In this published paper, we delve into the critical issue of mitigating the risk of peanut-induced allergen contamination in ready-made foods and food substitutes within the food industry. Food allergies, often challenging to investigate due to their subjective and hard-to-verify nature, remain underestimated.
Reported prevalence rates, primarily from industrialized countries, range widely from four to 30 percent. This paper emphasizes the importance of considering food allergies in nutrition advice, even in developing countries. Surprisingly, the prevalence of allergic manifestations, such as asthma and atopic dermatitis, is on the rise in higher-income African nations, like Nigeria, challenging the traditional perception of food allergies in Africa.
As a specialist in food safety and occupational health, my role is to educate both food industry experts and the general public on enhancing operational standards and safety, reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses, and effectively identifying hazards while implementing appropriate controls, monitoring, and corrective actions.
Here are some actionable steps that food processing businesses and consumers can take to address this issue:
1. Always scrutinize product ingredients, as failure to read labels may lead to severe allergic reactions in unexpected places.
2. Promote awareness of label reading by conducting training sessions, like the “Read Labels Awareness Trainings.”
3. Avoid cooking in oils that may contain allergenic ingredients, considering dressings, oils, and garnishes.
4. Ensure staff are well-informed about meal ingredients, eliminating guesswork.
5. When serving buffet-style meals, use separate utensils and controls to prevent cross-contamination.
For Food Manufacturers:
1. Provide clear notices and information to customers regarding allergenic ingredients.
2. Vigilantly monitor ingredient substitutions by suppliers to prevent unexpected allergens.
3. Maintain accurate inventory records of ready-made product ingredients and verify their correctness.
4. Implement specific allergy spill control procedures, ensuring safeguards to prevent cross-contamination.
5. Segregate allergen processes into separate areas and consider equipment color-coding.
6. Establish a systematic work plan, ensuring non-allergenic foods are handled before allergenic ones, followed by proper cleaning.
7. Adhere to recipes without substituting allergenic ingredients.
8. Minimize the use of ‘may contain’ labels and provide precise ingredient information to consumers.
It is important to note that contaminated hands and clothing are the top sources of food allergen hazards stemming from food handlers, a topic we will explore in our next edition.
About the Author:
Chika Maureen Samuels, an accomplished food safety and Quality, Health, Safety, and Environment (QHSE) Management System Auditor at one of the largest food manufacturers in Africa, holds a qualified distinction in the Highfield Level 4 Award in Food Safety Management for Manufacturing (RQF).