Food safety: Allergy Compliance Tips for Food Storage and Warehouses
7 Expert tips for preventing cross-contamination
The continual rise of allergies right around the world is very concerning for warehouse managers. There is a need for increasing vigilance in protecting consumers from allergic reactions. Adhering to these guidelines can prevent costly product recalls and potentially food allergy lawsuits.
Studies show hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions have doubled in the last decade across Australia, the USA and the UK. In fact, Australia has one of the highest allergy prevalence rates in the world, with up to 25% of Australians believing they have some sort of food intolerance.
This news post demonstrates how warehouse managers can avoid cross-contamination and comply with allergy guidelines.
Recent product recalls due to allergen contamination
The high risk associated with allergen contaminated products has seen a constant stream of companies recalling products with infringements. Recent examples of recalled products due to allergen contamination or mis-labelling include:
- 6th December 2013: Sakata Rice Snacks Australia Pty Ltd – Sakata Paws Original 6 Pack Multipack: This product was recalled due to the presence of the undeclared allergen: milk.
- 29th November 2013: Aldi – Brannan’s Butchery Thai Style Chicken Breast Kebabs: This product was recalled due to the presence of the allergens soy and sulphite.
- 31st July 2013: Accord United Pty Ltd – Glico Collon Strawberry and Chocolate Biscuits: These were recalled due to the presence of four undeclared allergens milk, wheat, egg and soy
These are just some of the notable recent recalls where products were available nationwide. Often these recalls are due to mis-labeling but they can also be due to the late discovery of allergen contamination in the product.
As a warehouse manager you'll understand that recalls are extremely costly procedures as well as being damaging to reputation and customer loyalty. So what does this mean for your warehouse and your team who are involved in the storage of food products?
How to enforce stringent food contamination policies
There is an increased need for more stringent policies around food production and storage areas. When thinking about cross-contamination, check these 7 pointers:
1) Remember the "Big 8"
The first step is identification. There are eight foods that every person in the food supply chain needs to be aware of.
These "big eight" have been identified as causing 90% of food allergic reactions according to most major regulatory bodies:
- Tree Nuts
- Soybeans (Soy)
Note though that, whether you are storing any products containing the big 8 or not, you still need to ensure you are enforcing strict food contamination policies in your warehouse as there are many more allergens to consider.
2) Keep cross-contact low
It is best to ensure a policy of allergen contamination avoidance for all products, regardless of whether your storage involves any of the big eight. Cross contact between your products, and ultimately transferal of allergens, can happen at all stages of the food supply chain.
Here is a short list of things in your supply chain that may cause contamination:
- Cross contact of an ingredient before or after it is received
- Accidental misformulation
- Cross-contact by an allergen from a different product
- Poor storage and raw material handling
- Airborne dust
- Improper incorporation of re-work material
- Incomplete or incorrect packaging
- Human error
Many of these potential contamination situations are out of warehouse managers’ control; yet it is important to understand that products can be contaminated at any stage of the food supply chain.
You should ensure that your part in the food distribution process employs a contamination avoidance policy that is upheld for all products at all times.
3) Segregate your storage
Your warehouse should develop, document, and implement strict procedures for controlling allergens in your storage facilities. Allergens must be segregated from non-allergens. You should also have storage racks or areas designated for allergen storage clearly labeled. If you are storing allergens and non-allergens on the same racks, the allergen containing materials should be on the lowest rack.
Things such as peanuts in mesh bags or eggs in cartons can provide large risks for contamination by falling on items below. Following such procedures should restrict top down contamination.
You should also attempt to never store two different allergens on the same set of racks. Consider everything involved in the storage of your product, because even the little things such as the corn starch used in packaging can cause an allergen contamination risk.
4) Ensure you train your staff
Warehouse personnel should be trained in moving allergens from loading docks to the dedicated storage areas. It is also essential that your team are aware of the urgency of cleaning spills immediately and thoroughly. Allergens can easily be spread throughout the warehouse on the wheels of forklifts, trucks or even the shoes of workers.
Some warehouse managers even require their team to wear different colours depending on what allergen they are working with. While this is expensive, it ensures that there is no cross contamination from clothing.
Basic education on allergens and food safety also helps in providing the underlying reasons for your allergen avoidance procedures.
5) Use dedicated equipment to prevent cross-contamination
Having dedicated equipment to use across different allergen groups is beneficial because it means you do not need a rigorous cleaning procedure each time you change product.
If you cannot justify having dedicated equipment try instead to do your runs on each product in the largest batches possible. This will reduce the number of times you need to heavily clean and sterilise your equipment.
6) Utilise positive pressure in your facility
Positive pressure can be most useful when you have product that is exposed to the air, such as particles or grains.
By creating positive pressure (having more air entering the controlled zone than exiting) in your allergen free zone you can greatly decrease the risk of contamination from airborne particulates. This protects your product from cross contact but also foreign matter.
If you need open doors you can still maintain positive pressure by using products such as air curtains, which add a further seal to your contained zone against foreign particles and insects. You should also consider having dedicated extraction fans and ventilation for any large quantities of allergenic products.
7) Install doors and wall partitions
Consider having dedicated zones for allergen containing products. With doors becoming increasingly rapid, it is possible to have areas sealed from each other for all but the few seconds it takes for a person to pass through the door.
Advances in Rapid Roller Door technology also incorporate self-repairing features. In the event of a collision, the door can be fixed in the minimum time possible. This helps to ensure that your warehouse maintains its allergen barriers.
Get more advice on preventing cross-contamination
Does your warehouse meet its requirements for an allergen safe facility?
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