Food allergens are typically proteins and proteins have a high affinity for stainless steel. As this material is widely used in equipment and process areas in food plants, there is a high likelihood of residual product remaining on both exposed and enclosed surfaces after a production run.
A typical food processing facility will operate multiple filling lines, produce various products and manage numerous ingredients. To avoid safety incidents caused by allergens contamination, effective cleaning and sanitation procedures must be performed.
Typical SSOPs for Allergen Control at the Processing Plant
SSOPs (Standard Sanitation Operating Procedures) are documented sanitation procedures that should be followed to ensure food contact surfaces are clean and free from the risk of contamination.
Depending on the allergen risk, ingredients, machines, or equipment and tools being used, SSOPs can range from a few simple steps to a complex list of actions.
A typical SSOP will include:
- Identification and description of the equipment, surface or area to be cleaned
- The Log Out - Tag Out (LOTO) procedure
- Any personal protective equipment required to carry out the procedure
- A list of tools and products required for the procedure and where to find them
- Instructions on preparing the equipment, surface or area for cleaning
- Instructions on disassembling equipment (if required)
- The TACT (Time, Action, Chemical and Temperature) conditions for cleaning and sanitizing
- The instructions for self-inspection
- The pre-operational checks to verify that the procedure has been effective
- Instructions on assembling and final disinfection (sanitation)
Time: Chemical contact times range from less than one minute to several hours.
Action: Exposed surfaces will require scrubbing, soaking, pressure washing, foaming, or a combination of these methods. Where the contact surface is enclosed, CIP (cleaning in place) is likely to be used. To replicate mechanical cleaning action, solution fluid speeds are used to achieve the required turbulence to remove any soil.
Chemistry: One of the most effective compositions for removing proteins from stainless steel surfaces is a chlorinated alkaline detergent. A typical use solution will contain 0.1 – 1.0% NaOH or KOH, 60 – 1,000 PPM sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl), hard water sequestrants and surfactants.
Temperature: Wash temperatures will vary from 4ºC to +90ºC.
Wet cleaning, especially foam cleaning, is highly effective for allergen control in the production environment. It is important to note that high-pressure cleaning (>40 bars) and rinsing should be avoided as it can cause allergenic particles and debris to be embedded in aerosols and spread across the site.
CIP systems are highly effective in achieving consistent cleaning results on enclosed surfaces. The following is an example CIP procedure for allergen control:
- Use a single-use system where the wash water is only used once
- Monitor soil build-up and cleaning chemistry effectiveness in reuse systems
- Have a specific set of gaskets, mandrels and rubber parts that are used for specific product recipes and are cleaned/scrubbed after each use
- Repeat a wash cycle after runs of allergen products
- Maintain > 60 PPM titratable NaOCl in the wash cycle
- Flush with 150-PPM peracetic (CH3COOOH) acid and rinse if required
- Check that no water, detergent, or product remains inside tanks and vessels following a wash cycle and before the next product run. If puddling or pooling is present, there may be a hydraulic imbalance in the CIP system.
In situations such as dry ingredient storage areas where wet cleaning is not an option, allergens can be managed effectively by:
- Spraying the surface with a cleaning solution as recommended by your hygiene supplier
- Leave the solution on the surface for approximately five minutes
- Wipe down with a clean, lint-free towel
Alternatively, steam-vacuum can be applied.
Other SSOP considerations for Allergen Control
- Use a specific set of cleaning utensils for specific procedures/products.
- Color-code cleaning utensils by use / shift / area to simplify selection choices.
- Utilize visuals instead of text when appropriate.
- Train production staff on the importance of allergen control and the importance of following the SSOPs. Re-training or refresher training should be carried out in sites where a high risk of cross-contamination exists.