Mastering allergen management: A guide for food businesses
Zoe Richards, Business Solutions Director at Trustwell, emphasises the crucial role of effective allergen management in the food industry.
By Zoe Richards, Business Solutions Director at Trustwell
In the bustling UK food scene, the importance of effective allergen management can’t be overstated. It’s not just about abiding by regulations, but also about safeguarding the well-being of consumers with food allergies. My role as Business Solutions Director at Trustwell allows me to equip food businesses with the tools and knowledge to navigate allergen management confidently. With the right approach, you can ensure the safety of your customers and the integrity of your business.
Here are five essential strategies to enhance your food allergen management strategies:
Review ingredients for precision labelling
The foundation of allergen management begins by conducting a thorough review of the ingredients used in your products, on your packaging. Best practice is to request regular updates from your suppliers annually to ensure accuracy in labelling, as well as comparing supplier ingredient lists with your product labels to ensure accurate allergen declarations.
Also note that allergens may sometimes be concealed and hidden under multiple names. For instance, sesame can be found under various names like tahini, ellu, geching, benne, or benniseed. Labels must clearly declare allergens using their common names, so it’s important to remember that combining multiple ingredients with trace allergens can necessitate a new declaration. For example, ingredients that have low levels of allergens such as sulphites <10ppm may well pass the legal threshold once combined with other low allergen containing ingredients in a recipe or menu item, which now need to be declared.
Keep diligent records
Maintaining meticulous traceability records of ingredients, processes, and manufactured foods is imperative for UK businesses in meeting food safety standards. These records will serve as a vital resource during regulatory audits and investigations, and will evidence your commitment to consumer safety.
Your records should encompass every last detail, from traceability lot codes and Use By/Best Before dates, to copies of labels and ingredient lists, and plans for handling food recalls if that should happen. Make sure they’re accessible and up to standard, including results from your most recent allergen tests and food safety audits.
Establish and enforce allergen protocols
To minimise the risk of allergen cross-contact, customise your allergen management protocols to fit the unique needs of your operation, alongside food safety regulations.
Begin with an allergen risk assessment, mapping the journey of each individual ingredient from storage, to preparation, to cooking and serving. Using a colour code reference to each major allergen will help to identify where potential cross-contact points may arise at each stage.
Once you have detected the cross-contact points, mitigation measures should then be put in place and validated to ensure they are effectively preventing allergen cross-contact. This could include, but is not limited to, specific protective clothing and equipment, cleaning frequency and requirements, ingredient segregation and laboratory testing.
Through these protocols, you can accurately update allergen information presented to your customers.
Expand allergen awareness among staff
A well-informed team is crucial in allergen management and enforcing prevention measures. Training should incorporate identification of the 14 major allergens, understanding the risks they pose to sensitive individuals, and the importance of implementing prevention strategies.
Your employees should also be familiar with your allergen management processes, prevention controls, and protocols, as well as corrective actions and recordkeeping requirements. Best practice is to train your staff to always ask customers about possible allergies prior to ordering and then pointing them toward the most current allergen information.
This approach not only creates a safer dining environment but also fosters a culture of care and attention to detail.
Test for allergens and evolve continuously
Regularly testing your food products for allergen cross-contact is a proactive measure you can take that complements regulatory inspections from the UK authorities, making consistent testing a choice that demonstrates diligence and a commitment to food safety. It’s important to note that the UK does not has specific allergen thresholds, aside from sulphites, so any amount of allergen in a food product does require appropriate labelling and declarations.
Aim for continuous improvement by quickly addressing any discrepancies, reinforcing allergen protocols with your team, updating procedures as needed, and remaining receptive to changes based on industry guidance. A great source of information, particularly in instances of allergenic reactions, is customer feedback. It is invaluable in formulating points to factor into your risk assessment and labelling protocols, and has huge benefits to customer retention and satisfaction.
Leverage modern technology
While managing allergens using spreadsheets and paper records is an option, modern technology offers far more efficient solutions. Supplementing the strategies detailed above with the latest tech tools can greatly improve allergen management. Advancements in labelling and formulation software now offer automated allergen declarations and precautionary statements.
Also explore end-to-end traceability, supplier management, and recall management tools to meet regulatory requirements and minimise risks related to recalls. By embracing these technologies, businesses can move beyond traditional paper and Excel systems, simplifying the complex task of allergen management in your supply chain.
Adopting best practices demonstrates commitment to consumer safety
Food allergen management is a critical aspect of the food service industry, and it requires ongoing attention, resource allocation, and adherence to best practices. By applying these strategies, you can ensure your business complies with UK regulations and is transparent with consumers. It’s a matter of health, safety, and ethical responsibility, and Successful allergen management bolsters your reputation as a business that cares deeply about its customers’ well-being, and establishes a foundation of trust and reliability in the UK’s food landscape.