Staying ahead of allergy regulations

24 February 2020

James Woods asks whether traceability compliance is currently robust enough to protect an increasingly allergic generation of consumers.

It has been estimated that 1 -2 % of adults and 5 – 8% of children in the UK today are living with a food allergy, not taking into account those people with food intolerances.

Such figures put food businesses are under pressure to protect consumers and their brand. There is a need to ensure that clear, accurate and detailed information regarding allergenic components and ingredients is available at all times, with the right processes and procedures in place to carry out swift, effective recalls should the need arise.
However, with increasingly complex recipes, and growing demand for new tastes and flavours, in combination with the need to cut costs and the rise in use of single production lines for multiple products, the potential for allergen contamination and misinformation is greater than ever before. 
Regulatory demands
Of course, there are regulations in place – EU regulation 178/2002, for example, requires every food and beverage business in the EU, and those bringing products into the EU, to have traceability and recall systems in place, but it does not specify how effective these systems need to be. To a certain extent, food and beverage manufacturers and suppliers are driving their own best practice. This is why so many food and beverage businesses are putting robust processes and procedures in place to ensure full traceability right across the supply chain. 
Manual processes are no longer sufficient to handle the multiple, interdependent variables at play -  processing, identifying, tracking and correctly labelling all the ingredients and components involved. However, not all of these solutions will stand the test of time. What were sufficient capabilities a few years ago are potentially not enough for today, with technological advances in production and manufacturing often outpacing the rate at which the accompanying food and beverage systems evolve.
Ongoing evaluation
Food processors need to continually evaluate their procedures and processes to guarantee the all-important BRC grade A accreditation for traceability. While disparate systems spread across the supply chain might make traceability possible, it is often a lengthy and complex process, unable to match the speed and accuracy of a centralised solution able to gather information from right across the business at the click of a mouse, with no gaps or bottlenecks and providing the accuracy that robust traceability requires. 
Traceability data needs to be automatically associated with production data, with systems able to track and trace multiple ingredients and components at every stage. The depth of information available is crucial too, with lot and batch-specific information in combination with quality control and raw material supply data providing a comprehensive and transparent overview of the product. The right technology should not only track all this data but should also be able to translate it into precise labelling information, as well as producing searchable reports and product declarations.
With the right solution in place, food and beverage businesses can lead where regulation should follow, establishing the necessary levels of rigour and diligence to comply with legislation and industry standards and to guarantee consumer safety. 

In this era of complex, interdependent, fast-moving supply chains, technology is surely the only possible answer to achieve all of this. It is vital to put robust mechanisms in place to ensure efficient track-and-trace capabilities, internally, externally, forwards and backwards, bottom-up and top-down to protect consumers, improve efficiency and lessen the exposure of businesses to corporate risk.
James Woods is regional account director, process manufacturing at Aptean. 

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