A continuing series looking at the meaning of the words that form the HACCP acronym.
In this series we are examining the thrust behind the words that make up the acronym HACCP, which stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and is a cornerstone of modern food safety practices. The first piece looked at the word Hazard, and although it is difficult to discuss Hazard without discussing Analysis, the general idea is “any biological, chemical or physical property that may cause a food to be unsafe for human consumption” is a Hazard. (Link to Source)
Analysis of physical hazards in the food industry is well known, particularly in food preparation areas. We’ve all learned from the time we were toddlers that stoves can be hot, and sometimes the lesson was very painful. Handling sharp knives is another hazard, and again, one we all experience one way or another sometime during our youth. Working with large mixers, commercial deep fryers and slicing equipment carry special hazards as they are very large, powerful, hot and/or sharp and things can go wrong quickly, often with serious consequences. Analysis has shown that these potential Hazards require special training and use procedures to make sure equipment is in safe operating condition and operated safely in order to protect both the equipment and operator.
Analysis often in the form of experience at a young age has taught us that stoves and pans can be hot and knives can be sharp. Links to Sources: (Left Image) (Right Image)
Back to Analysis as it applies to the food product itself. Note the use of the word “may” as it is the crux of the Analysis piece of HACCP as not all biological, chemical or physical properties can be considered as causing food to be unsafe for human consumption. For example, cooking a raw hamburger certainly causes a change in the biological, chemical and physical form of the product but if done safely does not cause a Hazard. In fact, it may help improve the safe consumption of the meat because potentially harmful microorganisms that reside on and inside the hamburger will likely be killed if the meat is cooked well. One reason why some restaurants serving rare hamburgers is to insure safe consumption of the product, especially because while the restaurant may be able to control all of the things the hamburger comes in contact with in their own shop, it cannot be expected to control problems in the supply chain.
This is where the Analysis starts. The restaurant could certainly test each delivery, lot, box or individual hamburger to insure there are no harmful microorganisms or chemicals, but this may not be feasible due to cost, delays caused by testing and the extensive testing that would be required to catch all possible hazardous microorganisms and chemicals. One could imagine such testing would cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars depending on the scope and scale when done by a certified lab. The restaurant instead relies on the supply chain to undertake their own Hazard Analysis to protect the products shipped to the restaurant from contamination by harmful agents. Restaurant employees, likewise, will need to be trained well and regularly monitored for general health and cleanliness practices including hand washing or sterilization and proper use of required clothing and protective gear, like hair nets for example.
Likewise, the hamburger or other food distributor will need to rely on the beef producers and meat processors for Analysis of their Hazard points insure their products do not contain harmful microorganisms or that harmful chemicals are not passed into the products they sell. For example, cleaning and sterilizing chemicals used on the processing equipment will need to be purged from the equipment prior to processing. The U.S. FDA food testing labs shown below demonstrate the effort needed to test food supplies for biological and chemical hazards. Restaurants and grocers could contract with such companies but the cost could be very prohibitive since testing of the product will be duplicated many times, a practice likely to increase the retail price of food significantly.
U.S. FDA food safety testing lab in California (left) (Link to Source) and FDA Mobile Salmonella testing lab for food entering the US (right) (Link to Source) demonstrate the effort needed to adequately insure food safety.
A more feasible approach is to have producers and packers test their products before distribution since testing at the source will be significantly lower than testing at each retail outlet. This is indeed the approach most companies take, and for the most part, it works well. When it doesn’t work, companies need to re-analyze the root cause and modify their processes, policies and procedures to meet the unforeseen challenge. Analysis is an iterative and ongoing process. Knowledge from problems that arise are used to improve the safety procedures and practices and finally formalized into new policies. Because new problems will arise, policies will continually evolve to incorporate new practices again and again.
Analysis is also needed to rule out potential Hazards as so unlikely to occur that they do not need to be included in the HACCP process. The cattle grower will want to keep track of disease outbreaks in their herd but not necessarily worry about contamination by radioactive materials. Likewise, the slaughterhouse will want to keep track of the cleanliness of the facility and processing equipment but not necessarily outside air quality unless there is a potential to bring harmful chemicals into the processing plant, from an upwind chemical tanker accident for example. HACC allows the food industry to Analyze the Hazards at each step, assigning responsibility where testing and monitoring is most effective: before the product reaches thousands of consumers. And in the end that achieves the goal: safe, nutritious food, affordable food supplies.
Look for the next piece which will look at the idea of Critical in Critical Control Points.
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