Critical control points are a method of controlling and managing risk that is used by many businesses in the food industry. They’re a key part of the HACCP framework, which is used to assess processes and equipment used during food preparation or manufacturing and reduce the potential risks that may affect staff or customer safety.
Whether you’re in charge of implementing a HACCP plan or work in a role that involves the monitoring or management of critical control points, understanding what they are and the role they play in health and safety is important. In this article, we introduce HACCP, explain why it is important and answer the question ‘what are the critical control points for food safety?’.
HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and is the name of a food safety management system that is used to manage risk and control hazards in a kitchen environment. Since 2006, the EU has made it a legal requirement for food businesses to implement a HACCP plan in their kitchen to maintain high standards of food health and safety and keep a record of the steps that are being taken to manage risk.
Similar to other risk assessment frameworks, HACCP lays out a series of steps that should be followed in order to identify potential hazards and reduce or remove the risk that they pose. One of the key features of this is critical control points (CCP) which are used to monitor processes and equipment that may pose a food safety risk.
A HACCP plan ensures that hazards are identified and controlled through critical control points to minimise the risks to food safety. This includes looking at all elements of a food business practice including procurement, food handling, manufacturing and distribution.
Food caterers and manufacturers must adhere to food safety laws and take all the necessary steps for a hygienic kitchen. By following the HACCP principles, food businesses can protect their customers from the dangers of eating unsafe food and catching food-related illnesses.
HACCP is based on the following seven key principles. These principles should be followed when putting together a HACCP plan.
The first HACCP principle involves inspecting your environment meticulously to identify where any food safety hazards are, and the amount of risk that each of these hazards carries. A food hazard can be any chemical, biological or physical element that affects food safety.
The next principle concerns critical control points and involves identifying where these can be applied to prevent or reduce any food safety hazard. Food businesses should identify controls which can be carried out to prevent the hazards identified.
Once critical control points have been decided, critical limits for each of these need to be established, which may be based on scientific research. You should decide on specific safety limits to adhere to, such as a minimum and maximum temperature level for food stored in a refrigerator.
Monitoring procedures need to then be implemented to ensure that critical control points are controlling the identified hazards. For example, if your control is based on temperature levels then you may action temperature checks and use monitoring forms to record times that these observations have been carried out.
Corrective actions should be taken when a critical limit is likely to be, or has been exceeded. For example, if the fridge temperature becomes too high then you might relocate food to a fridge at the correct temperature, call an engineer or contact a manager.
Each critical control point needs to be verified and checked regularly to ensure that the best procedures are in place to reduce and prevent hazards. Schedules and processes need to be established and checked which means CCPs are regularly reviewed and improved if necessary.
Finally, every HACCP-based system must be well documented using charts, instructions, monitoring records etc. This is to ensure that the system is working correctly and everyone is taking responsibility for food safety. Food safety inspectors will also ask to see hazard analysis system records, so these need to be kept updated.
A Critical Control Point is a step in food handling, production or manufacturing where controls can be applied to prevent or reduce any food safety hazard. Potential food hazards need to be identified quickly and removed or reduced to stop food from becoming unsafe or dangerous to eat.
There are three main categories of hazards which could affect food safety:
A HACCP plan will help you to identify and remove these hazards within your business.
Establishing critical control points and the measures that need to be put in place to reduce or remove the risk they concern is a key part of following HACCP principles.
Examples of critical control points include:
At each of these points, there is the potential for something in the process to go wrong and render the food product unsafe. Therefore, it is necessary to implement control measures at each of the critical control points so that this risk can be reduced and any potential hazards can be quickly identified.
Examples of control measures include:
After you have identified critical control points in food safety and the ways you will monitor these, you need to decide on critical limits. These are points that establish a range within which a food product is safe, and outside of which a hazard will be present.
An example of this is a freezer where food is stored, which is one of the most common critical control points. Limits will be determined for the maximum and minimum temperature that this freezer should be at to keep the food products inside it safe.
Once limits have been determined, it then needs to be decided what will be done if a critical control point measurement is found to be outside of what is ‘safe’. By having a plan in place, risk can be reduced by controlling the unsafe situation as quickly as possible and hopefully rectifying it.
To continue the previous example, if the temperature of a fridge was found to be outside of the critical limits, then a process might be in place to move its contents to a different fridge until the temperature is within safe limits again, and dispose of or use any food products that have started defrosting.
By identifying critical control points and establishing the measures that are needed to monitor and manage them, risk assessments and health and safety measures become part of the processes used in food production or handling, which helps to ensure these systems are safe.
A HACCP system is recognised as the best way to control food safety and hygiene by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and other important organisations. It is important as it helps to reduce the risk of food becoming unsafe to eat which protects customers from harm and protects businesses from legal issues if a customer becomes unwell due to one of their products.
HACCP is also important as it offers a standardised framework for risk assessment that ensures an effective system for hazard prevention is put in place. By requiring all food businesses to follow this system, high standards of health and safety are kept across the food industry and customers can feel confident that their food is safe.
If you work in a food environment, then you should be aware that a food enforcement officer will expect to see that there is a successful HACCP management system in place during an inspection. It’s important to follow the HACCP principles in drawing up a plan so that you can show this during inspections and don’t risk any consequences by not having one.
Critical control points should be monitored at regular intervals at the same time every day. This gives a clear idea of how the data gathered from these food safety critical control points may be changing over time and creates a standardised framework for identifying hazards.
The frequency that you monitor critical points will depend on what they are, but what matters most is that you’re collecting data regularly so you get data from the same time every day.
The observations and/or measurements that take place when assessing a critical control point are called ‘monitoring’. Monitoring involves determining whether a critical control point is doing its job at reducing the likelihood of a hazard and collecting data that allows for a record of the critical control point to be put together for future verification purposes.
The purpose of conducting a hazard analysis is to identify all the potential hazards present in an area or process so that you can minimise or remove the risk that they present. A critical control point is used to identify where these hazards are present and implement control measures which help to prevent risks from occurring, keeping everyone involved safe.
Critical control points are the most important element of a HACCP plan, allowing for hazards to be controlled and systems to be put in place if these hazards do occur. It’s important to remember that CCPs are only useful if they are regularly monitored, so as well as identifying these points and setting critical limits for each of them, data must also be collected and compiled in order to keep track of the processes and identify when a hazardous situation occurs.
If you work in a food environment and are looking to learn more about HACCP and food hygiene then check out our ‘Understanding HACCP’ online course or complete our ‘Level 2 HACCP Training’ or ‘Level 3 HACCP Training’ online training courses.