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Food safety culture and allergen management

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Catherine Watkinson, Global Technical Hygiene Specialist at Anti-Microbial brush manufacturer Hillbrush looks at ‘food safety culture’ and allergen management within the baking industry.

Food safety is an integral part of organisational culture because without the correct methods to manage food safety and hygiene, a food business puts its reputation and its customers at risk. Recent headlines about allergies means that the bakery industry is particularly vulnerable when correct food safety measures relating to allergens haven’t been put in place. 

For the bakery industry, building a ‘food safety culture’ that underpins the processes, training and procedures for managing allergens is more important than ever. 

Many food businesses have come to embrace the importance of embedding food safety culture into their organisational DNA. It isn’t just about passing audits either – although the new BRC Global Standard Food Safety version 8 does state that a proactive, positive culture within a company can make all the difference in the effectiveness of the food safety and quality plan - but it is about creating a healthy work environment, delivering a quality, consistent product and so leading to satisfied customers.  

One of the biggest challenges facing the bakery industry with regard to allergen management is ensuring that all staff are correctly trained. As part of implementing a true food safety culture, all staff, including temporary staff and contractors, involved in handling ingredients, equipment, utensils, packaging and products, should be aware of food allergens. They should be regularly trained too in avoiding cross-contamination of foods by the major food allergens and appropriate procedures on the management of allergens should also be available wherever they need to be observed. 

As far as manufacturing, equipment and processes are concerned, many bakery manufacturers now operate nut free sites or dedicate production facilities to specific allergenic products.  For smaller bakery businesses, this may not always be an option, so separating production to a different area, using physical barriers between production lines, dedicated equipment and minimising unnecessary movement, as well as appropriate cleaning and sanitisation between production runs is essential.

Where feasible, bakeries should use dedicated equipment such as weighing tools, scoops and utensils within segregated production areas.

Very small amounts of some allergens, such as nuts, can cause adverse reactions, including potentially fatal anaphylactic shock. Therefore, thorough cleaning, effective in reducing the risks of allergen cross-contamination, should be used where appropriate. A ‘visually and physically clean’ standard is not just a casual visual inspection of the production line or area, it also requires that all of the trouble spots are sought out and inspected.  

Introducing colour coded cleaning equipment and the use of coloured shadow boards to segregate and store equipment is the industry recognised best practice approach to allergen management and promotes the adoption of a food safety culture. Shadow boards not only demonstrate that your business takes cleaning and organisation seriously, but that the correct cleaning equipment is easily accessed and procedures understood.

 

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