in the presence of allergens in a previously allergen-free product or area. This can have severe implications, especially for those with food allergies.

a) Potential Allergic Reactions Caused by Cross-contamination

Cross-contamination can trigger allergic reactions in individuals who are sensitive or allergic to specific allergens. Even traces of allergens can unleash a chain of immune responses that range from mild symptoms to life-threatening anaphylaxis. The severity of these reactions can vary from person to person, making cross-contamination a significant concern for affected individuals.

b) Recognising Symptoms and Severity of Allergic Reactions

Understanding the signs and severity of allergic responses brought on by cross-contamination is essential. Itching, hives, Eczema, and breathing problems are typical symptoms. Anaphylaxis, which can cause a reduction in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and even death, can occur in extreme cases. To stop allergic responses from getting worse, prompt detection and proper intervention are required.

c) Long-term Health Risks Associated with Repeated Exposure to Allergens

Cross-contamination can result in repeated exposure to allergens, which can be harmful to your health over time. For example, those with food allergies who are regularly exposed to even minute quantities of their allergen may get chronic illnesses like dermatitis, gastrointestinal problems, or asthma. Continuous exposure can also tax the immune system, which could result in poorer general health and a worse quality of life.

Food Handling Practices to Prevent Cross-Contamination

Food Handling Practices to Prevent Cross-Contamination

To avoid cross-contamination, safe food handling procedures are crucial. Getting rid of any remnants of allergic components involves routinely washing and sanitising surfaces and eating implements.

We have provided expert recommendations that can help you reduce the possibility of allergenic components contaminating other foods while they are being prepared, stored, or cooked.

1. Proper Cleaning and Sanitisation of Surfaces and Utensils:

Clean and sanitise all surfaces, platforms and utensils used in food preparation daily to eliminate any allergen residues.

2. Separate Spaces:

Separate spaces should be set aside to produce allergen-free foods. This would reduce the possibility of cross-contamination and offer a controlled environment for cooking healthy meals.

3. Labelling:

Another essential step in reducing cross-contamination is labelling and segregating sensitive components. You can reduce the possibility of cross-contact with allergens and the chance of unintentional mixing by properly marking these substances and keeping them in specific places.

4. Implementing Colour-codes 

Cross-contamination may be avoided by using chopping boards and other tools that are colour-coded. Organisations should ensure that allergic components are always handled separately from non-allergenic ones by designating particular colours to certain food kinds.

By following these guidelines, you can significantly reduce the risk of allergen cross-contamination and create a safer environment for individuals with food allergies.

Industry Guidelines for Allergen Cross-Contamination Management

Food producers and restaurants should adhere to industry standards and best practices to control and avoid allergen cross-contamination. These rules are intended to protect the health and safety of those who have food allergies while also encouraging openness and effective communication within the food sector.

a)  Best Practices and Guidelines for Food Manufacturers 

  1. Develop and put into place an extensive allergy management plan that involves frequent training and education for all staff members.
  2. Compile and keep up-to-date a comprehensive list of every component used in the creation of food items, including any potential allergies that may be present in each ingredient.
  3. Clearly include allergy information on all food products, together with any precautions or warnings, to enable customers to make educated decisions.
  4. To reduce the danger of cross-contamination, strictly separate allergic and non-allergenic substances throughout the whole production process.
  5. To ensure the elimination of allergenic residues from surfaces and equipment, regularly test and confirm the efficacy of washing and sanitation processes.
  6. Follow correct storage practices to avoid cross-contamination, such as keeping allergenic substances apart from other ingredients and using storage spaces specifically designated for items without allergens.

b)  Preventive Measures for Businesses to Avoid Allergen Cross-contamination

Preventive Measures for Businesses to Avoid Allergen Cross-contamination

  1. To reduce the risk of cross-contamination, develop and strongly implement standard operating procedures (SOPs) for handling and processing food goods.
  2. To stop the spread of allergies, instruct employees in good hygiene habits like proper handwashing and the usage of gloves.
  3. Use efficient cleaning and sanitation procedures on all equipment, utensils, and surfaces that come into touch with food to avoid cross-contamination.
  4. Create a separate space where food is handled and prepared, away from locations where allergens are kept or used.
  5. Review and update processes and protocols on a regular basis to consider new knowledge or business developments in allergy control.

c)  Training and Education for Food Industry Workers about Allergen Management

  1. Offer extensive training on allergy management concepts, practises, and procedures to all staff members, including managers, cooks, servers, and support personnel.
  2. Conduct regular assessments of training programme efficacy to make sure staff members are aware and competent in allergy management.
  3. Promote lifelong learning and career advancement by encouraging employees to participate in seminars or conferences on allergy management.
  4. Encourage a culture of knowledge and accountability where all staff members accept responsibility for reducing allergy cross-contamination and recognise the significance of their contribution to the safety of people with food allergies.

Hope this information helps, and for more information, stay tuned to our website.

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