Achieve Allergen Control Excellence through Operator Engagement

Safeguarding Quality and Compliance in Manufacturing

Following our last two articles on allergen control, we have been overwhelmed by the responses and interest that we received, asking for further information about allergen control in manufacturing. It’s great to see the industry take allergen control so seriously.

Recap of Allergen Control

In our first article, ‘Allergens: The Silent, Invisible Killers,’ we highlighted the hidden dangers of allergens and shared the tragic impact that food allergies have had on people’s lives. In the second article, ‘Ensuring Accurate Allergen Labelling to Protect Your Factories,’ we delved more deeply into how food manufacturers can safeguard both their consumers and factories by ensuring accurate allergen labelling of their products. While many of our readers already grasp the importance of paying attention to allergen control and ensuring accurate labelling, they still encounter significant challenges, primarily due to change management and engagement issues.

Navigating the Complexities of Change

Change can be a complex and daunting journey, especially when it requires individuals to embrace new ways of doing things. As we have worked closely with factory operations and consultants over the last 45 years, we have seen the difficulties that operators face when they become trapped in a loop of repetitive duties. It’s upsetting to see that some operators wouldn’t read the information on the label and fail to keep records of the production issues (near misses). Instead, they just hope the issues won’t happen again and the cost just gets buried in the overhead.

In the fast-paced environment of a factory, where efficiency and productivity take centre stage, operators often face the temptation to prioritise speed over compliance. However, we need to address these behaviours and mindsets to ensure the safety and quality of the products being manufactured, especially after hearing so many tragic stories caused by allergens, not to mention the potential damage to reputations. The consequences of failure to keep proper records of production issues can be catastrophic both for consumers and manufacturers.

A Cruel Lesson from Perrier Recall

In 1990, the French-based company Perrier faced a product recall of 70 million bottles of water when the North Carolina Health Department discovered traces of benzene exceeding the permitted levels in Perrier water. This recall resulted in a loss of at least $40 million in sales. By 1995, Perrier’s market performance had plummeted to 50% of its peak in 1989, ultimately leading to the company being acquired by Nestlé.

Perrier water MIS/MES

So why this incident happened? What were the reasons behind it?

The direct reason was that an operator didn’t remove the carbon filter which was intended to remove benzene from carbon dioxide. Benzene is a natural component of crude oil and known to increase the risk of cancer in humans. The clogged filters went undetected for six months. The benzene-contaminated bottles were distributed globally including Holland, Denmark, the US and other countries. Perrier had to recall 70 million bottles of water.

Due to the repetitive nature of operations, operators tend to overlook production issues and quality control measures. The mindset of hoping to get away with it caused catastrophic consequences for the company.

The product recalls also triggered a cascade of issues, including significant damage to the brand reputation and allegations of misleading advertising messaging. Perrier had claimed that their water bubbles were pure and natural, originating from the spring water, when in reality, the bubbles were artificially reintroduced as much of the ‘natural carbonation’ was removed with the benzine filtration.

Perrier had spent over 100 years building its premium brand ‘It’s Perfect. It’s Perrier’. It turned out that Perrier wasn’t that perfect. It took 5 years to regain consumers’ trust, culminating in the decision to sell their century-old business to Nestlé.

1 in 1,000,000 Risks (Benzene) vs. Life-Threatening Consequences (Food Allergies)

To put this into perspective, even if someone had consumed a pint of ‘highly benzine contaminated’ Perrier water per day for 70 years, they would still only have increased their carcinogenic risk by 1 in a million.  By comparison, the risks of anaphylactic shock or serious illness from allergens innocently ingested, due to incorrect labelling, is far greater.

So how do we effectively engage operators to ensure accurate labelling and make sure the right product goes into the right packaging?

Engaging Operators Effectively Using the DMAIC Framework

Using the DMAIC framework to engage operators in allergen control can be one effective approach. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control. Here’s how you can apply this framework to your factory.

  1. Define
  • Clearly define the goals and objectives of the allergen control initiative, emphasising the importance of product safety and compliance.
  • Involve operators in defining the project scope, seeking their input on the challenges they face in allergen control.
  1. Measure
  • Assess the current state of allergen control practices, collecting data on incidents, near-misses, and non-compliance issues.
  • Engage operators in data collection, providing necessary tools and guidance.
  • Identify key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure allergen control effectiveness.
  1. Analyse
  • Involve operators in the analysis process, encouraging them to share insights and observations.
  • Utilise tools like fishbone diagrams, process maps, and Pareto charts to identify patterns and root causes of allergen-related issues.
  1. Improve
  • Engage the whole operational team to generate potential solutions and prioritise improvements based on their impact and feasibility.
  • Implement changes in procedures, processes, and training programs, providing clear instructions and gathering operator feedback during implementation.
  1. Control
  • Establish mechanisms to sustain improvements in allergen control.
  • Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) based on revised processes and practices.
  • Regularly review and update SOPs, involving operators in the review process.
  • Continuously monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of new procedures, seeking operator feedback and conducting audits.

Throughout the whole process, the management team need to ensure open and transparent communication with operators, involving operators in decision-making processes, encouraging ideas sharing and acknowledging their contributions. By fostering a collaborative environment, the management team can effectively engage operators in change management and cultivate a culture of continuous improvement for allergen control throughout their processes.

If you require additional consultancy in the field of allergen control, Harford Control offers over 45 years of expertise, along with cutting-edge solutions and a team of specialists dedicated to assisting you. Call our team on 01225 764461 or contact us here.

Share your thoughts to Info@harfordcontrol.com or give us a call on +44 (0) 1225 764461