Understanding the Basics of HACCP

Sara Mortimore and Carol Wallace Comments
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Understanding the Basics of HACCP

by Sara Mortimore and Carol Wallace

By way of introduction to the subject, we first attempt to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about HACCP: what it is, how it works, what it looks like, and so on.

HACCP is an acronym used to describe the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system. The concept is a systematic approach to food safety management. It is based on recognized principles that aim to identify the hazards that are likely to occur at any stage in the food supply chain and put into place controls that will prevent them from happening.

The HACCP concept originated in the early 1960s by the Pillsbury Co., working with the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Army Laboratories. It was based on the engineering concept of failure, mode and effect analysis (FMEA), which looks at what could potentially go wrong at each stage in an operation and puts effective control mechanisms into place. While the system was not launched publicly until the 1970s, it has since achieved international acceptance. In fact, the HACCP approach has been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as being the most effective means of controlling foodborne disease.

There are seven HACCP principles, which have been published by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex 1993, 1997b), that outline how to establish, implement and maintain a HACCP system.

  • Principle 1: Conduct a hazard analysis.
  • Principle 2: Determine the critical control points (CCPs).
  • Principle 3: Establish critical limit(s).
  • Principle 4: Establish a system to monitor control of the CCPs.
  • Principle 5: Establish the corrective action to be taken when monitoring indicates that a particular CCP is not under control.
  • Principle 6: Establish procedures for verification to confirm that the HACCP system is working effectively.
  • Principle 7: Establish documentation concerning all procedures and records appropriate to these principles and their application.

HACCP is often thought of as being complicated, requiring unlimited resources and the expertise associated with large companies. Several specialist skills are required in order to use the HACCP principles successfully. However, the basic requirement is a detailed knowledge of the product, raw materials and manufacturing processes used, along with an understanding of whether any situation that might cause a health risk to the consumer is likely to occur in the product and process under consideration.

Why Use It?

HACCP is a proven food safety management system that is based on prevention. By identifying where in the process the hazards are likely to occur, it is possible to put into place the control measures required. This ensures that food safety is managed effectively and reduces reliance on the traditional methods of inspection and testing.

In an operation, a HACCP system is summarized in a document known as a HACCP plan. This is simply a document or folder and it contains all the information related to the CCPs together with the operating standards or critical limits. It also documents who is responsible for the monitoring of the CCPs and what frequency, what corrective action should be taken if something goes wrong, and the hazard that is being controlled. It often includes a process flow diagram or stepwise drawing of each step in the process. Actually, the CCPs are implemented in the workplace through the monitoring and corrective action activities.

Governments and enforcement authorities are increasingly recognizing HACCP as the most effective means of managing food safety. For example, in the United States, HACCP techniques were used to identify the controls specified in the Low Acid Canned Food Regulations as early as 1973. In 1995, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) decreed that HACCP programs are required for all meat and poultry processing facilities. HACCP techniques are also required by law in the area of seafood inspection and processing. Other food areas will follow. The trend indicates that HACCP could eventually become mandatory in the United States, not only for all U.S. food processing facilities, but also for processors from anywhere in the world exporting to the United States. [Editor's Note: Remember that dietary supplements are regulated as foods in the United States under the FD&C Act and DSHEA.]

While many countries are in the process of re-evaluating and developing their food safety policies, use of the Codex HACCP principles as the international standard means that the HACCP systems implemented by trading partners are based on the same principles. It is clear that international legislation is moving more toward making HACCP a mandatory requirement in the food industry. This will lead to greater regulatory assessment of HACCP systems as governments take up their responsibilities with regards to confirming that the business operators are properly complying with requirements.

There are other driving forces for the use of HACCP, including consumers and the media. While the end consumer may not know what HACCP means, manufacturers, retailers and caterers increasingly expect that their suppliers develop and implement HACCP plans. Any inspection carried out on production premises nowadays includes an assessment of the competence of the management. An effective HACCP system is essential in demonstrating that the food business operator understands and is managing food safety hazards.

In addition, as consumers become more aware of food safety, they are encouraged to go the press. The issues identified may not always be real in terms of food safety, but can cause severe brand damage. Food suppliers need to be able to answer all claims made against them. In addition to providing an effective foods afety protection program, fully documented evidence in the formof efficiently maintained HACCP records may be essential in counteracting such claims and ensuring that the company stays in business.

However, companies must remember that HACCP is not an exact science. The HACCP approach is really a way of thinking and working. HACCP is evolving all the time and, despite having been around for 40 years, it is still the subject of much discussion and debate.

Sara Mortimore and Carol Wallace are the authors of Food Industry Briefing Series: HACCP, published by Iowa State University Press (Christos Cassianos, compiling editor). This excerpt was published with the permission of Iowa State University Press, a Blackwell Science Publishing Co. The book is available at a 10 percent discount for INSIDER readers (mention the code HART). Contact Sally Clayton, Marketing and Sales Manager, 2121 S. State Ave., Ames, IA 50014, (800) 862-6657, FAX (515) 292-3348, e-mail orders@isupress.com, www.isupress.com.

 

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