Separating allergen-containing products
Where it is not possible to have dedicated production facilities, there are a number of ways of separating the production of allergen-containing products from those that do not contain the allergen.
These can include:
- using different areas of the factory
- using physical barriers between the production lines
- using dedicated equipment
- minimising unnecessary movement of materials
- appropriate scheduling of production runs, including appropriate cleaning of equipment between production runs
- controlling rework, ensuring that residual material containing an allergen is not reworked into an allergen-free product
- separating the air supply, where this is practical
Consideration should be given to the dedication of equipment in production facilities. For example, weighing equipment, scoops and utensils should be dedicated and the weighed product should be placed in dedicated, lidded and labelled containers.
Consideration should also be given to colour coding equipment, although this may not be practical where a number of allergens are being handled and colour coding is used already for the identification of cooked or raw ingredients or vegetarian products.
If it is not possible to dedicate areas or equipment, it is important to avoid cross-contamination between these and other operations, including controlling the movement of equipment and personnel.
Physical separation should be considered for 'high risk' products (such as milk in baby foods) and the implications of changes to the factory layout should be assessed.
Consideration should also be given to the ease of cleaning equipment. Avoiding the crossover of production lines and allowing adequate space for effective cleaning will help minimise the risk of allergen cross-contamination.
It is recommended that, wherever practically possible, consideration should be given to the implications of a common air supply (for example, milk powder used elsewhere in a factory may enter the air supply and then be deposited on the surface of dairy-free desserts).
Where factories produce nut products and nut-free products, dedicated air conditioning/extraction fan systems could be used to contain nut dust, or positive pressure could be used in nut-free rooms to prevent nut traces entering the room in the air.
When scheduling the manufacture of allergenic products, there should be a consideration of whether it is possible for products not containing the allergenic food to be manufactured first, with products containing the allergenic ingredients made at the end of a production run.
Additionally, long runs of allergenic products should be undertaken wherever possible to minimise changeovers, and these should be followed by a major clean down.
Rework that contains allergenic ingredients should be reworked only into products that contain that allergen (for example chocolate that contains nuts or nut fillings should only be reworked into other nut-containing chocolates).
Rework should be clearly identified in order for it to be tracked in the manufacturing process. Oils used for cooking allergenic foods (for example nuts, shellfish and fish) should not be used subsequently for cooking products not containing the allergen.