Food safety training is hugely important for a wide range of roles in a number of industries. From those working directly in the production of food, to those who sell it at retail, it’s essential that workers understand how to safely work with food intended for human consumption. There are varying levels of food safety training, with many different elements, often tailored towards the role and industry in question. However, there are some elements of training that feature in most courses, and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (known as HACCP) is one of the most important. In this article, we’re going to take a look at what HACCP is, why it’s important, and why you can ensure either your employees understand it fully, or you yourself have the appropriate training.
HACCP is a framework for ensuring that the end product food, ready for consumption, is safe to eat. Or more specifically, it looks to introduce checks and standards that reduce risks as far as possible. It does this with the aim of reducing chemical, physical and biological risks to people.
It’s also useful to know that HACCP was designed so that it can be used at any stage of the food production process. If we think of all the work, processes, and parties involved in production of a single ready meal sold in a supermarket, it becomes clear how many opportunities there are for risk to be introduced, and it’s essential that they’re all considered. There are potential risks where the raw foods are produced, where they are cooked and combined, where they are packaged, and where they are stored ready for sale. HACCP aims to deal with all of these, and is a structured approach that can fit with most processes.
HACCP can be really important because foodborne illnesses and allergic reactions can be severe health issues, and they very often result from poor hygiene in food preparation areas and processes.
Where bacteria is allowed to multiply and ultimately enter a person’s body, it can range from causing mild discomfort to causing a life threatening illness. The only way to guard against this is by ensuring that bacteria is killed and not able to reproduce in large enough numbers, and that it cannot easily be transferred between foodstuffs. This is one of the core functions and most important elements of HACCP, and can only be learned through proper training.
Similarly, allergic reactions, especially in cases of anaphylactic shock, can be life threatening, and they can only be prevented if people know exactly what they’re eating. And this can only be known if food producers and preparers can ensure that foodstuffs don’t come into contact or mix when they shouldn’t. HACCP can prevent this, which is why it’s so important.
In order to understand how important HACCP is, and what it does, it helps to know the main principles of the approach. HACCP is now an international standard, (ISO 22000 FSMS 2011) and within this there are seven clear principles which must be adhered to in order to be correctly abiding by HACCP. They are the following:
As with most hazard reduction frameworks, the very first step in HACCP is in conducting a full hazard analysis, or risk assessment, of the processes that you’re responsible for. This means looking for any biological, physical or chemical risk that might arise during the food production, storage, packaging or any other process. Could bacteria pose a problem? Could foreign bodies find their way into the food? Could allergens find their way into mislabelled products? There are many questions to ask at this stage if the hazard analysis is to be thorough and effective.
Once risks have been noted and evaluated, it’s time to identify the exact points in the food manufacturing process at which the risks may arise, and could ultimately be controlled. These CCPs (critical control points) can be anywhere where you’re able to introduce any controls. For example, if you’re cooking a piece of meat that needs to be a certain temperature to be safe, a CCP could be the point at which you decide whether or not the item has been cooked safely and is ready to be served to a customer.
At the critical control points, it must be decided what exactly the critical limits are, and how the risks can be controlled by this. If we go back to the example of cooking a piece of meat, the risk is that undercooked food could contain harmful bacteria, which means the meat has to reach a certain temperature to kill this bacteria. Establishing a critical limit means deciding the exact temperature that the item must reach.
The way in which the CCP is monitored is very important indeed, and in some cases it’s much trickier than in others. In our example, using the appropriate thermometer and reading method is all it takes to ensure that food is cooked to the right temperature. However, monitoring may be more complex, for example in food production facilities where high tech solutions are used to determine whether foreign bodies have found their way into foods, and whether they’re at or above the critical limit.
Where monitoring has established that critical limits at a CCP have been exceeded, it’s essential that corrective action is taken to ensure that the hazard does not become a problem. This might mean disposing of any items that are not cooked properly, withdrawing from sale items that might have been compromised, or taking any other action that prevents a hazardous item from being consumed.
Policy and process is only effective if it is achieving its aims. Good HACCP protocol means regularly checking to make sure that the checks put in place at the CCPs are working as they should. Have there been any incidents with hazardous food? Similarly, HACCP should not prove overly restrictive to the normal production of food unnecessarily. Are the procedures at a reasonable level?
The final element of HACCP is keeping records of everything that has been documented. Traceability is important in order to resolve problems if they arise later, as well as helping with the evaluation process. As an example, many restaurants will record all temperatures that they measure, whether this is in terms of cooked food or refrigerated food. This helps ensure that everything is working as it should, and provides a backup if there are queries later.
As we mentioned earlier, HACCP is taught in several different food safety and hygiene courses, and indeed, all good food hygiene courses should include it to some level. As a result, there’s no better way of becoming fully clued up on how HACCP works, what it can do, and how to implement it than by taking the right course. The Virtual College CPD certified Level 2 HACCP Training course is an excellent place to start. Our online HACCP training is easy to access, interactive, and gives you all the knowledge you need.