Many food companies are required by regulation, customer requirements, or their GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) scheme to develop an allergen program Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). With more than 15 million people having food allergies in the U.S. alone, it is more important than ever for the food industry to proactively address risks. Below is a brief guide for developing plans and procedures to minimize allergen-related risks in your facility.
1. Identify Risks
The first step in developing any aspect of a food safety plan is identifying your facility’s unique risks. The FDA has categorized allergens into eight main groups, which are as follows: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. Some experts also advise companies to be aware of the rising concerns surrounding sesame as well. If your facility processes these allergens, you’ll need to identify risks for cross contamination, mislabeling, and any other potential issues that could occur.
2. Develop Controls
After risks have been identified, the next step is to put controls in place for mitigating these risks. The greatest risks call for the most rigorous planning. It is also important to note that if your company falls under FSMA, risks for undeclared allergens must also be proactively mitigated. As an example, if a certain product is made with tree nuts and one is not, a mix-up of packaging or cross-contact could present a risk for the food products that are not supposed to contain the allergen, so proper labeling and facility control procedures should be adopted to minimize risks.
3. Train Employees
Once your allergen safety plan has been developed, you’ll need to ensure personnel is properly trained on every aspect. While cross-contamination is one major focus area for training, sanitization processes and rework procedures must also be thoroughly addressed.
4. Monitor Program Effectiveness
Lastly, develop methods for monitoring the effectiveness of your allergen control procedures. Determine the frequency with which allerge
n control efforts will be analyzed, as well as which metrics you’ll use to gauge performance. If you haven’t already done so, consider upgrading to an automated food safety platform to help monitor performance using real-time analytics.