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Debra Smith
Debra Smith
Global Hygiene Specialist

Optimise your allergen control through use of colour

Allergies of all kinds are on the rise with hospital admissions for allergic reactions increasing by 33% in the last 5 years. As a food producer you have a legal responsibility to produce foods that are free of undeclared allergens. Find out how Vikans comprehensive range of colour-coded tools and Site Survey can help you meet your legal obligation.

Allergen control – why is it important?

Allergen management is vital in any food business and integration into your sites’ overall food safety management system is required for it to work well. The consequences of ignoring this requirement, or of getting it wrong, could range from causing a consumer discomfort to causing their death.

Allergies of all kinds are on the increase. It is estimated that 1 in 50 children in the UK has a nut allergy. Peanut allergy cases have tripled in the last decade, and hospital admissions related to allergic reactions have increased by 33% in the last 5 years. Every year in the UK there are around 10 deaths as a result of food allergies, with the under 25’s being at greatest risk.

It is therefore essential that all those involved with the production of food know what allergens are, why they need to be controlled, and how best this is achieved.

 

What are allergens?

An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system overreacts to a normally harmless substance known as an allergen.

There are 14 allergens listed by the EU currently. They are,

  • Gluten
  • Sesame
  • Nuts
  • Crustacean
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Mustard

 

  • Milk
  • Celery
  • Peanuts
  • Soya
  • Shellfish
  • Lupins
  • Sulphite

 

Allergen control – Legal and Global food safety Standard requirements

If your site produces foods that contain any of these allergens (allergenic foods), and/or foods that don’t (non-allergenic foods), you have a legal responsibility to ensure that those that do are labelled properly, and that those that don’t are allergen free (or are labelled appropriately).

  • Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 - General Food Law Regulation
    Prohibits unsafe food being placed on the market

  • EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011
    Provides information about the 14 allergens listed by the EU


Voluntary Global food safety standards also require allergen control.

BRC Global Standard - Food safety, Issue 8 (2018)

Allergen control – how can it be achieved?

Ideally, on a site that produces foods that contain allergens and foods that don’t, production of foods that are allergenic would be done in a physically separated area, using dedicated equipment, facilities and personnel. This would be the best way to minimse the risk of allergen cross-contamination to the non-allergenic products.

However, in reality this situation is very rare and it is more likely that allergenic food production is done on a separate line that is spatially segregated from non-allergenic food production; or on the same line with a deep clean of the equipment between allergenic and non-allergenic food production.

In all cases, the use of colour-coding can help minimse the risk of allergen cross-contamination further. It can also aid compliance with Global food safety standard requirements.

 

Use of equipment that is "Identifiable and specified for use"

Use of colour-coded cleaning equipment and utensils provides a visual check that only equipment colour-coded for use with that allergen is used. 

Vikan provide the food industry with the most comprehensive range of fully coloured cleaning tools and utensils available. In 2018 we introduced 3 new colours to the range – Brown, Grey and a vibrant Lime, bring the total number of colours on offer to 12.

 

12 colour icon

The more unusual colours like Orange, Pink, Purple, and now Lime, are often chosen for use with allergens.

In addition, we also now provide durable, silicone rubber bands in the 12 colours.
These can be used for secondary colour-coding of equipment, giving even greater possibilities for colour-coded segregation.

They can also be used to identify vacuum attachments used for different purposes, and are available in two diameters that, between them, will fit most equipment.

Segregation of allergen production areas by colour provides an easy visual check that only tools and utensils colour-coded for use in that area are used. For example, use of Lime equipment only in the Lime ‘allergen’ production area shown below.

Colour Coding Zone image

To minimise the risk of cross-contamination further, cleaning tools and utensils used for allergens should be stored on colour-coded wall racks or shadow boards.

For example, if Lime coloured equipment is used with the allergen sesame, they should be stored on a Lime tool rack or a shadow board with Lime shadows.

Equipment used for each different allergen should be stored on its own separate colour-coordinated rack or board, and no tool used for allergenic food production/cleaning should be stored on the same board as those used for non-allergenic food production/cleaning.


Use of equipment that can be "effectively cleaned after use"

Equipment that can be effectively cleaned after use is equipment that incorporates Hygienic design. Both the BRC and FSSC 22000 (two of the most widely used GFSI Global food safety Standards) specify the requirement to use cleaning equipment and tools of hygienic design.

  • BRCv8 
    4.11.6. "cleaning equipment should be hygienically designed"

  • FSSC 22000 
    ISO/TS 22002-1:2009 Prerequisite programmes on food safety Part 1: Food manufacturing
    • 11.2 Cleaning and sanitising agents and tools:
      "Tools and equipment shall be of hygienic design…"


Good hygienic design principles* have been specified by the European Hygienic Engineering Design Group (EHEDG).

They include,

  • No sharp internal angles

  • All areas accessible for easy cleaning and disinfection 
    • avoid deep recesses, nooks and crannies

  • Of one-piece construction, or quickly and easily dismantled / re-assembled 

  • Smooth surface finish

  • Made of appropriate materials 
    • Food contact compliant

 

EHEDG Logo

*EHEDG Guideline 8 "Hygienic Equipment Design Criteria"


We pioneered the incorporation of hygienic design principles into our new and improved cleaning tools and utensils. These include the Ultra hygienic and Ultra Safe Technology (UST) product ranges.

The selection of cleaning tools and utensils of good hygienic design AND their regular inspection, decontamination and replacement are all essential to minimise the risk of allergen cross-contamination.

It is also important to clean equipment to be used in contact with food, prior to first use. Un-wrapped, boxed or even bagged equipment may be contaminated with allergen residues from being handled during production, packing, transport and storage.

Clean before use

To support our customers optimise food safety through good cleaning tool and utensil maintenance we have produced a White Paper that provides practical guidance on the subject.

This, together with further guidence on the use of colour-coding for food safety, and on the selection of hygienically designed brushware, can be downloaded here.


Minimising the risk of allergen contamination is achieved through a combination of choosing the right equipment (including hygienically designed, colour-coded, fit for purpose); using it in the right way; maintaining it regularly; and storing it appropriately.

The equipment and methods chosen to control allergens can also play a key role in minimising cross-contamination.

All cleaning activities spread contamination

 

  • Choose cleaning equipment and methods that maximise contamination removal and minimise its spread

  • Don’t clean / minimise cleaning during production

  • Clean things as far away as possible from open product (spacial segregation)

  • Clean in physically segregated areas to protect product from splashes etc. (separate cleaning rooms / screens)

  • Allow time for aerosols and particles generated by cleaning activities to settle before cleaning food contact surfaces

  • Have dedicated allergen spill kits in the same colour as the allergen cleaning tools and utensils

 

Top 10 tips for allergen control

  1. Understand why it is important

  2. Choose equipment of good hygienic design

  3. Clean equipment before first use

  4. Use colour-coded equipment for allergen use

  5. Use colour-coded segregation of areas used for allergenic food production

  6. Use methods and equipment that maximise cleaning and minimise spread of contamination

  7. Store tools used for allergen cleaning separately and appropriately

  8. Regularly inspect, clean and replace your cleaning tools

  9. Have dedicated allergen spill kits

  10. Train your staff in allergen control

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