by Betsy Craig, CEO of MenuTrinfo®

Food allergens represent a high risk for the food industry. While other risks, such as pathogenic bacteria, can be reduced by cooking, allergens cannot simply be removed or reduced to safe levels once they’ve been introduced in the meal. If products are mislabeled or cross-contact occurs during meal preparation, an allergic individual may experience a reaction called anaphylactic shock, which may be potentially life-threatening. Since there is no way to eliminate a food allergen once it has been introduced, the only safe course of action is to throw out the meal or product and start over. Consequently, this wastes a lot of time and resources no matter what stage of the supply chain you are part of.

Complete segregation of allergens, correct food allergen labelling practices, and sanitizing the environment are all effective preventive actions for allergen cross-contact.  But then the question becomes, “how do we know that everything we’ve done up to this point has been right?”

Historically, the industry has used a “visually clean standard” for inspections, with allergen checklists to assess the effectiveness of preventive procedures.While this is a widely acceptable practice, it is only proved wrong when there is a reported allergic reaction. 

Fortunately, food allergen test kits are available for the industry, which allow food manufacturing procedures to be verified and validated. Validation from test kits gives an additional assurance of safety and often supports the adequacy of using the visually clean standard.Food allergen testing can provide an accurate and efficient way to confirm the thoroughness of cleaning by testing surfaces or finished products directly, as opposed to the more wasteful methods such as the push-through product mode of cleaning.

There are several kinds of food allergen test kits available that allow processors to swab their products or environments. It is important to compare the type of test (ELISA, LFD, etc.) to determine which kit will fit your establishment’s needs. Some kits may need to be conducted by an external laboratory while other test kits can yield results in as quickly as 3 minutes. 

While food allergen test kits can provide additional assurance, they are not totally fool-proof. The technology only seems to be improving, however, as with any test they can be susceptible to human error.  For example, cooking methods may alter the allergenic protein and make it difficult to detect, or even render a sample unsuitable for a specific test kit. So, it is important to seek expert opinions or advice about food allergens as they impact your particular process or product when choosing the right test kit for your establishment. 

Food allergen test kits can provide an accurate and efficient way to confirm the absence of allergens. Test kits also eliminate wasteful practices such as the push-through product mode of cleaning and throwing out meals you are unsure of; saving your establishment time and money. By using food allergen test kits, you and your allergic guests will be confident that your kitchen is serving a safe and delicious meal.