my visit to kinnerton chocolate factory

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Have you ever asked 'why dont they ( food manufacturers ) make nut free foods'?

Well I often do, esp when food shopping and doing the usual label reading and tossing the package back on the shelf in disgust. From what little info I have picked up , like for instance that mars bars here in the UK are made on the same line as snickers, I realise that factorys make a wide varity of foods in one place, and so , they can not promise that food is nut free.

So when, because of my volunteer work and my part time job as a trainee youth workshop leader with the anaphylaxis campaign I was asked to take a swiss food science student, on a tour to kinnerton in norfolk, (UK) I jumped at the chance.


Kinnerton is a very unusual chocolate factory, in the fact that the owner built a wall down the middle of his factory so that he could produce a nut free zone and create wonderful nut free treats for the nut allergic. It sounds simple doenst it?, a wall should be enough to create a safe zone? But as I soon learned , its not easy and its certainly not a cheap way of producing chocolate.

We arrived and were invited to give shoe size and fill in a brief questionaire on the state of our health. Once passing this challenge ( having my ezcema on hands inspected by nurse! ) we met the big boss , a very nice chap called Clive.

Caroline the student grilled Clive with her questionaire over a cup of tea, and then we started the tour. June is a quiet month for a chocolate factory and the smell of chocolate was not over powering , but a nice perfume that I wished I could bottle and take home!

After changing in to hair nets , coats and hats and washing our hands we went in to the nut free zone. And there was the wall. On one side, the nut zone and the other the nut free zone. Which was first built in an effort to stop human error, the simple way that a nut free line , next to a nut trace line can cross over, a member of staff chatting for eg, and dropping a handful of nut trace chocolate in to a nut free box that is reworked in the main chocolate .

But the wall , was simply the first step.

Clive talked about the lengths they go to to stop cross contaimination. Two different changing rooms for the staff, different coloured coded uniforms so that it can clearly be spotted if someone accidently goes in to the wrong section.( although the way the building is planned this seems a difficult thing to do)

The two different air conditioning systems for each side, which have to be colour coded ,as well, as they have to be sent away to be cleaned and of course returned to the corect side of the building.

Then as the factory produces not just chocolate , but biscuits, the added complication of the need for a 'hole ' in the wall. On the nut free zone, ginger bread biscuits are carefully made and baked, then they need to have chocolate detail added. They are passed through the 'hole'on one side, and a very expensive machine takes care of the air pressure, ensuring that any particles of nut from the nut zone, are not passing though into the nut FREE zone. These biscuits are labeled as 'may contain' when sold.

We went past the molding machines and the packaging machines, all of which where brought new, ( manufacters often buy secondhand machines, and of course due to cross contamination , this is out of the question) and these machines can only be used to produce the nut free chocolate.

So kinnerton has the expense that other factorys do not have , to buy the same machine twice for different sections of the factory. This of course is the same for the staff who invent different chocolates, they need to have TWO kitchens and work in both, taking care not to cross contaminate.

Clive pointed out by showing me the different machines how difficult it is to wash the machines, in fact it takes something as small as a toothbrush to scrub every section and twist of a machine by hand.

Its not just the factory floor that is a nut free zone, even the staff canteen is nut free, the only confectionary avaliable to the staff and guests are those that are nut free ( kitkats !!) Clive pointed out that he cant promise that his staff wont walk to into work having just eaten a peanut loaded snack or breakfast ,but the strict hand washing facilites ( and shoe changes!) and uniform does reduce the chance of cross contamination.

Kinnerton make dairy free chocolate as well, in small amounts, and produce Easter eggs which are dairy and nut free, and also a bar that is, nut ,dairy,soya , egg , free . (this is a nice cooking chocolate or if you fancy , try it dipped in red wine !!!)

The machinery that is used for producing dairy free chocolate is washed by hand over weeks to ensure that it is cleaned. Months of preparation goes in to producing this dairy free section , which is again not cost productive, as a large area of the factory floor is declared a dairy free zone, and again, only the correct colour coded staff can enter.

There was a problem last year with the production of dairy free eggs,due to human error, and mix up over the coloured wrapping . Procedures have been changed, and all eggs will be wrapped by hand next year to avoid any mistakes. This will effect the time scale of production and will not be cost effective due to the hours and extra staff involved.

Clive has visitors from other confectionary companys over the world, and most of the time , they agree it is not cost productive, and find it too difficult a problem to deal with. But , as Kinnerton / Clive points out, he can do it, and because his chocolate appeals not just to the nut allergic but to the majority of children he does make a living!!!

I can now see the difficulties that factorys have in producing nut free products, and can now understand much of the reasons behind the 'may contain' labels. With the work of the anaphylaxis campaign contacting these companys, talking about allergy and cross contaimination the word is getting out there. There is still a lot that companys can do to help and once they realise that there is a market for foods that people can trust, some manufactures will rise to the challenge.

For now, my son like the many children who are food allergic, Kinnerton produces the only easter egg that my son can eat. kinnerton products are the rare few that I can buy and give him with confidence that he can enjoy a chocolate treat like every other child.

( and the plain chocolate bars do cheer up my friday evenings ! )


On Jun 28, 2004

williamsmummy, I had always been told about a concrete barrier dividing the nut and nut free parts of Mr. Christie's. Never really quite believed it, but have never seen it (that's here in Canada).

What a wonderful tour you had! Did you get any samples?

I think your post was really important because it showed, even from a PA parent's perspective, how difficult it is for this plant to be "nut free".

It doesn't sound cost effective at all.

Can people order Kinnerton products on-line, do you know?

Wondering if there is some way, as a company, we could make it worth their while.

Did Clive ever tell you why the plant was "peanut/nut free"? Like someone he knew was PA or something?

I think this is wonderful and I really appreciated hearing how dificult it is for a plant to have a nut free zone. Sounds like a terrific tour.

Best wishes! [img][/img]


On Jun 28, 2004

yes cindy, did get a big big bag of chocolate ( did a fair bit of tasting as we went around!) and Clive had a phone call from a mother who had a child with nut allergy, and kinnerton was born!

OH, and kinnerton do export around france and spain (I think) and to australia, but confectionary is difficult to export. ( apparently, I suppose it melts !!) sarah

[This message has been edited by williamsmummy (edited June 28, 2004).]