The baking industry is becoming more aware of allergens and ways to prevent contamination. Each country has a different list of allergens to watch. In the United States, the “Big 8” allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soybeans, wheat, fish and shellfish.
Proper allergen control begins with storing major allergens in separate locations, or ensuring allergen-containing bulk bags are not stored above other ingredients because bags can tear and spill. Labeling stored ingredients clearly is essential for easily identifying the correct ingredients, notes Steve Taylor, professor and director of the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program, University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Bar codes, color codes or a photo of the product are often used to identify products.
The major problem with handling an allergen powder is it cannot use the same bin or scale as the flour and sugar, making the operation very expensive. To combat the expense, plants often group allergens, such as starches and egg powders, and define a minor ingredient system to handle scaling for the allergens and transfer them separately, says Rod Harris, sales manager North East USA and Latin America, Reimelt Corp., Odessa, Fla.
Still, some allergens cannot be grouped. For example, peanut powder needs to be totally isolated from other ingredients. “I must have a bag dump that handles just peanut powder, which becomes very expensive for most bakers. Usually it’s removed from the process because not only does it have to load separately, but it has to sift separately. Then the scaling sequence and the transfer from the scaling process to the use points is also isolated,” Harris says.
Preventing cross contamination
Clients with extremely sensitive systems or a high awareness of cross contamination can opt to take steps before the flour even reaches the silo. A receiving silo can be set up so the load can be double checked for infestation control, then a sifter can sift the flour before it moves to a one-truck silo where it is held until it is inspected. After it is approved, it is transferred to the main bulk silo, notes Harris. A more common option is to use lot numbers to track the shipment in case a problem arises.
When a company uses more than one type of flour, a control system also can be used to select both the silo and the flour for a particular application. If either of those two do not match the control table, the blowers that transfer to the bulk system will not activate, or in some cases an alarm will sound, Harris says.
A similar system ensures minor ingredients enter the correct bin. “Each bin could have lockable door mechanisms that would not open if you tried to put the wrong ingredient into that bin,” Harris says. When unloading powders, ingredients should be checked with a graphical display and a hand held scanner to show it is the correct ingredient for the bin. At the mixing bowl, color-coded scoops ensure a scoop won’t accidentally be shared between a bin of pecans and a non-nut containing ingredient.
Companies that make mixes and blends for bakers can prevent cross contamination by pneumatically transferring powders and batching those powders individually in totes, which are then dumped into the mixer, and discharged again into totes, which move to packaging. “This eliminates dramatically the chances of cross contamination using pneumatic lines. These hybrid concepts are also used on pneumatic lines for sugar and salt. That would be for companies making mixes. We don’t see the container concept being used for bakers,” Harris says. Being able to batch allergen-containing powders in totes, which can be easily locked and tracked through the system, allows for a lot of flexibility.
When one line crosses over another, some manufacturers use shielding so if a product bounces off a line it lands on the floor, not on another product, notes Taylor.
Other companies use dedicated lines to eliminate cross transfer from one line to another. When an allergen is not segregated, dust also is a concern. Using designated areas ensures dust cannot float in the air and settle on another line, says Peter Slade, director of education and outreach, National Center for Food Safety and Technology, part of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago.
Aside from segregation, sanitation is key. Bakers have requested more access to equipment parts for routine cleaning and inspection. As a result, doors, panels and viewing ports are featured on equipment more than in the past, Harris says. Cleaning bin surfaces also is key to proper sanitation. Although more expensive, stainless steel is being used more than carbon steel, which is harder to clean.
“Benda has found that many bakeries, where dedicated lines are not available, including many of our customers, accomplish sanitation by owning more than one belt for the conveyors,” says Terry Benda, president, Benda Manufacturing Inc. (BMI), Tinley Park, Ill. “Between production runs, the belts are quickly and easily removed, and a clean and sanitized belt is put in its place. The belt is taken to the sanitation room and is prepared for the next change,” he adds.
Sanititation practices are changing as well. Cleaning dry products used to involve blowing dust away, whereas companies now contain and collect dust using vacuum-type operations, Slade says. More bakers are investing in cleaning validation, which might include reviewing sanitation records, visual inspections, equipment swabs and finished product testing. Companies can invest in allergen test kits to be used between shifts or batches, and integrated as part of a routine HACCP plan.
The 2006 Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act mandates the labeling of ingredients derived from commonly allergenic foods. While many of those ingredients were already labeled, the act ensures labels are easy to read. Instead of listing casein and whey as ingredients, packaging must say the product contains milk to make it recognizable to consumers, Taylor says.
Most recalls occur because of mislabeling, or because a company did not properly control the cross transfer. “Most recalls are not because an allergen has been detected or confirmed in a product, but because they’re out of compliance with this new labeling act,” Slade says.
With regulations to benefit consumers and seminars teaching bakers to prevent contamination, the industry has come a long way. “We could maybe use more enforcement of the rules we have or more industry awareness and vigilance,” Taylor says. “However, compared with 15 years ago, the industry is doing a much better job than before.”