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FACTS Guideline: Cleaning of allergens in food processing environments
September 2009

A comprehensive review of the available literature from a wide range of scientific resources, as well as our own experience in allergen control in the food industry, has enabled FACTS to create a manual to assist food manufacturers with best practices for effective allergen cleaning in processing situations.

Article abstract from: FACTS guidelines for the cleaning of allergens in food processing environments, written by Donna Cawthorn (FACTS Food Scientist Consultant).

Allergen cross-contamination occurs when an allergenic protein is introduced into a food not normally expected to contain that allergen. Two fundamental approaches have been used to control allergen cross contamination in processing plants: (1) Complete segregation of processing facilities or equipment for the processing of allergenic foods, or (2) allergen management through the implementation of an allergen control plan, where the former is not practically or financially feasible.

When shared equipment and processing lines are used for the production of both allergenic and non-allergenic foods, cleaning is considered to be the first line of defense against allergen cross-contamination. Cleaning should be carried out in such a way that it is both effective and efficient. Cleaning practices that are satisfactory for hygiene purposes may not be sufficient for the removal of allergens from surfaces and equipment. It must be kept in mind that, unlike microbiological contamination, allergenic material is generally unaffected by heat or chemicals.

It is clear that the removal of protein residues from food equipment presents challenges for cleaning, particularly when processing methods have altered the protein structure to bring about denaturation and aggregation. The ability of allergenic proteins to become tightly bound to surfaces through a number of attractive forces, poses concerns from a cleaning and allergen cross-contamination viewpoint. The great variety in cleaning protocols that are available reflect the challenges involved with cleaning different surfaces and soils. Overall, the nature of the allergenic protein, the food matrix, and the type of processing equipment will dictate appropriate cleaning protocols and the efficacy of the allergen cleaning protocol. The time and frequency of cleaning should be set by risk assessment of the product and the process.

While cleaning procedures are designed to remove contamination, they can themselves be a source of contamination if not properly applied or managed. Cleaning programmes developed for allergen removal must be validated to ensure that allergens are removed from the target surface and that no risk of cross-contamination to other food surfaces occurs.