What Is an HACCP Plan? A Guide to Food Safety

What Is an HACCP Plan? A Guide to Food Safety

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a system designed to identify, assess, and manage risks and hazards associated with certain foods or production processes.

The goal of the system is to maintain food safety at every stage of production and processing stage of the food cycle. Part of an HACCP plan is to look for hazards that are reasonably likely to occur as well as those that are obvious.  

The Origins of HACCP

HACCP originated as part of NASA’s (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) efforts to keep Apollo astronauts safe from food-borne illnesses and contaminants. For Apollo 11, the first manned flight to the moon, each astronaut had only 73 square feet of space or a cube that was 4’ x 4’ x 4’.  There were no toilets, either.  NASA needed a system to keep everyone safe for the flight.

According to the Safe Food Alliance, NASA, the Pillsbury Company, and the U.S. Army Laboratories worked together to develop guidelines that would keep the food safe from the beginning to the end of the flight, including looking for contaminants and microorganisms.

HACCP Explained

At the heart of all HACCP is the need to control potential hazards. The primary hazards to be eliminated are microbiological, physical, and chemical.

Consumers are primarily concerned with pesticides and antibiotics but, according to the HACCP Alliance, the real threat is microbiological.

The most frequent microbiological contaminants are:

●   E. Coli

●   Salmonella

●   Listria

●   Clostridium botulinum

●   Campylobacter

The Seven Principles of an HACCP Plan

As Dickson notes in this HACCP guide, HACCP plans are foundational for food safety.

Each HACCP plan must follow seven principles.  Each principle and each step is vital to preventing illness and keeping the food supply safe.

  1. Conduct a Hazard Analysis – Each step of production, processing, and transportation of a food product is analyzed.  Likely hazards that should be addressed are identified in the plan. Any hazard not addressed by the plan must be documented and the reason for its exclusion noted in writing.
  2. Identify the Critical Control Points (CCP) – A CCP might control more than one hazard or there might be multiple CCPs to prevent a single hazard.  A CCP is a point at which hazards can be reduced to an acceptable level.  A CCP decision tree is created that the team working the HACCP plan will use to identify and define each CCP.
  3. Establish Critical Limits – A Critical Limit (CL) is a parameter that is defined as the minimum or maximum to which a chemical, physical, or biological contaminant must be controlled to prevent a food safety hazard. Most CLs are based on time, temperature, moisture levels, pH, weight, or other definable factors.  Most of these parameters can now be monitored by digital data loggers that report to a central monitoring program.
  4. Monitor CCPs – In this step, the HACCP team decides how each CCP is to be monitored, whose responsibility it is to monitor it, how measurements will be taken, and how often a CCP needs to be monitored.  When this system was created in the 1960s, the vast number of electronic solutions that are now used did not exist. Computer programs handle many of these steps and alert human caretakers when measurements exceed defined parameters.
  5. Establish Corrective Actions – The HACCP plan clearly defines what steps should be taken in the event of a breach of parameters.  This not only identifies the problem and corrects it.  Part of the plan will include preventing the issue from arising again.
  6. Verification – Other than direct observation and monitoring, the HACCP plan will define what activities must be done to ensure adherence to each principle. This usually involves audits of CCPs, reviews of records, instrument calibration, and product testing.  Many of these activities are being handled by automatic digital data loggers that relay the information to a central computer program that will provide these reports on command or on a schedule.
  7. Record keeping – The HACCP plan defines what records must be kept, for how long, and by whom.  Every product description to which CCPs were identified will be part of this record keeping portion.  These records should define the process by which the HACCP plan was created, by whom, and every scrap of raw data and finished reports that the plan generates.

A Global Set of Standards

This system was devised in the United States but it has been adopted by countries and companies all over the world. It not only protects companies from spreading diseases and contaminants, but a complete HACCP plan with all the required records can prevent massive lawsuits for negligence.

Legally, HACCP plans are not required for every food group.  The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) broadened the laws and created Food Safety Plans (FSPs) for all foods under the Human Food Rule.  FSPs are broader than HACCP principles, but they cover these principles and other areas of food safety.

How to Implement an HACCP Plan

Many guides and aids for creating an HACCP plan exist. Most involve step-by-step forms and charts to help the HACCP team move smoothly through the process.

As part of a modern HACCP plan, the team will look at electronic monitoring systems, data loggers, that will collect the raw data.  While this helps to ensure that monitoring is occurring, it is still just one step in the complete HACCP plan.  Teams still need to identify CCPs, plan for parameter breaches, and record keeping, among other steps.

Why HACCP Plans Matter

After the creation of HACCP guidelines, Pillsbury had a recall on Farina baby cereal due to glass shards in the food. One of the microbiologists for the company, Howard Baumann, who had worked on the NASA project, suggested the company adopt the standards.

After some meetings and conferences, a standard was created for use by private companies.  Those standards are still in use today.

Many of the HACCP principles have kept our increasingly industrialized food supply from becoming contaminated.  Humans are producing more food than ever and these standards, created over 50 years ago to keep astronauts safe, have been significant factors in helping to keep everyone safe from food-borne illnesses.

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Christophe Rude

Christophe Rude

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