9 tips to improve your food allergen management

May 2020

August 2019

You only need to look at the MPI recall site and then search on what recalls are due to an undeclared allergen and you will get an impression that allergen management in New Zealand is indeed a problem.        Obviously not all of these cases are due to allergen management, however we’ve put together these 9 tips to help you improve your management of allergens in your business.


1. Question your ingredient suppliers

This is probably the most important tip that we can give you and really this involves asking your suppliers two questions:

  1. What allergens do they process on their equipment your ingredients are made on?
  2. How can they prove there’s no cross-contamination between these ingredients and what are their controls around this process?

Having thorough visibility of your supply chain is very important as this is where a lot of the allergen issues stem from.


2. Talk to your hygiene tool/storage equipment supplier first

All too often we hear from one of our customers that have designed the perfect allergen management system, only to find that the tools they need to suit the system they just designed are not available.  Make sure you talk to your supplier first as there are a lot of important points to consider such as product availability – things like do the scoops need to be stainless steel vs plastic – and what is the commercial availability of all these different options and colours.  Sometimes you may find a tool in a catalogue that looks perfect for the job and you decide which colour you want it in, but remember to check what the colour availability is – not all tools are available in all colours.


3. Simplicity

It’s tempting for some to make an elaborate theoretical allergen management system but just remember it needs to work well in practice.  Keep it simple – the simpler the better as it’s important that everyone understands it quickly and don’t forget new team members that come onboard after it’s implemented – can they pick it up quickly?  Work out a labelling system for the tools and involve your team with what works well for them.

Remember that you can use colour coding – we suggest that the simplest way is to have one colour for all the storage systems and tools that you need for allergens as this makes it easier for your team to remember.  Think about what colours are used on your site at the moment to make sure that the colours you choose for allergens don’t get mixed with another colour code already in place and take into account the whole site when you make this decision – not just your own department.


4. Visual, visual, visual

When you’re designing your system remember not to just use text – use visual communication as well.  English is often not the first language of many of our employees in the workplace these days and there’s also a number of different learning styles.  Instead of just writing the word ‘Peanuts’ on a storage bin, include a picture as well. Remember that along with pictures if there’s a ‘danger colour’ which you don’t use in your current colour coding system that would be a great choice for the allergen equipment if the gear is available in that colour.


5. Gear storage

One simple tip is don’t mix up your cleaning gear with the gear used to handle allergens as this is a sure recipe for confusion.  One of the best ways to do this is to use shadow boards so every tool has a home and you can see clearly where each tool belongs. It’s easy to add a message regarding the allergens or what gets stored on that board and with the colour coding it keeps everything completely separate and in the right place.  Shadow Boards are not only great to avoid confusion but they also mean that your operators will be more efficient having the right tool in the right place at the right time – a great 5S principle.


6. Make spill clean up easy

We make life easy for you by offering pre-assembled, colour coded spill kits for the different types of allergens.  These can be hung on the small colour coded back board or shadow board which shows exactly what belongs where and is handy for the operators working with the allergen.  The components are available for the spill kits once they are used if your policy says they must be discarded.


7. The buck stops with one person

Make sure there’s only one person responsible for your allergen management system.  More than one makes room for blame and excuses, where it’s important if something needs actioning you need to be able to follow up one person and ensure they know it was their responsibility.


8. Educate your team

Teams are changing all the time in the food industry so education is very important around allergen risks in your business.  We suggest that you Google YouTube videos on anaphylaxis – there are some quite graphic ones there – you choose which is most suitable for your team, but it doesn’t hurt people to know what can happen when an allergic reaction takes place.  Keep the training simple but make sure that you cover what the true cost of a recall – think of the brand damage that can happen with one simple recall, let alone the operational costs involved for the business. This can affect jobs if it gets taken to its full extent.

An important aspect of the training is to cover the process that’s involved after the gear is used – Is everything cleaned or sanitised and is it OK now for reuse?  We suggest you have a simple competition to ensure that the team understands. Create a few multichoice questions and those that get the right answers get a simple reward.


9. Think like your customer

Take a look at your allergen management program through the eyes of your customer.  What sort of risks will they be concerned about? What parts of the process would be important to them?  We suggest that you audit yourself hard like you were your biggest customer and record what the action points are from the audit.  This is a very healthy exercise and one that will impress your customer when you show them the corrective actions you have taken.


Wondering where to start?  Want some extra help about how to practically make this work?  Simply enter in a few details in the form below and one of our experienced team members will be in touch with you.


Posted by Dayle Senior