Introducing a new allergen-free line to your site can be a daunting prospect. After all, it requires you to update standards across the board – reworking your manufacturing process and revisiting your approach to segregation.  

If, for example, you are planning to create a product that does not contain gluten, you will need to set up a production line that is entirely separate from any products that do contain gluten, using either a space barrier, a segregation screen, or both. You will also need to update the training of your staff, drive more time and money into your hygiene team, enhance your colour-coding policy, and evaluate your suppliers.  

This might sound like a lot of hard work, but the result will be a safe and smooth operation that can capitalise on the growing Free From trend without putting anyone at risk. An allergen conscious factory will also protect the integrity of your brand, reducing the likelihood of customer complaints, non-conformities, and even factory closure. 

Given just how important allergen segregation is, we have put together a list of five steps to help you manage this challenge in the best way possible. There is useful content in each section, but you can also use the links below to skip to the solution most relevant to your needs.

1. Choose your suppliers carefully

If your new product involves slightly more unusual ingredients, it is possible that you will be working with artisan suppliers. If their operation is on the smaller side, they might not have as advanced an approach to allergen control as you would like. But, the good news is, they may be small enough for you to have an impact. Perhaps you could arrange a tour of their site and highlight any changes they would need make in order to secure your business. Whether that’s the stricter segregation of ingredients or a colour-coded approach to cleaning, ensuring everything is done to avoid cross contamination before the ingredients reach your site will only make your life easier when they do. 

Even if you are working with the same suppliers, this could be a great opportunity for you to re-evaluate their approach to segregation – asking questions about how they avoid cross contamination and taking a closer look at the way their products are transported your factory. If there is any sign of ingredients coming into contact with one another, you need to be confident in refusing a delivery and should instil this confidence in your team. It would also be worth telling your suppliers about your plans to launch a new allergen-free line, as this could inspire them to make their own changes and be extra vigilant in their approach. 

2. Establish a colour-coding policy

The next step is to embrace the benefits of colour-coding. All factories, not just the ones that handle allergens, need to avoid cross contamination, so it is likely that you already have a system running at your site. However, colour-coding only becomes more important when allergens are in the mix. The process shouldn’t become more complicated though, as this will only confuse your operatives and slow down production. You can click here for a comprehensive guide to simplifying your colour-coding policy. You should also consider the following three areas:

Colour-coded equipment

Hygienically designed, colour-coded equipment is an essential part of allergen management. It will reduce the risk of utensils getting mixed up and being used in the wrong area. Say an operative grabs a brush intended for an allergen-free production line and uses it to clean up a mess in another area of your site. If this brush then finds its way back to your allergen line, it could undermine your entire operation.

Even the best case scenario sees you throwing away an entire batch of your product, with the worse case scenario resulting in a fatality and the closure of your factory. You can reduce this risk with brightly coloured equipment that is designated to a specific zone or process. Instead of leaving things open to confusion, you can encourage your operatives to take accountability for their equipment and can make it much easier for any hazards to be identified before it is too late.

Shadow Boards

Equipment is only one half of the picture, you also need to think about the way it is being stored. After all, there is very little point in investing in colour-coded utensils with designated purposes if you are going to store them in a way that allows liquids and debris to easily transfer. Shadow Boards are an increasingly popular storage solution, trusted by leading brands across the UK and Ireland. Designed by an inhouse team of experts, they allow you to position your utensils in a way that reduces the risk of cross contamination. Available in a wide range of colours, they also make it extremely easy for your operatives to identify where they should be finding and returning their equipment. There is even the option of adding an instructional message to the top of the board – think ‘clean after use’ or ‘allergen cleaning only’.

IndeliMarking

As previously mentioned, it’s important that you don’t overcomplicate the colour-coding policy at your factory. IndeliMarking is a great way to avoid this, as it could allow you to have all of your allergen equipment in one colour, but labelled to indicate which utensil is suited to which allergen.

IndeliMarking is the process of using specialist lasers to change the molecular structure of a material. This creates a contrasting ‘impression’ on the surface of your equipment without undermining any hygiene or food safety requirements.

With Version 9 of the Global Food Safety Standard from BRCGS stating that cleaning equipment must be ‘suitably identified for intended use’, IndeliMarking could also help you to prepare for any upcoming audits. After all, your inspector will be on the lookout for any areas where you have failed to meet the relevant standards.

3. Train your operatives

Explain the ‘why’ 

When training your site staff, it’s important to start with the ‘why’ behind what you are doing. This is especially true of allergen control. In general food production, there is the risk of an inconsistent product with a questionable taste or texture. With allergens, there is the risk of your customers having a serious allergic reaction and it is also possible that a fatality could occur. The best way to inspire your team is to make sure they are aware of the people that could be helped by their vigilance and attention to detail. 

Visual Management 

Another step to consider is Visual Management. Introducing lots of highly visual signs and instruction boards to your site should make things a lot easier for operatives that have poor eyesight or don’t have English as their first language. These signs will also act as a constant reminder for your general team, warning them against cross contamination and sharing instructions for allergen control areas – everything from PPE procedures to directional signage. 

Regular Training 

Finally, you need to ensure your training is ongoing. Otherwise, agency staff that are only with you for days at the time may be totally uniformed about your site’s approach to allergen control. Regular training should also reflect any areas for improvement that you identify. Say you spot an operative using a utensil in the wrong zone or run hygiene testing that suggests your cleans are less than satisfactory, this should be followed up with immediate training. Just remember to keep a record of this training in preparation for your upcoming audits. 

4. Support your Hygiene Team

There’s a reason Hygiene Teams are commonly referred to as the ‘Hygiene Heroes’ of the food industry. Often, they can be the difference between a successful production line and a complete disaster. It’s no surprise then that they will play a vital role in the launch of your new allergen-free line. That is why they should be involved in discussions from the beginning.

The Sales and New Product Development teams at your businesses can dream up the most amazing Free From product, but unless your Hygiene Team can perform a suitable clean in the allotted window, your allergen-free line is never going to work. You need to be checking in with them on a regular basis, making sure they have the necessary support, time, and equipment.

Cleaning Instruction Cards

One of the best ways to support your Hygiene Team is to update the Cleaning Instruction Cards (CICs) at your site. These cards will help your operatives to understand the difference between a regular clean and an allergen clean, taking them through every step of the process.

Phil May, the Technical Support & Hygiene Manager at Greencore, shared his top tips for writing CICs in the premiere episode of his podcast: The Hygiene Hustle. You can click here to listen to this part of the podcast. We have also listed the key components of a comprehensive CIC below: 

  1. Reference Number: ideally, this should relate to a specific process or area of your factory e.g. AL for allergen.
  2. Two Dates: when the CIC was created and when it was last updated.
  3. Two Names: the person responsible for cleaning and the person responsible for checking each clean.
  4. Health & Safety: details of any chemicals, concentration of chemicals, relevant time frames, instructions for lock offs etc.
  5. Helpful Visuals: photos of each step.
  6. PPE: the equipment worn by your operatives.
  7. Special Precautions: additional requirements e.g. can only be lifted by two people.
  8. Method: step-by-step guide to carrying out an allergen clean of the equipment.
  9. Key Inspection Points: details of the areas that an auditor is likely to check first.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

You will also need to equip your Hygiene Team with the correct personal protective equipment (PPE). Failing to do so will make it extremely difficult for them to cope with the increased demands of cleaning an allergen line. Below are three ways that investing in high quality PPE will support the launch of your new line:  

  1. A new allergen line could mean the introduction of new hygiene staff to your site. It will be much easier for you to attract and retain operatives if they are met with protective clothing that keeps them safe, allows them to move freely, and helps them to stay warm without overheating.
  2. The correct PPE could also narrow the Hygiene Window at your site. Workers that can move freely without the fear of tripping will be much more productive. Also, they won’t have the distraction of being too hot, cold, or uncomfortable.
  3. Opting for durable PPE will reduce the overall cost of your allergen line. Although there may be a higher upfront payment, you won’t have to deal with the expense of frequent replacements, a slower workforce, and poor employee retention.

Designed by Hygiene Teams for Hygiene Teams, the WashGuard range is the ultimate example of high quality protective clothing. It will help you to achieve all the goals listed above – supporting your operatives, speeding up production, and reducing your long term expenses. All three factors will prove invaluable when it comes to launching your new allergen line. 

A3 Technology

Does your Hygiene Team currently rely on an ATP meter to ascertain how well equipment has been cleaned – using it to detect if organic residue remains on a surface?

As the name suggests, ATP meters can only detect adenosine molecules in one form: ATP. This is an unstable molecule that can easily degrade to become ADP or AMP. Only testing for ATP means that unclean surfaces could be passing your hygiene tests.

In contrast, A3 meters test for ATP, ADP, and AMP. This makes A3 technology the best way to secure accurate results for your site. 

In addition to raising the overall hygiene standards of your factory, something that will hugely benefit your allergen line, an A3 meter could also help you to lower the costs of your allergen testing. 

Although A3 meters do not test for allergens and should never be relied upon for this process, this technology may give you the opportunity to reduce the number of allergen tests carried out at your site. 

A recent Case Study with McCain Foods found that, following the introduction of an A3 meter to one of their sites, it became clear that if a surface passed an A3 test it would go on to pass a gluten swab and then an ELISA test. During a six-to-eight-month period, McCain Foods didn’t have a single allergen fail following an A3 swab pass. This gave them the confidence to reduce the amount of allergen swabbing and ELISA testing carried out – saving a significant amount of time and money.

5. Explore your options for Segregation

Last but not least, you need to think about Segregation at your site. There are two key factors for you to consider. First, what is the most effective way for you to keep allergen and non-allergen products away from each other? This is an area where you can’t afford to take any risks. The solution will be different for every site and will be dependent on the type of allergen you are concerned about e.g. liquid, powder, or solid. You will need to carry out a risk assessment before making any major decisions and should also research what other sites have done in your position.

Second, you need to be on the lookout for opportunities to keep your production lines up and running. If you are thinking about setting up a barrier of space between your non-allergen and allergen lines, this will mean forcing one of your other lines into idleness – a costly solution that should be avoided if possible. SegriScreens could provide you with an opportunity to avoid this, acting as a physical barrier between your lines. Made from strong and moisture-repellent PVC material, these mobile screens connect to form a continuous, connected barrier. Often used for washdowns, they could help you to establish a clear divide between the non-allergen and allergen areas of your site.

So, there’s five ways that you can prepare for the launch of a new allergen-free line at your site. As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities for you to secure success, along with that all important food safety compliance. If you would like any further guidance relating to the points covered in this article or any of the other ways that you are getting ready for your launch, you can contact the Klipspringer team on 01473 461800 or sales@klipspringer.com. You can also fill out the contact form below.   

If you would like further guidance relating to your allergen-free line, the Klipspringer team would be happy to help. Share your details below to arrange a free consultation.