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 two pieces looked at the words Hazard and Analysis.
If we read or watch the news we hear the term “Critical” all the time. Generally it refers to someone in Critical Condition meaning their life or health is in serious jeopardy and the outcome uncertain. Wikipedia defines Critical Condition used by hospitals as “Vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits. Patient may be unconscious. Indicators are unfavorable.” It tends to be overused since is is a good headline attention getter: Critical Mass, Vote, Malware Threat, Disease Outbreak, Habitat, Thinking, Elections, Ruling, Labor or Skill Shortage, etc. The list is endless.
A Google search shows one definition of Critical is (of a situation or problem) having the potential to become disastrous; at a point of crisis, another as having a decisive or crucial importance in the success, failure, or existence of something. (Link to Source) So how does one define "Critical" in the world of the food industry? Each sector would have it’s own take on the definition, one for production, processing, distribution, wholesale, retail, etc., So what are the common elements?
For answers we can turn to the U.S. FDA HACCP glossary which while it does not define critical separately, leads us to a possible definition. A Critical Control Point is a step at which control can be applied and is essential to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level. (Link to FDA) Control Point is defined as any step at which biological, chemical or physical factors can be controlled. In this context Critical can be seen as the determining factor as to which Control Point can actually prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or at the least reduce it to an acceptable level. We can spend hours debating what reduce to an acceptable level means, but for now we will take as acceptable that which is allowed by the U.S. FDA and other regulatory agencies.
Pulling these ideas together then, Critical is the criterion for how acute, important, significant, essential, crucial and a host of other synonyms can describe. One synonym that may be more applicable is influential as the key here is to insure safe food by eliminating hazards. So a Critical Control Point is the point where a control needs to be implemented to eliminate, prevent or reduce a food hazard. Finding the Critical point is therefore key.
Poultry growers, processors and sellers each have responsibility to assess Critical issues that could lead to food contamination or spoilage in order to identify control measures to prevent such occurrences. (Links to Images Left Center Right)
Critical can be obvious, the rodent, insect or mold infested food storage, processing equipment or preparation areas for example. The key is where to look for the point where control can be implemented. Certainly one can simply clean the food processing equipment after the daily insect invasion, but the Critical issue from a HACCP viewpoint is the contamination or infestation itself, not the ability to clean it up every day. Analysis can help identify Hazard areas that are obvious such as holes or cracks in windows, walls through which the insects can enter the room. Some are less obvious, a non-symptomatic sick worker for example and require Analysis to determine if there is indeed a real potential for a Hazard to impact the product. As noted in the first piece in this series, the U.S. FDA states “Hazards that are not reasonably likely to occur would not require further consideration within a HACCP plan.” A non-contagious sick worker would not necessarily constitute a Hazard unless the disease can reasonably be expected to contaminate the product if handles according to prescribed procedures. And if such procedures fall short, the iterative HACCP process comes to play.
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Dave Ruede, Well-Versed Wordsmith
Dave Ruede, a dyed in the wool Connecticut Yankee, has been involved with high tech companies for the past three decades. His background in chemistry and experience in a multitude of industries such as industrial chemicals and systems, pulp and paper, semiconductor fabrication, data centers, and test and assembly facilities informs his work daily. Well-versed in sales, marketing, management, and business development, Dave brings real world experience to Temperature@lert. When not crafting new Temperature@lert projects, Dave enjoys spending time with his young granddaughter, who keeps him grounded to the simple joys in life. Such joys for this wordsmith include reading prize winning fiction and non-fiction. Although a Connecticut Yankee, living for a decade in coastal California’s not too hot, not too cold climate epitomizes Dave’s favorite temperature, 75°F.