Preventing Cross-contact of Allergens in Restaurants

With the prevalence of food allergy estimated at 10 percent of individuals in the U.S., and more and more people eating meals outside their home, cross-contact of allergens is a growing concern. Cross-contact is defined as the unintentional incorporation of an allergen into food. The most common cause of anaphylaxis in the U.S. is allergic reactions to foods.(1) The Food and Drug Administration conducted a study examining the effectiveness of cleaning procedures in preventing allergen cross-contact.

“The project investigated allergen removal from surfaces by wiping with paper wipes, terry cloth, and alcohol quaternary ammonium chloride (quat) sanitizing wipes, cleaning of allergen-contaminated surfaces by using a wash-rinse-sanitize-air dry procedure; and allergen transfer from contaminated wipes to multiple surfaces.”(2)

For the study, three different surfaces, stainless steel, textured plastic, and maple wood, were contaminated with peanut, milk, and egg-containing foods. The surfaces were then cleaned with various solutions and procedures. “Allergen-specific lateral flow devices were used to detect the presence of allergen residues on wiped or cleaned surfaces.”(2)

Key findings were as follows:

  • Overall, the nature and amount of allergen on a surface, as well as the type and state of wipe cloth, food-contact surface texture, and material composition, influenced the effectiveness of wiping and cleaning on allergen removal and the extent of allergen transfer on surfaces.
  • Full cleaning (using a wash-rinse-sanitize-air dry method), as recommended in the FDA Food Code was effective at allergen removal and minimizing allergen transfer.
  • Pre-scraping food from surfaces prior to full cleaning aided allergen removal.
    Wet cloths/wipes and alcohol/quat wipes were more effective in allergen removal from surfaces than dry wipes.
  • Storing cloths in sanitizer solution minimized allergen transfer between surfaces.
  • Allergens were more difficult to remove from textured plastic than stainless steel or wood surfaces.(1)

1) Food and Drug Administration, Allergen Removal and Transfer Using Wiping and Cleaning Methods in Retail Food Establishments,
(2) Bedford, B., Girvin, L., et. al., International Association for Food Protection, Allergen Removal and Transfer with Wiping and Cleaning Methods Used in Retail and Food Service Establishments,