There is a way for food processors and restaurants to protect themselves from hefty compliance fines and their customers from foodborne illness and it's called HACCP (Pronounce it as hasip) and that stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point. HACCP was developed for the NASA space program where as you can imagine the food has to be absolutely safe.
Thousands of operations around the world use HACCP based food safety programs in various stages of food production. HACCP is being used from Farm to Fork since food safety starts at animal and crop production right through to processing food distribution and retail foodservice.
HACCP is recognized as the single most effective way to eliminate, reduce, or control hazards in any food handling or processing operation.
We'll talk more about the HACCP system itself in just a few moments but first, let's look at some of the potential problems HACCP helps to control.
Allergenic hazards are proteins that cause allergic reactions ranging from a runny nose or itchy eyes to rashes, respiratory problems or even death. Allergenic hazards may include eggs, shellfish, nuts, soy, wheat, sesame seeds, milk, etc.
Biological hazards include illness-causing Bacteria such as Salmonella or E.coli and Viruses such as Hepatitis A, parasites and molds.
Chemical hazards include cleaning compounds, pesticides, preservatives, antibiotics and even food ingredients that are added in at incorrect levels.
Physical hazards could include glass or metal fragments, stones, wood splinters or bone pieces.
Potential food safety hazards must be understood and dealt with properly by all employees. HACCP is a highly effective preventative control system. It identifies potential food safety problems first and then shows the best way to prevent, reduce, or eliminate them.
7 Principles of HACCP
The HACCP system is so effective that a large number of manufacturers, retailers, and foodservice companies insist that their suppliers adopt HACCP in their operations to ensure that the products supplied are the safest possible.
It's a powerful tool in preventing hazards because it builds safety right into each step of the food processing. HACCP is simple, it's effective and this is how it works.
1. Conduct a Hazard Assessment
The first principle is to conduct a hazard assessment. This means to identify hazards associated with the food product in question. This includes assessing hazards in growing and harvesting ingredients, processing, distribution, merchandising and even how people prepare their food before eating it.
That's a lot of information so let's break it down. As mentioned earlier a hazard is something biological, allergenic, chemical, or physical in food that could cause a health problem.
An important part of hazard assessment is determining the level of risk with each hazard. This is done by checking into the likelihood of a hazard actually occurring and also by looking at the severity of consequences or how badly this hazard might affect people's health.
To help understand the hazards probability and the severity of consequences let's look at the example of raw meat. The probability that raw meat contains harmful bacteria is considered medium but even so, if handled properly the raw meat is not likely to hurt someone's health because most meat is cooked properly so the hazard risk is assessed as low.
Let's use a cooking step for a hamburger as another example. The severity of illness associated with an undercooked burger is high as dangerous E coli may survive and it is known that even low numbers can cause serious illness. The probability that this will happen is low if the hamburger is cooked properly so the hazard risk is assessed as low.
Assessment helps determine which hazards are of the greatest likelihood and severity to need the controls of a HACCP system.
2. Establish Critical Limits
The second principle of HACCP is to establish the critical limits that must be met at each of the identified critical control points.
A critical control point or CCP is the control step used to prevent, eliminate, or reduce the hazard to an acceptable level. The most frequently used critical limits are Time, Temperature, Water Activity, pH, Preservatives, Microbiological and Sensorial information.
The most crucial parameters, the critical limits are the duration and the temperature of pasteurization. For example, the temperature that the egg must be pasteurized at and the holding time. These time-temperature combinations are minimum critical limits that have been established - to make sure that harmful microorganisms are destroyed.
3. Monitor each Critical Control Point
Now the third principle is to establish and implement procedures to monitor each critical control point. Monitoring is the process of checking that the critical limits set for each CCP are being met. Monitoring involves systematically observing, measuring, and recording the most important factors needed for control.
Continuous control using automated methods is best when continuous monitoring isn't possible. Regularly scheduled monitoring by trained personnel is needed. Quick and easy methods are best suited for monitoring so a problem can be identified and corrected immediately.
Record all monitoring data for future reference and remember that at times it might be necessary to make adjustments to the CCP monitoring to ensure food stays safe.
4. Establish Corrective Action
The fourth principle takes prompt corrective action whenever the monitoring indicates that limits are not met. If proper corrective action isn't taken human health might be at risk.
The corrective action to be taken depends on the potential hazard. This might include stopping production, extending the cooking time, increasing processing temperature, increasing acidity or reworking or discarding the product.
For our hamburger example, it would require that cooking continue until the critical limit of 71 degrees Celsius is met.
5. Establish Verification Procedures
Verification procedures reveal whether or not identified food safety activities are getting completed.
One example of a verification procedure is to determine if the process is getting done properly. This can be done by evaluating the records associated with a given CCP -
• Are the records being filled out properly at the required frequency?
• Can the person who is doing the documentation be identified by their initials?
• Were corrective actions if any taken effectively in controlling the hazard?
For example, if the temperature of the hamburger was taken and it was recorded as 66 degrees Celsius the corrective action should indicate that the hamburger was further cooked and temperature measured again to ensure that it reached the critical limit of 71 degrees Celsius.
Other verification activities include interviewing staff on their understanding of the CCP, corrective actions, and record-keeping requirements and observing the staff member who is monitoring the CCP to ensure they are doing the monitoring properly.
6. Establish Documentation and Record-Keeping Procedures
Documentation must be kept on file including details on how the HACCP team conducted the hazard analysis and determined the critical control points and the critical limits.
Records should be kept for activities like CCP monitoring, deviations, and corrective actions and any modifications made to the HACCP system. This is also known as the logbook of changes.
A permanent record is invaluable in showing whether safe, correct processing conditions are being completed or in showing that any out-of-control processes are properly corrected. Once records and documents have been developed they need ongoing attention to ensure they are being used properly and that they stay up to date.
7. HACCP Validation
Validating is making sure that your process is effective in controlling hazards. It means asking yourself - “Is the process working?” For example, Does the pasteurizer always reach the temperature of 75 degrees Celsius for 16 seconds and does this destroy all harmful bacteria every time?
North America has one of the safest food processing industries in the world but as advanced as our industry might be the need to identify and control hazards remains vital for the continued safety of our food supply whether they're chemical, physical, microbiological, or energy-related.
HACCP generates a great degree of assurance for food safety. Employees who have worked with the system say that HACCP gives them more responsibility for operating procedures and a greater sense of pride in their work.