Matcon: How Do You Handle Allergens?

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Food allergies are one of the most serious forms of allergic reaction, with symptoms ranging from very mild to severe anaphylaxis. There are over 170 foods known to provoke allergic reactions, with the most common found in everyday sources such as milk, eggs, shellfish, wheat, nuts, seeds, fruit and soya.

A major challenge facing manufacturers is how to handle an ever increasing portfolio of products which use a diverse range of ingredients including allergens, all within the context of reducing manufacturing costs, minimising product waste and achieving superior product quality and safety for the consumer.

Even small traces of the allergen can cause a reaction (or at its worst, death), so strict controls and regulations need to be present from the source, throughout manufacturing and on to the point of sale to ensure the total integrity of the final product.

The only proven method of managing food allergies is to control the ingredients containing these causative proteins. Therefore to safely manufacture, we must focus on the management of allergens during the manufacturing process.

Efficiency Vs Control
As many manufacturers look to maintain high operational efficiency they may run larger batches (campaign manufacture) to avoid regular downtime due to cleaning. This can result in an increase of stock whilst additional inventory ties up cash and becomes an additional risk. When it is not stored correctly or in accordance with allergen handling best practice stock becomes waste and a further danger.


The additional challenge that powders present

As well as focussing on prevention, there has been a strong market growth of products to suit a range of diets, including Gluten Free, Vegan and Lactose Free. Many of these product alternatives require changes to recipes that are made up of ingredients in powder form.

Powders are especially challenging; visually they can be very similar and some are common to handle. Manufacturers handling powders as part of a food production process therefore need to consider all aspects of food processing to put safeguards in place, such as:

  • Clear specs and labelling of raw materials
  • Recipe / specification compliance
  • Equipment hygiene and maintenance
  • Personal hygiene of staff and training
  • Production planning including quality control
  • Supplier approval & monitoring – as far back as required
  • Stock intake and segregated storage

Manufacturers that produce for high demand markets are always under increasing pressure. They must produce to meet demand, reduce the amount of product waste and minimise any factory downtime. If you produce a range of products that require recipes to be swapped on a regular basis the challenge intensifies.

How do you increase operational efficiency if you need to regularly turn off machinery (such as blenders) for a ‘deep clean’ and then test the separate parts for signs of contamination?

Campaign manufacturing or fixed production lines will not allow the manufacturer to meet the ever increasing product ranges, smaller order sizes and reduced lead time demands that many manufacturers are faced with today.


Are you wasting time cleaning?

Unfortunately, there is often a lot of down time associated with blending related activities, namely filling, emptying and cleaning the blender. Traditional fixed mixers and conveying systems can increase amount of ‘downtime’ due to complicated cleaning activity that may include both wet and dry processes. The operating line must be shut down and parts removed (for cleaning), resulting in wasted resource time and loss of throughput.

To ensure that all traces of allergens have been successfully removed from fixed systems some manufacturers will also flush the process line with a product such as salt and then further testing and cleaning will be needed, if there are still contamination issues. This both results in further time wasted not producing, additional manpower and further problems if the allergen you are safeguarding against is still present.


So how do you solve this?

The challenges presented are often caused by the manufacturing process, with fixed lines being hard to clean and open processing steps subject to higher contamination risks. By using a closed system, such as Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs) the vessels decouple (separate) process steps allowing each manufacturing step to be performed simultaneously instead of sequentially. IBCs also enable you to manufacture using a closed system at each stage with the ability to perform efficient cleaning activity, removing contamination risk without excessive downtime.

To reduce the amount of time that your machinery is out of operation, parallel processing can be achieved. IBCs can also be found attractive when compared to more manually intensive methods (drums or bulk bags) when throughput, efficiency, hygiene and ergonomics are important or to automated options such as pneumatic and mechanical conveyors when fast change overs, product integrity and overcoming powder handling issues are important.

IBC Blending can eliminate the typical downtime associated with filling; emptying and cleaning a static blender. These functions are done offline of the blender, which optimizes the intended use of this type of equipment – to blend products. This is an approach that can truly revolutionize the efficiency and throughput of a production facility.

Blending takes place within the IBC itself. The IBC is loaded onto the Blender which tumbles it on an asymmetrical 360° axis to create a homogenous mix. Because the ingredients are blended within the IBC itself, there is no need to clean the Blender between recipes; even when using Allergens.

IBCs are cleaned offline, reducing downtime, taking on average between 6-10 minutes (air wash) or 40 minutes (wet wash). This ultimately means that downtime is significantly reduced and batch changeover can be synchronised to meet with demand. Manufacturers can therefore produce what is needed, reducing the amount of stock held onsite and then potentially discarded. The Air Washing systems offered prove useful for applications posing a waterborne bacteriological risk such as milk powders.


In Summary

By switching from fixed equipment to the right IBC System can provide a flexible and agile production process. This will enable you to maintain product integrity and provide an ideal platform to minimise the risk of product and allergen cross contamination throughout the manufacturing process.

This in turn will also provide greater scheduling flexibility, allowing a “make to order” rather than “make to stock” approach to be adopted. Changing your approach could save you time, money and your reputation.