HACCP systems are one of the most important parts of food production health and safety. This stringent risk assessment process ensures that any potential hazards in the food production process are controlled and reduced, as well as establishing systems to monitor production and quickly react to any changes that could cause products to become harmful.
There are seven principles of a HACCP system that underpin the whole concept and provide a guide for establishing a plan to control the risks present in a workplace environment. This article explains the importance of HACCP and details each of these principles and what they involve.
HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point. It’s a system in the food and catering industry that is designed to identify and prevent safety hazards that may be present in food during the manufacturing process, keeping customers safe from harm.
The control points in HACCP include raw material handling, procurement manufacturing, distribution, handling during packaging and consumption. Things like pest control, hazard prevention and hygiene training may also be classed as control points.
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points are an internationally recognized system, meaning that food safety risk management is carried out to the same standard across the world. The acronym is used across a range of countries and monitored by various standard agencies, as well as being a part of various legislations affecting food hygiene and safety.
Every person on the planet consumes a variety of different food products every day, often without stopping to consider whether they might be putting themselves at risk by doing so. The reason many of us can feel so confident that the food we eat is safe is thanks to systems like HACCP that control the production and distribution of food and ensure that common safety hazards are identified and removed.
Firstly, having these safety standards in place means that all consumers can feel confident in the knowledge that the things they are eating will not harm them. This minimises the chances of illnesses or accidents related to unsafe food, meaning that more people stay well.
It also benefits businesses to have these safety standards in place, as fewer customers are likely to be affected by unsafe food, which means the manufacturers are less likely to face legal problems for distributing a faulty or dangerous product. Having a reputation for producing food that has harmed customers can have an irreversible effect on a brand’s reputation that can sometimes lead to the company folding, so following safety standards removes this possibility.
Finally, having food safety standards that are strongly enforced means that overall standards in the food industry are higher. Companies that manufacture and handle products are safer and better places to work and the food that they distribute is safer and higher quality, which benefits everyone.
HACCP systems rely on seven basic principles to create a plan that will ensure that any food hazards are identified and removed or reduced as much as possible to ensure that consumers stay safe. If you or your company are implementing a HACCP system then you will need to cover each of the following points.
The first of the seven principles of a HACCP system involves performing a hazard analysis. This stage is very similar to that of a risk assessment and requires you to identify all of the potential hazards that could lead to injury or illness, both in the product being handled and the processes themselves.
There are three different types of hazards outlined by official HACCP principles. These are:
Allergens may also be classed as a hazard in food products and should be considered when conducting your hazard analysis.
To complete a hazard analysis, you need to thoroughly examine the workplace where food products are handled, packaged, stored and sorted and identify all the equipment, systems and spaces that pose a potential risk. If you want to be more thorough, get someone else to do the same thing to ensure that nothing gets missed.
Once all hazards have been identified, you then need to evaluate the level of risk that each one poses. Calculate the probability of each hazardous situation occurring and estimate the level of damage it would cause, and use this to determine which risk should be controlled as part of the HACCP plan.
This information should all be compiled in a document stating the whereabouts of each hazard, the level of risk, any measures already in place to control it, and whether it poses a serious enough risk that further action needs to be taken.
After completing hazard analysis, the next step is to determine critical control points in the existing processes.
A critical control point refers to a step in a system where controls can be applied to a hazardous situation or item that will remove or reduce the level of risk present. These are essential parts of ensuring the safety of a food manufacturing process, and will likely already exist in many parts of the workplace.
Make a note of all critical control points that are already in place in your processes, such as stages where food is refrigerated or allergens are listed on labels. If any new CCPs are identified then you should decide what controls need to be put in place and implement those.
Add the details of all of these points of control to the document listing all the hazards present in the workplace.
Once critical control points have been identified, critical limits need to be established for each. The critical limit of a control point refers to the highest level of risk that is deemed acceptable before a situation becomes too hazardous and corrective action needs to be taken, and can be used to determine safe and unsafe conditions for operation.
Every control measure in a CCP needs to have a minimum and maximum critical limit determined so that you know when a hazard can be left alone and when further action is required to reduce or remove it. Some critical control points may have multiple critical limits, such as a temperature range and the number of products that can be stored in a particular container.
You should already have a list of the CCPs present, and each of the limits determined needs to be added to this list next to their relevant control points.
After the critical limits have been decided on at every critical control point, the next HACCP principle requires you to establish procedures to monitor this data so that you can identify when limits are exceeded. Not only will this give you real-time information about the safety of different processes, but it also allows a record to be created that can be used for future verification.
Ideally, a CCP needs to be monitored continuously so any potential hazards are immediately highlighted and rectified. However, in the majority of cases this probably won’t be possible, which means that measurements will need to be taken manually and assessed to determine if a situation has become hazardous.
If manual monitoring is required then a HACCP system needs to factor in how these employees are going to be trained to measure critical limits for CCP, how frequently they will gather this data and the procedures they will follow to carry out these checks and update data sheets.
After official monitoring procedures have been established, you then need to create processes to correct any changes in a critical control point that have led to values that fall outside of the critical limits. The main aim of this stage is to ensure that no products which are harmful stay in the production line and end up being distributed to customers.
Corrective actions for each hazardous situation should determine what went wrong, establish what is hazardous about the affected product, and ensure that the event has been recorded for future reference. The HACCP plan needs to include instructions about what needs to be done in a situation where critical limits are exceeded, who is responsible for correcting the error, and how the event will be recorded and reported.
This principle is important not only so that hazardous products are kept away from consumers, but also to ensure that the same errors do not happen again.
The sixth HACCP principle leads on from the previous one and determines the records you need to keep to monitor and document any issues that occur within processes. This includes your hazard analysis, the control measures that are in place, the HACCP plan that includes CCPs, critical limits, monitoring produces and corrective actions, validation records and other supporting documents.
Some businesses may be legally required to keep certain records in case of a health inspection, so make sure that you have checked specific regulations for the kind of food you produce.
The last of the seven principles of a HACCP system involves implementing procedures that will ensure the plan is carried out effectively at all times. Regular verification assessments should take place that monitor all of the controls, ensure that the data gathered is correct and assess whether there have been any issues that indicate more severe controls are needed.
The Council Directive 93/43/EEC was introduced by the European Union in the 1990s, which made HACCP a legal requirement for all countries in Europe. It was then repealed by EU Regulation (EC) 852/2004 in 2006, stating that “Food business operators shall put in place, implement and maintain a permanent procedure or procedures based on the HACCP principles”.
The ‘prerequisites’ of HACCP are basic food health, safety and hygiene measures that should be in place in any kitchen that is due to undergo a HACCP assessment. These prerequisites ensure that basic hygiene standards are being met in a place where food is being handled or prepared, and are the foundation of any good HACCP strategy.
A HACCP system should be regularly reviewed to ensure that all measures are still effective. Many businesses choose to review their system annually, but the system should also be reviewed every time a new ingredient is brought in, new equipment is purchased, a new process is implemented or if a food safety complaint occurs, such as a product recall or outbreak of food poisoning.
Whilst the measures involved in the 7 principles of HACCP may seem complicated, the system itself is very similar to a typical risk assessment and is relatively easy to carry out and enforce. High levels of hazard control are an essential part of any environment where food is produced and distributed, and these official standards keep businesses and consumers safe from harm and damage to the business.
If you’d like to find out more about HACCP and the principles involved, we offer an online ‘Level 2 HACCP Training’ course for anyone who works in a role that involves the handling or preparation of food.