The Concept of "Cross Contact"

With allergenic food residues, the inadvertent presence of one allergenic food in some other food is termed "cross contact". This term is used instead of "cross contamination". Why?

Allergenic food residues differ from the more usual chemical or microbiological contaminants. Firstly, any particular type of allergenic food residue poses a risk to a comparatively small proportion of the population. Secondly, unlike chemical contaminants (such as pesticide residues, heavy metals, intentional adulterants e.g. melamine, etc.) or microbial contaminants (e.g. Salmonella, Listeria), allergenic foods are recognized as important sources of nutrients that are desirable to the vast majority of consumers. Thus, while a goal might be to completely eradicate chemical and microbial contaminants from food manufacturing facilities, allergenic foods will be present simply because they are functional ingredients that provide important flavor, quality, and other important characteristics to the finished food products. In fact, allergenic foods could not be readily eliminated from foods and are often used in large quantities in food manufacturing. They are thus ubiquitous and extremely difficult to remove completely in many circumstances, while maintaining the economic viability and sustainability of the operation.

Thus, the term, "cross contact", has been developed as a more appropriate way to refer to this type of situation where the residues are safe and nutritious to the vast majority of consumers but potentially hazardous to those consumers allergic to the specific food.

Food allergies affect 3.5 - 4.0% of the U.S. population with symptoms ranging from comparatively mild to severe and life-threatening. Estimates suggest as many as 29,000 emergency room visits and 150 deaths each year result from food allergies. Consumers with food allergies must adhere to strict diets avoiding the allergenic food. These consumers rely upon the accuracy of ingredient statements to make appropriate product selections.

Sanitation is clearly one of the most important elements in an effective Allergen Control Program for a food company. Equipment and facilities are frequently shared between a formulation containing an allergenic food and a formulation that contains no such allergen or perhaps a different allergen. Effective SSOPs are needed to assure equipment and facilities can be cleaned between formulations. Sanitation failures can lead to consumer illness and product recalls.