The best ways to track food allergens on your production site

For any business connected with the sale or production of food, a reliable framework for tracking allergens through the supply chain is vital. Here are three ways of doing so efficiently.

Recently we revealed why it’s so important for food businesses to create an allergen specification document. In most cases it’s essential that you have a protocol for detecting the presence of allergens in ingredients and raw materials.

>> Do you need an allergen specification document?

Yet knowing how to determine the allergen content of food is one thing, labelling it is quite another. But label it you must. The risk of cross-contamination or unlabelled allergens wheedling their way towards the end-consumer is too big to ignore. In other words: once you have identified allergens, you cannot afford to lose track of them.

So what are some of the best strategies for allergen labelling?

Strategy #1: Coloured labels

One of the simplest strategies for flagging allergenic content on your ingredients utilises coloured labels. You indicate the presence of a certain allergen with a label of a specific colour - for example: red for gluten, yellow for lactose, green for nuts and so on. It’s a clear and useful allergen labelling method, particularly if you are handling only a small number of different ingredients with low allergen content.

Strategy #2: Allergen tags

Let’s say you work with lots of different ingredients, and lots of different allergens. The coloured labels thing could get confusing. But you can stave-off the brow-furrowing with an even simpler allergen labelling strategy. Instead of coloured tags that represent different allergens, you simply have one type of tag that lists all fourteen food allergens named in EU regulations. If the allergen is present, you put a tick next to it. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Strategy #3: Allergen codes

A third way to highlight allergen status is with a coding system, where letters identify specific allergens and numbers indicate the quantities or ratios of each allergen. For example, AGL3MU1 could describe a food item that contains contrasting levels of gluten and mustard. You can set the thresholds that work best for your business. This code could even become part of your products’ identification or traceability coding.

Talk to your suppliers

Having said that, maybe you don’t need to label allergens at all. It might be easier for all parties if your suppliers do the legwork before the ingredients leave their site. However if you are going to outsource this duty, get an agreement on each party’s labelling responsibilities in writing.

And talk to your customers too...

You know what they say: the customer is always right. And if they have a specific allergen labelling system they would like you to use, you might want to consider bending to their whims. Alternatively your customers may have their own in-house allergen labelling framework, which lessens the strain on your resources.

Above all, talk to your staff

Whichever way you choose to label allergen content, it’s crucial that your staff are totally on board. That means training. Staff have to understand the process - as well as its importance - inside-out. Even down to the really basic stuff like where to find allergen labels. Take nothing for granted.

Audit, audit, audit

It’s one of the most sigh-inducing words in business, but be prepared to audit your allergen labelling process regularly. Again, the details matter. You need to know how long it takes to source new allergen labels when you’re running low. You need to ensure your allergen lists are up to date and in line with legislation. And you need to check your process is as simple, streamlined and efficient as possible. Audits are especially important whenever your suppliers, ingredients or product lines change. Consider independent audits by a specialist to find hidden inefficiencies in your process.

Over to you...

The hardest thing about change is implementing it. But with a little thought, preparation and training you can instil an allergen labelling process that keeps your customers informed, your end-consumers safe and your business protected from the potentially devastating threat of unlabelled allergens getting into the marketplace. Worth half a day of thought? You bet.

Posted on 13/06/2017