What does HACCP mean?
How does it safeguard your food?
What are the obligations placed on the food industry to ensure compliance?
HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points.
Let’s look at this food safety system and see how it works.
Set up by the European Union HACCP has been mandatory in the food industry since 2006, HACCP origins date back to the 1960’s space program where it was decided early in the process that maintaining food for prolonged periods of time in space was essential. It was defined as an overview more than ten years before that by the World Health Organisation’s Codex Alimentarius Commission.
The principles behind HACCP are best described as PDCA.
Plan, Do, Check Act.
A terminology that should be familiar to those familiar with process control.
This means that for most businesses it is an ever-evolving system, or more correctly set of systems designed to ensure food safety.
This is important as micro biotic and chemical science and the micro-organisms that it deals with are evolving all the time. HACCP cannot be a “set and forget” set of rules.
There are seven axioms in HACCP;
Identify hazards that must be prevented eliminated or reduced
Identify the critical control points (CCPs) at the steps at which control is essential
Establish critical limits at CCPs
Establish procedures to monitor the CCPs
Establish corrective actions to be taken if a CCP is not under control
Establish procedures to verify whether the above procedures are working effectively
Establish documents and records to demonstrate the effective application of the above measures
These are detailed here.
There are currently 3 main areas of risk identified
This deals with the microbes and bacteria that naturally occur in all foods, both meat based and vegetable. Most are harmless. This aspect of HACCP deals with the identification of harmful bacteria and the removal or mitigation of any health risk they pose.
Food, the methods by which is farmed, stored and cooked are all possible areas where chemicals might be introduced. Again, while most chemicals are harmless, and some are even beneficial, others could pose a threat to health.
HACCP regulations look at each step of the food production, storage and preparation process and aims to ensure no harmful chemicals are introduced and that checks are in place to food is safe to consume.
Physical Food Safety
The handling of foods by both humans and machinery pose a risk to both he quality and the safety of the food.
Overlapping with the microbiological and chemical risks to a degree, HACCP also deals with the physical safety of food.
Food damaged physically can suffer from issues such as premature oxidisation, rotting and cross contamination between different food types. The aspect of HACCP that deals with physical food safety is concerned with these and other issues.
HACCP in the Food Industry
There is a legal obligation for all businesses in the food industry to ensure that they formulate a HACCP compliant plan for hygiene and food handling.
These are covered in Regulation 853/2004.
The details of this, your local contacts for UK based food suppliers and the detail of the legislation can be found here.
The Food Standards Agency meat industry guide has a template for a plan which can be used as a foundation for businesses to adapt their own best practice and ensure they are working within the guidelines.
A tenet of all PDCA systems is to “Check” periodically and “Act” on any weaknesses in the system or failures in outcome that are found.
As with all PDCA methodology, HACCP is iterative and requires that a business in the food industry provide dated documentation that checks have been carried out and remedial action taken for any system failings found.
Records of these checks and actions should be kept as they provide an important part of the continuous improvement process.
Reference should be made regularly to amendments to best practice and legal requirements of HACCP as they are liable to evolve over time.