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Over the three-month period, October 2016 to December 2016, the FSA issued 34 food incident notices, of which 17 were allergy alerts, with the top three undeclared allergens being milk, nuts and gluten. The FSA also led, and in some cases supported nine incidents linked to possible risks of food poisoning, seven relating to physical or chemical contamination, and three to do with foodborne outbreaks.
Allergen risk assessments and Allergen management systems will aim to avoid the unintentional presence of allergens in products, with an evaluation of the likelihood of allergen cross-contamination throughout the production process from raw materials to end product.
Existing Good Manufacturing Practice controls will assist with allergen management, avoiding cross contamination via segregation, cleaning and the use of separate utensils amongst others, so in many ways allergen management is an extension of programmes that are already in place.
It is important to remember that cleaning practices which may meet the correct microbiological hygiene standards may not be sufficient to remove allergens from surfaces and equipment. Unlike microbial contamination, allergens are generally unaffected by heat and unaffected by disinfectants.
Cleaning processes should be validated to ensure that they are sufficient to remove the allergens present. Whilst ATP or protein tests could be used, specific allergen testing is widely recognised as offering the best way to make sure the cleaning programmes in place are successful.