Risk assessments are an essential part of dealing with hazards in all kinds of working environments. In the food and hospitality industry, HACCP is a certified procedure that provides a framework to help complete a risk assessment and take action from its findings.
In this article, we’re going to look at how HACCP is applied in food businesses by considering the seven elements of the process.
Developed in the 1960s when NASA asked a large American grain company, Pillsbury, to help the spacefaring organisation create space food, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, also known as HACCP, is a procedure now in use by many food businesses across the world.
The approach is used by food businesses all around the world to reduce the hazards posed by biological, chemical and physical elements that may otherwise make food unsafe. This ensures that the food they’re serving, whether to customers or indeed astronauts, is safe to eat.
From kitchens to food production lines and even small food carts, HACCP is an effective method of helping ensure food is safe to eat, and has even found its way into the laws of certain countries, including the UK, under EC Regulation 852/2004. The framework outlines seven key principles that can be followed as a set of instructions to help carry out a risk assessment and implement control measures that will reduce the risk of food becoming unsafe.
HACCP can be applied to any working environment where food is being produced or served. This might be anything from a small food cart to a large industrial kitchen, and even retail units that might deal with food that isn’t prepackaged.
If you work with food, it’s likely that HACCP can be applied in some way to help make sure that the food is safe for people to eat. Therefore, if you work in a business that prepares or serves food, having a good understanding of HACCP and how you can apply the principles to your workplace processes is pretty important.
It’s also worth noting that HACCP has actually now been applied to more than just food production processes; the cosmetics and pharmaceuticals industries also use this, or a very similar, approach.
Depending on the organisation or publisher, there can be differing numbers of HACCP principles or steps. In some cases, this will be up to 12, but most authorities would suggest six or seven as the clearest and easiest to follow process.
Below is an explanation of each of the principles of HACCP and how each of these might be applied in a food business.
Like most health and safety processes, a risk assessment is the first step. Before you can put safety measures in place, you need to identify the potential hazards that might be present.
Food businesses could potentially face many, so this step can be time-consuming to thoroughly complete.
Decide what hazards might be present in your operations. Could there be any biological hazards from uncooked or spoiled food? Might cleaning products come into contact with food? Could anything drop into the food?
Biological hazards can arise simply through food going mouldy or rotten or not being cooked. Chemical hazards can arise if concentrated cleaning products get into food, and physical hazards can be present such as bits of plastic from packaging.
For each of the hazards you identify, you’ll also need to make a note of what would need to happen for the hazard to become present. For example, mouldy food is a hazard that might be caused by a fridge breaking. This element of the risk assessment is key to being able to identify critical control points later on.
Now you know which hazards there are, you need to determine at what points in the food preparation process they can be controlled. This involves analysing the process and identifying the stages where one of the earlier identified risks might be present.
If we consider, for example, the biological hazard of bacteria on the surface of an uncooked steak, the Critical Control Point would simply be the point at which the steak is cooked, before being served to a customer. Control points could also be where food is stored, or the point food is unwrapped or transferred from one container to another.
For every potential hazard in the food preparation or serving process, you’ll need to determine a CCP where you will be able to implement an action that allows you to monitor the risk and establish whether it is present. This creates a system where everyone is aware of the potential hazards and a protocol has been put in place to measure whether they are present.
Controlling the risks at control points is about determining whether or not a safe point has been reached, or whether a safe limit has not been exceeded. Once you’ve identified where the hazards can be controlled, you need to decide how they are controlled, which means implementing certain limits or standards. This systematic approach will help control hazards.
For example, food that is being cooked will need to reach an appropriate temperature all the way through in order to be safe to eat. This temperature is a critical control point limit, and you can determine if the food is safe to eat if this limit is reached.
Another example is that you may be able to control the hazard of food spoiling, going rotten or mouldy, by setting a limit for the amount of time it can be stored before it needs to be used, or stored outside a certain temperature (like outside a fridge).
For food businesses that produce or manufacture products, a potential hazard might be accidentally adding too much of an ingredient that could cause harm, such as too much sugar or too much of a preservative. The critical control point for these would be the stage where this ingredient was added, and the limit would be how much needed to be added each time.
You’ll need a maximum and minimum value for every critical control point limit. If a critical control point measurement is outside of this range then you know that a hazard is present and the food product involved will likely be unsafe.
To illustrate how this HACCP principle can be applied to food businesses, here are some examples of critical control point limits:
The fourth step of applying the HACCP principles to your food business is simply a case of deciding how you’re going to monitor your critical control points and doing this in the right way.
It should be relatively straightforward to determine how you’re going to take measurements at each of your critical control points, especially after you’ve decided on the limits for each of these. If the hazard is temperature-related, you can monitor it using a thermometer. If you’re checking food for physical contaminants, you could use a metal detector or set of scales.
Applying the monitoring principle involves establishing a monitoring process. Decide how frequently each of the identified hazards needs to be checked, who needs to monitor them and how you’re going to record the data gathered at each critical control point.
Implement these processes and then make sure each point is being monitored correctly, particularly if checks are needed that involve reading temperature or conducting some sort of test.
As part of the monitoring process, you need to decide what course of action to take if a CCP records a failed limit. You must have a plan for when your HACCP process identifies a problem, as this means that action can be taken quickly and the impact of the hazard can be minimised as much as possible.
For example, if you take some salad out of the fridge and begin to prepare it, but discover that some of the leaves have started to go mouldy, the course of action at this CCP would be to dispose of the salad and open a new bag. However, it’s possible that some of the salad may already have been served to customers, so the action at this CPP is not only to remove the hazard, but assess who may already have been affected.
The scale of your food business impacts the kind of action that you may need to account for in your HACCP plan. If you’re making and serving food in a small cafe then the impact of a hazard probably won’t be too severe, whereas if your business is mass-producing food products and an ingredient or piece of equipment is found to be faulty, you may need to dispose of lots of stock or recall products.
This fifth stage of applying the HACCP food safety approach is one of the most important, as it helps to control the impact of a hazard if it occurs. It’s important to have these action plans in place before a hazard becomes present, no matter how small the risk is, as this makes it much easier to act quickly and minimise damage if the worst occurs.
The ultimate measure of a HACCP process is whether or not it has worked properly, which means maintaining a regular process of verification. Just like any type of risk assessment, a HACCP plan also needs to be regularly updated, which is part of the verification process.
Verify that your critical control points are working by checking to see if there have been any problems not caught by the plan. It’s always a good idea to talk to the employees carrying out the checks to see if they have feedback as well, as these are the changes that will make the most difference.
If you notice any issues then you should adapt and update your HACCP process to remove these and maintain high levels of health and safety. You will also need to issue updates if anything in your food production or service process changes, as this can affect the likelihood of risk or add new hazards to the environment.
The final application of HACCP for food businesses is to make sure you keep records of your HACCP plan, instructions, and any changes you make. In order to demonstrate a good HACCP process, you should also record limits at each critical control point to demonstrate that these controls are working effectively.
HACCP is designed to control the points in a process where risk is present and hazardous situations have the potential to occur. An example of this is the stage of the food preparation process where an ingredient is taken out of the fridge and there is the potential for dangerous bacteria to form if it is left at room temperature for too long.
In 2006 an EU regulation – Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 - came into force, which stated that “Food business operators shall put in place, implement and maintain a permanent procedure based on the Codex HACCP principles”.
A HACCP plan should be checked and reviewed regularly to ensure that it is up to date and working effectively. You should check and update a HACCP plan whenever something changes in your food preparation or serving process, but also try to review it every few months.
HACCP is an incredibly useful set of principles that create an easy-to-follow framework for food businesses to reduce hazards and control potential risks. As HACCP can sometimes be an in-depth and even complex procedure, it’s always worth considering training to ensure that you’re correctly understanding the principles and how they apply to the systems implemented in a kitchen environment.