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 previous pieces looked at the words Hazard, Analysis and Critical. Now it’s time for Control.
Many of us are familiar with Control from an early age from our parent’s best efforts to help us develop Self Control. In my case they were partially successful, but that’s a piece for another time and venue. Merriam-Webster Online provides several definitions related to controlling behavior, having power, etc., but the one most relevant here is to direct the actions or function of (something) : to cause (something) to act or function in a certain way. (Link to Source) This definition is very inclusive, operators actions, equipment, shipping, handling and storage and many other items would be covered by (something), which is why the definition suits the needs of HACCP well.
Keep in mind we’re looking at Control and it’s rightful place in the HACCP process. Since there are many things to control in the process of bringing food from source to table, there are many types of control that can be implemented. The one that is most likely at every step in the process is to eliminate or reduce exposure of the food product to contamination of all kinds, chemical or biological. Thankfully the U.S. FDA provides regulations or guidelines to assist with the level of control needed since reduction of all possible chemical or biological hazards is likely impossible, likely very expensive given today’s technology and plethora or production methods, and potentially unnecessary.
Most major food producers, processors, distributors and retail outlets have put controls in place to prevent chemical or biological contamination. These can be simple written procedures such as using hairnets to prevent hair from inadvertently falling into to the food, or complex, such as irradiation of aseptic food packages to insure sterilization.
In 2012 Swiss voters approved new, stricter measures to control animal disease after a 2008 bluetongue outbreak that cost $21 million to control. (Link to Source)
Food producers such as farmers and ranchers look not only at control of their livestock’s food and water given to the animals each day but also the control of potential diseases that may infect the animals. Control practices may include the preemptive administration of antibiotics to prevent infection in high volume production facilities, a practice that is coming under increased scrutiny as drug resistant strains of the target diseases are becoming more common and causing significant concern in the medical community. Food processing facilities will want to control not only the yield of the processing but also the potential introduction of chemicals used for sterilization of processing equipment into the product for example. Likewise distributors, wholesalers and retailers will each look at their processes and Analyze Hazardous practices or procedures to help develop and implement procedures to control them.
Aseptic bottle forming and packaging machinery helps control the introduction of biological and chemical contamination into liquid drinks. Link to Source
The tricky part about Control is how much to apply. In today’s litigious environment too much Control may be the choice, but from a cost standpoint this may not always be feasible. For example, small meat processors may not be able to afford the latest processing or packaging equipment fitted with automatic sterilization capabilities. But a processor that has a successful track record of delivering quality, healthy, safe food to their customers may not need what large scale factory scale producers require. The local organic cheese producer comes to mind as an example of such an operation. The attention to the human part of the Control required to produce a safe product is often possible in these smaller operations compared to a cheese producer that serves a national or global market. In the latter case, more reliance on machine sensing and intelligence is likely, and Control is automated to eliminate human errors as much as possible.
So what needs to be controlled and what does not? Our next piece will look at the final piece of the HACCP puzzle, Points.
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