Guide helps processors avoid allergen risks
been published to help Australian and New Zealand processors
recognise potential risks and avoid contamination.
The guide provides an overview of regulatory requirements in both countries to declare food allergens on food packaging. As well as advice on good manufacturing practices, the guide also contains information on the risk assessment process referred to as voluntary incidental trace allergen labelling (VITAL). Allergies and intolerance to certain foods are increasing, and processors are being forced to consider the ingredients and operations that are used to manufacture their products. While only about one to two per cent of the population suffers with an allergy, the effects, which can include anaphylactic shock, can be severe. To avoid allergens being mistakenly added to food or cross-contaminating food, the guide recommends processors implement a risk strategy based on hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) principles. "This involves evaluating the hazards associated with the whole 'lifecycle' of the product, starting with the production of raw materials and assessing every step of the process through to labelling and packaging of the final product for consumption," the guide states. At critical points where allergens can be introduced as identified, a monitoring system should be in place to minimise the risk of contamination, according to the guide. The guide suggests training and supervision structures should form part of a management policy that includes reporting suspected breaches to superiors as well as documenting procedures. Processors should obtain raw material information from suppliers as part of their own risk control procedures. Where products containing similar allergens are manufactured across multiple sites, the company should consider whether these operations can be brought under one roof to reduce the risk of cross contamination, the guide states. Recommended also is for equipment and tools should be separated between those used for manufacturing allergen-containing foods and those that are known to be free. Storage risks should be considered, with segregation throughout the chain of allergen containing products and non-allergen foods. The guide recommends that, for instance, allergen ingredients should be stored on shelves below other ingredients in case of spillage. Processors, as part of good manufacturing practices (GMP) and HACCP principles, should clean up spillages immediately, as well as wash-down equipment once a manufacturing cycle is complete. The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) food standards code, since 2002, has required, wheat, gluten-containing cereals, shell fish, eggs, fish, milk, tree nuts, sesame seeds, peanuts, soy, and sulfites to be named as an ingredient on packaging at all times without exception. Care must be taken to ensure not only the correct packaging and labels are used, but also when different labels in the same range are used as they may appear too similar and confuse consumers. In the event of contamination and recalls, tracking and tracing procedures can help firms locate and collect products with greater efficiency, the guide states. Bar coding, radio frequency identification (RFID) or imaging equipment can support simple checklist and matching procedures within plants. Decision making over equipment should include considerations of proximity to other machines, avoiding line cross-overs, ensuring there is sufficient space to perform wash downs and reducing the creation and spread of dust. Testing procedures is a valuable tool in the prevention of contamination, and the enzyme linked immuno sorbent assay (ELISA) kits, a common method, can provide sensitivity in the low parts per million, according to guide. According to a study published last month, food allergies in children have risen 12-fold since 1995. The report by an allergy practice in the Australian Capital Territory claimed there was an "urgent need" for more research into the growing trend. While part of this increase could be attributed to an increased understanding of the symptoms of allergies, with an improved ability by parents to spot what is a likely reaction to food, the marked increase demonstrates a trend towards intolerance towards certain foods. The findings raise questions as to the long-term implications of increasing numbers of allergy sufferers, but the guide at least offers advice to manufacturers on how they can reduce the risks to all concerned.