Cross-contamination of allergen products can have dire consequences for a food plant. Some of the food industry’s most common ingredients – milk, eggs, peanuts/tree nuts, fish/shellfish, soy and wheat – represent 90 percent of food allergens.
Larger food processors have the financial resources to dedicate separate production lines to products with allergenic ingredients. Small processors, and those with multiple products on a production line, face a more difficult task of controlling potential cross-contamination.
Typically, plants employ the 4-S strategy to minimize cross-contamination of allergens from non-allergen products:
- Separation – house similar allergen ingredients in separate storage areas/room.
- Segregation – provide barriers (physical, material/personnel flow and HVAC systems) between production lines that use allergens.
- Scheduling – run the allergen-based products on the last shifts of the line prior to cleaning.
- Sanitation – wet clean and use clean-in-place (CIP) systems as much as possible. When dry cleaning is required, HEPA-filtered vacuum systems are preferred over compressed air blowdowns.
From an engineering perspective, eliminating the potential for cross-contamination of allergens should be addressed during the initial design process. Incorporating design solutions at the outset can save time and money and may include:
- Dedicated ingredient delivery systems for allergen products that require no special cleaning, such as pump/tank systems, scaling hoppers and ingredient conveying lines
- Designation of separate ingredient storage areas to segregate allergen ingredients
- Equipment with CIP capabilities
- Separate rooms for lines that run allergenic products
- Material flow paths for allergens
- Color codes for rooms, pallets, tools and containers that house similar allergens.