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, Critical and Control. This piece completes the theme with a look at the ideas behind Points.
Food production, processing and distribution include a multitude of operations or stages during from the time the producer decides which food to commit their time and resources to for the coming season(s) to the time it is put into the consumer’s hands at a grocery store, restaurant, food cart or truck, food pantry or wherever else one may obtain the final product. During this process, the addition to, removal from or alteration of the food product may occur to make it more sellable. In the case of a chicken processing plant easier to process, by removing bones from chicken meat prior to forming, for example. Or easier to distribute, with images of uniform sized fruits for more efficient packing. In some cases, taste better, with the addition of spices or flavors or even safer, such as when canned or bottled food products are sterilized, to allow them to sit on the consumer’s shelves for months without spoiling. Each of these, as well as many other examples, contain one or more Point where the application of a Control would make a significant difference to reduce Hazards that could compromise the safety of the product.
So which Points are Critical? The acronym HACCP implies the answer: the Point where Control is applied and effectively reduces or eliminates the chance to compromise food safety. Notice the definition does not affect food quality. Food quality while desirable is not a Hazard to human health when it is poor, although it may be a hazard to business health if the consumer perceives the quality to be low or negatively affect taste, texture or other desirable trait that makes it less enjoyable or nutritious. The U.S. FDA is concerned about health and safety and the agency’s focus is to protect the consumer.
Critical Points of Control are effective if they are applied to the operation, function, spot, place, stage, time, juncture or site where the control either prevents making the food hazardous or removes a hazardous substance from the food. For example, we have all heard about the notorious Pufferfish, also known as Blowfish or Fugu, that can be lethal if eaten due to the neurotoxin Tetrodotoxin found in some parts of the fish. This toxin is so poisonous that as little as 25 milligrams, the weight of an average grain of rice, would likely kill 50% of the 75 Kg (165 lb.) people who ingested it. Yet, despite this risk, many Japanese and other sushi or sashimi aficionados eat Fugu sushi regularly. Why would people do such a thing? The reasons are varied. For one, it tastes good. It’s also exciting. In fact, it’s on my bucket list of things to try. I don’t believe “I have a death wish,” or “My other hobby is Russian Roulette” is likely, but given the recent popularity of base-jumping and similar activities, I’ll reserve judgement.
Actually, the reason most often cited by my Japanese friends, is because they trust the sushi chef to keep them alive. He or she is the Control and the Point is the preparation process, the cutting of the fish so as to insure the poisonous portions are not included. And that trust is almost absolute. It’s a cultural as well as any other thing. Master sushi chefs are trained rigorously for years, then tested and retrained. Only after years of training and practice are they able to prepare such a potentially hazardous dish. And the training is expected to keep the consumer safe, the Control. Society and culture demand the sushi chef’s expertise to be absolute. Just look at the precision of the uniformity of the dishes master sushi chefs prepare to see how well trained and equipped they are.
Former Stinson Seafood factory was the last Maine, USA fish cannery to close (2010). Critical Control Points such as time and temperature sensors in steaming equipment are used to insure safe food inside. (Link to Source)
In the U.S., temperature and pressure in process of canning or bottling non-acidic foods such as mushrooms or fish is used to kill harmful microorganism to insure product safety. Controlling, accurately, temperature and pressure at this Point insures a safe product. At times even with a sterile product such as canned salmon problems can occur. Botulism poisoning was identified as the cause of paralysis and even death for individuals that consumed the product in 1982. (Link to Source) The cause was found to be contamination through tiny punctures in the cans that admitted the Clostridium botulinum bacteria ultimately producing the botulinum toxin in the can’s anaerobic environment. The root cause of the puncture was found to be the can straightening machine that accidentally caused a small puncture in the can. Thankfully most punctured cans found did not contain the botulism toxin, and together with a product recall likely saving countless thousands from injury or death. Earlier outbreaks of botulism poisoning were related to canned olives (1919) and mushrooms (1973).
In this case proper Control had been applied to the canning process to insure the food was processed to be made safe. Additional Controls, such as inspections and leak testing of a representative sample of finished cans, may have been able to catch the puncture however in many cases automated processing operations are assumed to be repeatable and safe. Modern canning plants often add additional testing and safeguards to insure such incidences do not occur. They have Analyzed the Hazard and found the Critical Point(s) at which they apply appropriate Control(s).
Process control charts can help identify Critical Control Points such as the Sterilization process. Additional Critical Control Points would likely include insuring the introduction of clean water, examining fish for diseases, testing additives such as salt, spices, etc. for quality and purity and leak testing sealed cans. (Link to Source)
Today’s food processors often use sophisticated process flow and control charts to help identify Critical Points where the application of appropriate Control can be implemented to insure product safety. Such analysis can be relatively simple or complex, often determined by the simplicity of the operation and organization. For example, back to an earlier example of a small, local, family owned specialty cheese manufacturer, the number of steps and ingredients in the process is likely much smaller than a high volume, national brand manufacturer. Those involved in the small processing operation can see and track every step of the process noting temperature, color, texture and smell, so, like the master sushi chef, their senses and actions are Critical Control Points at almost every stage.
This completes our introduction to HACCP. Future articles will take in depth looks at the role and practice of the principles of HACCP in today’s food production, processing, distribution and sales process.
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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.