Health and Safety
Allergens in Focus
December 4, 2007 By Brian Hinton
Brian Hinton brings us the first in a series of columns on the topic of allergens and baking.
One of the biggest challenges facing small bakeries over the next couple of years will be how to deal with the issues raised by the the new labelling regulations, specifically the need to identify and control allergens that may be present in your product. The risk to small businesses is real and costly without some form of allergen prevention plan. As Jennifer McCreary of the Guelph Food Technology Centre puts it, “It’s not a hazard that your product contains an allergen – it’s a hazard that the allergen isn’t on the label.”
Food and drug regulations require that most pre-packaged foods carry a label, and that the ingredients appear in the list in decreasing order of quantity. However, they do not currently require the listing of components of certain foods and products (ingredients of ingredients, such as flavours, seasonings, spices, colours, etc.) to be listed on labels. The onus rests with the baker to declare known allergens if they are present in these minor ingredients. Furthermore, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) encourages bakers to declare the plant source of ingredients on labels. For example, starches should be listed as wheat, corn or tapioca.
The CFIA recognizes that despite all possible precautions, the presence of allergenic ingredients cannot always be avoided.
The policy of precautionary labelling was developed to assist food manufacturers to voluntarily label products that may inadvertently contain substances capable of causing severe adverse reactions. Precautionary labelling, however, must be truthful and must not be used in place of good manufacturing practices. If, as a baker, none of your products are prepackaged, the responsibility for providing accurate allergenic information to your customers makes for good business practices. The regulations are constantly being updated so stay informed.
List of allergens
There are currently nine allergens listed on the CFIA website. Of these, eight are commonly used bakery ingredients, four of which (milk, eggs, wheat and soy) are essential for the baker who is looking to offer a wide range of products. The other four (peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds and sulphites) we could, with monk-like devotion, keep out of the bakery.
The ninth is fish, shellfish and crustaceans. The challenge is to identify any other ingredients coming into the bakery that may contain the eight main allergens. This requires devoting both time and resources to documenting these ingredients.
Bakery allergy prevention plan
My allergen prevention plan looks at the three areas most affected in a bakery: production, sales and administration.
The starting point for any allergen plan is to generate a list of all bakery ingredients and review possible allergen contamination. If any doubt exists, request a certificate of analysis from the supplier. We have seen an increase in precautionary listing of allergen ingredients on many of our mixes and additives. This has placed us in the uneasy position of re-sourcing similar products that are free of the allergens. More warning statements will appear on our ingredients in the next year as the industry adjusts to regulations demanding allergen identification. For a check list of potential allergens in the bakery, go to the CFIA website at www.inspection.gc.ca and search for “allergen check list.”
Next, storage areas of ingredients will have to be assessed to document risks of cross-contamination. Separation of allergen-containing ingredients is part of good manufacturing practices and reduces risk.
As ingredients move through the baking process, each stage presents its own challenges. Actual make-up from ingredients into finished product raises the important issue of control and integrity. What steps are needed to prevent the addition of allergens into the products? Staff training is as much part of the process as equipment cleaning and the separation of ingredients. The practice of scheduling high-risk products, either at the end or beginning of the shift, makes sense. This way equipment is at its cleanest. We also segregate special pans and equipment. Cleaning equipment during small production runs is next to impossible, so it's far better to declare any allergen present on the label. We have had to eliminate certain allergens (peanuts being one) from the bakery in order to reduce risk. Each baker has that decision to make. Our reviews also include formula ingredient checks to make sure that they correspond with the ingredient declaration on the label.
In the next part of this series I’ll tackle the issue of putting together an allergy prevention plan for the sales side of your operation, along with customer expectations of bakeries and allergens.
Brian Hinton is the owner of Lakeview Bakery in Calgary. Reach him by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Health Canada – www.hc-sc.gc.ca
Allergy/Asthma Information Association – www.aaia.ca
Anaphylaxis Canada – www.anaphylaxis.ca
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