Food safety professionals have known what is needed to prevent foodborne illnesses for decades: robust, diligently applied, well documented, best practices backed by substantive, active management backing. Without daily - if not hourly - attention to food safety practices, businesses open the door to those tiny microbes that make daily headlines.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) employs 7 Principles enumerated on the U.S. FDA website:
- Principle 1: Conduct a hazard analysis
- Principle 2: Determine the critical control points (CCPs)
- Principle 3: Establish critical limits
- Principle 4: Establish monitoring procedures
- Principle 5: Establish corrective actions
- Principle 6: Establish verification procedures
- Principle 7: Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures
The FDA link above walks the reader through HACCP basics and provides guidance about each principle. In practice, what happens in a particular organization has a great deal to do with the business’ operational practices. Like the ISO Quality process, each organization defines what is a hazard and what is critical for each principle. Food safety professionals have the experience to target the areas that are most likely to present issues in their operations. With such experience and insight, those areas of most concern can be prioritized as HACCP plans are developed.
For example, do the same problems repeat over and over? Do employees neglect personal hygiene or leave work areas without proper cleaning? If yes, Principle 4: Establish monitoring procedures could be your hot button. Working with supervisors to enhance food safety training, including the importance of personal hygiene, may be needed. Supervisors may need to personally inspect work areas at the end of the employee's shift; proper cleaning techniques with emphasis on hard-to-clean areas may need stronger reinforcement and supervision as remedial action is underway. In each case, food safety professionals will be key to help each person involved understand that monitoring is a necessary and important part of the HACCP plan, not a punitive stick that employees need to fear.
Do problems occur repeatedly despite HACCP policies and procedures? If yes, Principle 2: Determine the critical control points (CCPs) may rise to the top. According to the FDA website, a CCP is any step at which factors can be controlled when this control is essential to prevent a food safety hazard, eliminate a food safety hazard, or reduce a food hazard to an acceptable level. But even with a HACCP team in place and CCPs clearly identified, errors can still occur. Reviewing CCPs and re-reviewing CCPs is an ongoing process. Procedures, equipment and employees change as do suppliers and products. Each change is a call to review current HACCP plans and CCPs as any modification, however small, could lead to an adjustment in what is considered critical. Food safety professionals who manage operations with near-continuous changes will be well served for their diligence to Principle 2.
When it’s time to put together a monthly report for regulators or management, do records of the month’s operation exist? Are they easily accessible? Are they readable and understandable? If not, Principle 7: Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures is likely your cup of tea. There’s nothing worse than hunting for temperature logs from the walk-in cooler only to discover they are missing or worse, blank. On the other hand there is something much worse: illnesses reported as a result of harmful microorganisms that lead to a review of production and quality records that were inadvertently discarded or made unintelligible when they were washed with chemicals used for equipment sterilization. Such problems can have significant impact to a business’ continued operation and liability. Before getting there, conscientious food safety professionals will have noted such gaps and taken corrective action to prevent recurrence. This could include: retraining employees how to use documentation tools and properly fill them out, making sure records are kept safe from damage or being discarded either physically or digitally, and instituting automatic duplication where possible. Automatic data collection with wireless temperature sensors that create data logs stored redundantly on the web is one such way to help assure good record keeping. Additionally, electronic systems that require employees to make required entries at the end of each shift may be helpful, particularly when time for such entries are provided by the work schedule and supervisor.
Thirty day temperature profile (left) shows elevated temperature excursions that require attention. The data log (right) displays alerts sent by email and phone for excursions and allow recipients to log on and make notes describing response and results
Ensuring companies ship safe food often falls to the food safety professional. HACCP plans are one key to make this responsibility possible. Additionally, each company or business is unique. Food safety professionals rely on their colleagues from shipping and receiving, production and supervision, as well as management to implement best practices defined in the HACCP plan. And since every operation has its quirks, shortfalls and challenges, food safety professionals know where they need to focus. Whether it’s CCPs, critical limits, corrective action or one of the other seven principles, each will find they are well served by their favorite.