According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE),15 million Americans suffer from food allergies. And that number continues to grow, as FARE has found that peanut and tree nut allergies among children have more than tripled since 1997. And with over 170 potential food allergens, all food manufacturing plant managers need to be ever vigilant to avoid cross-contamination.
When it comes to food powder plants, cross-contamination becomes even harder to avoid as sanitizing powder-processing lines for new products can be incredibly difficult. In fact, a recent study found that 40% of protein powder brands had elevated levels of heavy metals in their product, signaling that a variety of contaminants are prevalent in the powder processing industry. Furthermore, undeclared allergens are one of the leading causes of food product recalls. As a result, it’s critical that food powder plant managers have an allergen control plan to ensure the health and safety of consumers. However, there are other reasons why powder plant managers need to control allergens within their manufacturing facilities.
What are those reasons? Below, we walk you through all of the important reasons why you need to create and implement an effective allergen control plan at your food powder plant.
The Changing Consumer
As previously mentioned, food allergies are on the rise, placing new pressures on food processors to provide safer products. To ensure that they are avoiding the foods that can cause them harm, consumers rely on transparency from food manufacturers on what ingredients and allergens may be in their products. Failing to provide accurate details on what allergens they may come into contact with could leave consumers thinking that your food products aren’t safe for them to handle or eat.
A food allergen control plan will allow you to have greater insight into the number and type of allergens that enter your facility and which foods they may be present in. Armed with this information, you now have the ability to clearly communicate to consumers the types of allergens they may be exposed to when consuming each of your food products through accurate, detailed packaging and labels.
Proliferation of Precautionary Labeling
With calls for greater transparency getting louder and louder, manufacturers are using an abundance of caution when it comes to their food labels. Even if there is the slightest possibility that an allergic reaction may be triggered by their product, many food manufacturers are putting several allergy alerts on their labels to warn consumers. The problem is that many consumers (including teens) are ignoring them because most food choices contain a precautionary allergen statement.
This is largely due to the fact that manufacturers can voluntarily label their foods for the possible presence of allergens, even if it isn’t completely accurate. While these labels help the manufacturer in terms of liability and transparency, they don’t necessarily help the consumer.
Instead of contributing to the proliferation of precautionary labeling, an allergy control plan will allow you to narrow down exactly what food allergens may be in your products. In increasing the accuracy of your allergen labels, consumers will have more safe food choices that discourage them from taking a risk and ignoring an allergy label.
Aging, Contaminant-Prone Equipment
Cross-contamination is one of the biggest threats to allergy control. Because food powder plants often use shared equipment to produce their food products, allergens may easily be passed from product to product during the manufacturing process. This is especially true for facilities that have older equipment like standard connectors and hose clamps. They’re time consuming to remove and sanitize, presenting a greater risk of cross-contamination when the processing line is switched to a new product.
Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that food is not contaminated with products that could cause an allergic reaction to consumers. You need to do everything in your power to minimize that risk, including making the necessary processing system upgrades (e.g. switching to BFM® Fittings) that prevent of cross-contamination. To identify these potential opportunities for improvement, it’s important to include system considerations into your allergy management plan.
Bolstering the Business’s Bottom Line
At the end of the day, allergens can impact your bottom line. Especially since undeclared allergens in food products is one of the main triggers for recalls as previously mentioned. Between consumer trust, safety, and compliance, your manufacturing facility stands to gain a lot if you create an effective allergen management or control plan.
For example, failing to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which outlines requirements for food allergen control, could result in a significant penalty for your food powder plant. In addition, there are the Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) compliance guidelines your facility will need to follow as well in order to avoid costly fines and downtime. An effective allergen control plan will help you stay compliant with these regulations, secure your company’s financial health, and improve your reputation among consumers.
Remember, Allergen Management Takes a Team
Allergens pose a real threat to consumers and food manufacturers alike. By creating an allergy control plan, you can increase consumer trust, but also safeguard your facility from harm.
Before you start drafting your allergen management or control plan, it’s important to remember that you need to get buy-in and participation from experts in multiple departments. This not only ensures you have the appropriate knowledge for forming your plan, but also ensures the plan becomes part of your company culture.
For more insight into how you can safeguard your food products from allergens, view our allergen management tips.