Supply chain communication ‘the basics’ for allergen control – General Mills

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

General Mills: Understand allergen risk from ingredients and packaging

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Communication in the supply chain is ‘the basics’ when dealing with potential allergens, according to the European external quality manager at General Mills.

“If we don’t know what we are getting into our facilities we cannot correctly label so it is key to have this communication with the supply chain and have partnerships to consider the allergens they work with and how they are correctly labelled​,” said Nati Larrea, who has been in the role for three years.

Larrea works in the approval process for the ingredients and packaging used in General Mills’ sites in the area and global sites that use ingredients and packaging from the EU region.

Food Safety & Quality Summit

She is one of the presenters at the European Food Safety & Quality Summit in Huis ter Duin, Netherlands from 26-27 May, organised by Industry Dynamics.

The main thing that we need to have in mind when talking about allergens is the people that are suffering from those allergies and especially from food allergies,” ​she told FoodQualityNews.

“We need to be very conscious about this issue because depending on what allergens the person has it could have a big impact on them, from coughing, breathing issues to even causing death if the allergic reaction is severe.”

It is key that the firm works throughout the process on understanding the allergen’s risk, said Larrea, who has been with the company for 12 years.

“So from the beginning understanding the risk from our ingredients and packaging suppliers so that we work together with them to make sure the allergens that are present in the ingredients are correctly labelled in our finished products.

“Also through sanitation on the lines to make sure if other allergens are present on the lines that we have a very strong sanitation programme which will get rid of those cross contamination with other allergens that are not labelled on the finished product goods.

“We also need to have in mind the GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices) from the operators on the lines because they can add this risk of cross contamination with allergens. For us it is important to work on this allergen management from the auditing on the packaging and ingredients management, the GMPs and correct labelling.”

Allergen management

When asked about the impact of regulations, Larrea said she believed the regulation and the way of declaring allergens have improved a lot.

“So now the industry has to make sure they comply with this regulation and take this issue from the beginning,” ​she said.

“Normally we only declare the allergens identified through the regulation, there are also people that have minor allergies to fruit or other ingredients but they haven’t been recognised as the allergens at risk so normally the food industry stays focussed on those for labelling. The others might cause reactions but not as strong and might impact less people than the others.”

When asked about what can happen if something goes wrong, Larrea said: “It is consumer confidence but also the problem it might cause in the person eating that finished product, it is very important to the person who is suffering from allergies so it is not only about regulation but food safety risk posed to this person.

“Having the correct label is key and in case there was a mistake and allergens were not labelled a recall needs to be in place for sure.”

Larrea said storage was very important to avoid cross contamination from one allergen to another which is why it has a specific area dedicated to allergens.

“Normally we store them in the lower part of the shelves, for example, if there are several ingredients to avoid this risk of cross contamination.

“Sanitation is key and validation of the lines after the allergens production to validate and verify in the future the actions of cross contamination like risk from previous production containing an allergen that is not declared on the following production so things that are mandatory to have in place.”

Presenters at the European Food Safety & Quality Summit​ include Russell Dunn from Barry Callebaut, Tony Rogers, Diageo, Paul Brereton, Fera, Professor Chris Elliott, John Clague, Asda, Michele Lees, Eurofins and James Karn from Kerry Foods.

“Face to face events are useful as you learn from other companies and from other people working on a subject that is common for all of us,” ​said Larrea.

“So they are key to improve and build networking and help each other. As in the end we need to work together towards people relying on the food they eat from the market.”  

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