Facilities that deal with allergen-containing foods and substances must pay especially strict attention to maintaining clean facilities. Leaving even a small amount of allergens in food products can result in customer sickness or even death, so it’s essential to take every opportunity to ward against allergen buildup in your facility.
The FDA enacted the Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act of 2004, (FALCPA), in an effort to identify known food allergens and reduce food borne illnesses. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was later enacted to prevent food borne illnesses rather than just react to them. Food processors began refining and improving their Food Allergen Control Programs. In this guide, we discuss some of the best ways to implement these practices in your facility.
The Four S’s for Controlling Food Allergens in Food Processing Equipment
Effective allergen removal strategies rely on the four S’s:
Many facilities separate contaminated areas from clean zones. This technique is even more important to the allergen-control process than it is to manufacturing products, as it allows workers to employ rigorous cleaning procedures without risking the spread of allergens to other areas.
Sectioning off your facility especially helps when your processes carry the risk of splattering or projecting substances across far distances. Partitions within your facility can catch such residue and channel it to appropriate receptacles for safe disposal.
Food processors must segregate ingredients from each other to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. This means that they carry out as many processes as possible on allergen-containing and “safe” ingredients in separate areas of the facility.
Some food processing plants employ physical barriers to help mitigate the problems associated with the airborne spread or spilling of allergens. This practice is especially prevalent in receiving areas, and many facilities elect to load and unload allergen-containing foods in separate areas from allergen-free materials. Other facilities have employees mark pallets of allergen-containing foods with indicators to keep everyone on the same page.
Many food processing plants adjust their schedules to accommodate working with allergen-containing and allergen-free foods and processes. For example, scheduling all your processes that involve allergen-containing products for a specific period of the day or week means that you can clean the relevant equipment to an acceptable standard before switching to another type of food. This enables you to dedicate more production time to both allergen-containing and allergen-free processes and spend less time cleaning in the long run.
The thread holding all these other techniques together is, of course, sanitation. Investing in the latest sanitation equipment and procedures will ensure that your facility maintains its health and safety ratings and provides high-quality products to customers. There are a few handy tricks for implementing good sanitation practices.
Traditionally, facilities employed a mix of chemical and water processes to clean equipment. However, chemical sanitation methods don’t always adequately sanitize food, as microorganisms have developed survival mechanisms to tolerate various stresses during food processing, and chemicals used for pathogen control don’t often have the same effects against allergens (and vice versa).
Furthermore, cleaning to remove potentially harmful allergens during product “change-overs” can be problematic when introducing water and chemicals into the production areas and preparing the equipment to a validated standard in a timely manner. Water left on the floors and aisleways can pose significant safety hazards.
This is why more manufacturers in the food industry are turning to dry steam cleaning. When paired with other sanitation techniques, steam is highly effective at cleaning allergen residues and harmful pathogens on surfaces and equipment, thereby helping clean surfaces to acceptable levels.
Allergen Control Points in the Manufacturing Process
Pay close attention to the areas in your facility that pose the highest risk of accumulating or spreading allergens. Some of the most common control points include:
- Ingredient storage: Products containing allergens must be isolated from allergen-free products in your facility
- Production scheduling: Production schedules should be formatted to isolate products that contain allergens
- Food contact surfaces:Surfaces contaminated with allergens must be effectively cleaned to validated standards
- Non–food contact surfaces: Even surfaces that don’t regularly come into contact with allergens must be safeguarded against employee contact and airborne particles
- Sampling and testing: Many facilities use test kits to detect the presence of allergens in food products and on surfaces and equipment
- Appropriately labeled packaging: It’s essential to clearly label allergen-containing foods to prevent customer food borne illness and death
Efficient Allergen Removal with Electro-Steam
Electro-Steam manufacturers highly efficient electric-fired miniature boilers and steam cleaners that have kept facilities around the world free of contaminants since 1952. We build each of our generators to ASME code and offer custom solutions for a wide range of industry challenges.
If you would like to learn more about how to best incorporate our systems to your facility, contact us today.