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New guidance for manufacturers on managing allergens

By Rick Pendrous+

Last updated on 20-Mar-2014 at 14:20 GMT2014-03-20T14:20:47Z

Food manufacturers should act now to avoid the new rules governing the handling and labelling of food allergens forcing up the number of food alerts issued by the Food Standards Agency

Food manufacturers should act now to avoid the new rules governing the handling and labelling of food allergens forcing up the number of food alerts issued by the Food Standards Agency

New rules governing the handling and labelling of food allergens, which come into force later this year, could drive up the number of food alerts issued by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), unless manufacturers and others take urgent action.

Allergen cross contamination and mislabelling were some of the main reasons behind the FSA issuing food alerts last year and confusion over new rules coming into force later this year – under the EU’s Food Information for Consumers Regulation (FIR) – could increase numbers unless companies are properly prepared, it has emerged.

To help firms cope with the changes, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has issued advice for food manufacturers on managing the use of allergenic ingredients in their production facilities. The BRC Global Standards’ Best Practice Guideline will help companies reduce the likelihood of cross-contamination and mislabelling of products on site, which could lead to costly recalls.

Effective management of allergens remains a significant challenge to the food industry and the guideline has been designed to provide further explanation of the allergen management requirements of the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety. It will help individuals and companies to develop robust allergen management systems and procedures.

Allergen management guideline

The guideline focuses on five themes. First, users are advised to evaluate the significance of any process, activity or ingredient using accurate risk assessments to determine the control or action required. Second, they need to have a good understanding of ingredients that arrive on site from suppliers so that allergens can be managed properly.

Third, users are advised to ensure proper segregation of allergens as a key part of their allergen management control procedures. The guideline also describes how production should be planned to reduce the risk of cross-contamination, and lastly it advises on cleaning controls to remove or reduce the risks of cross-contamination.

Meanwhile, the FSA has commissioned a new study on understanding the choices and behaviours of food allergic and intolerant consumers when eating out.

From December 13 2014, under FIR, food businesses, including delis and restaurants, will have to provide information on the presence of 14 allergens if used as deliberate ingredients in foods that are not pre-packed. While there is flexibility as to how this information has to be provided, the study, led by researchers from the University of Bath, aims to explore its likely impact on consumers.

The 14 allergens as listed in FIR are: cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, molluscs, eggs, fish, peanuts, nuts, soya, milk, celery, mustard, sesame, lupin, and sulphur dioxide at levels above 10mg/kg or 10 mg/litre.

Foods that are not prepacked

The study will look at the preferences of food allergic and intolerant consumers on the provision of allergen information when buying and eating foods that are not pre-packed. It will examine the impact that providing allergen information for foods that are not pre-packed will have on their quality of life.

The findings will help the FSA and other organisations involved with food allergy to gain a better understanding of the needs of those with food allergies and intolerances when eating out of the home and provide better guidance and advice to them to help them make safer food choices.

The latest advice on allergen management and controls to avoid cross contamination will be discussed in presentations at a one-day food safety conference called ‘Safe and legal food in a changing world’ being organised  by Food Manufacture on Wednesday, October 15 at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire.

Speakers will include Simon Flanagan, senior consultant, food allergens, with RSSL, who will provide an update on allergen control; and a speaker from NSF International, who offer advice on avoiding workplace cross-contamination.

Other presentations will provide an update on FIR, from Stephen Pugh, head of labelling at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and speakers from the FSA and those representing local authority inspectors describing the changing regulatory and inspection environment.

To find out more about the food safety conference: ‘Safe and legal food in a changing world’ .

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