Catherine Watkinson, global technical hygiene specialist at Hillbrush, looks at food safety culture and allergen management

Without the correct methods to manage food safety and hygiene, a food business puts its reputation and customers at risk.

Recent headlines about allergies means the baking industry is particularly vulnerable when correct food safety measures haven’t been put in place.  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.

One of the biggest challenges facing the baking industry regarding allergen management is ensuring 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 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 dedicated facilities to specific allergenic products.  But for smaller bakery firms this may not always be an option, so separating production to a different area, using physical barriers between production lines, dedicated equipment, minimising unnecessary movement, and appropriate cleaning between production runs is essential.

Where feasible, bakeries should use dedicated equipment such as weighing equipment, scoops and utensils within production areas. Consideration could be given to colour coding this equipment too.

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 all trouble spots to be sought out and inspected.

Bakeries should consider introducing colour-coded cleaning equipment and the use of coloured shadow boards to store equipment. Shadow boards not only demonstrate your business takes cleaning seriously, but that the correct cleaning and equipment is easily accessed, and procedures understood.