If you work in the food industry, then there’s a very good chance you’ve heard of, or are reasonably well aware of what HACCP is. The acronym stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and deals with anything biological, chemical and physical that pertains to food safety.
HACCP is an important part of maintaining a safe environment when dealing with food intended for human consumption, and refers to the process undertaken in order to achieve this. In this article, we cover the legalities relating to HACCP and explain the seven key principles and how they can be applied to food preparation or production environments.
Following HACCP principles in food preparation, production or retail environments is a legal requirement. Though the concept has been around since the 1990s, it was in January 2006 that it became mandatory with the introduction of an EU regulation about foodstuffs hygiene - Regulation (EC) No 852/2004.
Article 5 of this regulation states that “food business operators shall put in place, implement and maintain a permanent procedure based on the Codex HACCP principles”. Whilst HACCP plans will likely look very different between different businesses, all of them should use the same principles as the basis of their risk assessments and control measures.
HACCP is a set of principles that create a framework that can be followed to conduct a risk assessment and identify critical control points (CCPs) where risk is more likely. These CCPs can then be monitored to ensure that risk is minimised and that immediate action can be taken if a hazard becomes present.
There are several important HACCP principles, and we’re going to cover each one of them here. Opinion differs as to exactly how many principles there are, but a lot of organisations group the principles into seven clear stages.
As with most risk assessment processes, the very first step of HACCP is conducting a survey to establish all of the food safety hazards in the environment to ensure that food safety standards are upheld. This means going around the space and thinking about all the things that could go wrong, which might cause an item of food to be unsafe for someone to consume.
HACCP is centred around physical hazards, biological hazards and chemical hazards, with biohazards being the main focus within the HACCP system. This includes things like foodborne illnesses, cleaning products or foreign bodies in food items.
A HACCP hazard analysis should mainly look at hazards which you are realistically able to prevent or control in some way.
The food production process can be broken down into steps in virtually any environment. This is true whether you’re conducting a HACCP assessment in a factory or a restaurant kitchen.
As a result, the next HACCP principle involves figuring out where these steps are and how they allow you to apply some sort of control that could reduce one of the previously identified hazards. This is known as a Critical Control Point.
A critical control point (CCP) is a step within the food production process where an element of control can be introduced in order to prevent a hazard or reduce the risk within safe parameters. For instance, this could be at the point where you decide if a piece of meat has been cooked, or the point at which you clean some utensils.
You can identify CCPs within your own food production process by using a decision tree designed for the HACCP. The number of overall CCPs will vary depending on the length of your process, and one CCP may help to control several hazards.
Critical control point limits are typically based on food regulatory standards and will involve monitoring some form of measurement, e.g. temperature, weight, pH, etc. This is all in an effort to prevent hazards from forming or to keep risk at an acceptable limit.
Once you have identified all of the relevant critical control points, you need to establish the limits that allow you to control the hazard, whether it's physical, chemical or biological. These limits will indicate a range of values within which a hazard is ‘safe’ and outside of which the risk is considered to require immediate action.
The best way to explain a CCP limit is with a practical example. If we take a piece of meat that is being cooked, for example, the limit is the minimum temperature that the centre of the meat must be cooked to before it is safe to eat. We can measure the temperature at this critical control point (the meat being cooked) and establish whether it is safe by checking the limit.
Similarly, a critical control point might be checking to ensure that a refrigerator is operating correctly. In this case, the limit would be the temperature of the fridge and there would be a range of values that this temperature should be to be considered ‘safe’. If the fridge is too warm or too cold, the food inside it could become contaminated.
By this point, you’ll know what your critical control points are, the hazards which can be monitored at each CCP and what measurements you will need to be looking at. The next principle involves establishing a monitoring system to check on and record these CPP limit measurements so that the control point can be operated correctly
The monitoring procedure needs to be established and a process put in place so that employees know how to check for hazards and manage potential risks. The tools to monitor the point need to be readily available, and those that are involved in that element of the process need to know how, when and where a measurement will be taken, how frequently this needs to be done and who is ultimately responsible for doing so.
If your system discovers that a measurement taken at a CCP has exceeded your critical limit for a particular hazard, you will need safety protocols in place which can be put into action when required. This is where corrective action must come into play to try and minimise the impact that this hazard is going to have. This will involve reviewing the food production process, isolating the incident, and introducing new measures to ensure this problem doesn’t arise again.
To return to our previous examples, if a cooked piece of meat does not reach the required temperature, it must not be served, as it would pose a risk to the customer. If a fridge is found to be at a higher temperature than its established critical limit, the food inside must be either moved to a new refrigerator, used immediately or disposed of so that contaminated products aren't served to customers.
However, consider that the temperature of the fridge is discovered to be hazardous after some of the products have already been taken out and served. Your corrective actions plan would also need to describe how you would identify any products that might be contaminated, how you would recall them if possible, or what you could do to minimise the threat they pose.
Every critical control point needs a corrective action plan. Hopefully, these procedures will never need to be used, but it’s important to already have a plan in place so that you can act as fast as possible.
Once your HACCP plan is in place, you will need to check to make sure that your CCP monitoring and actions have been successful in keeping your staff and customers safe. These checks will include reviewing records, checking the calibration of instruments and testing the products to verify the effectiveness of your HACCP plan.
The HACCP process is a continuous one, so your plan does need to be periodically refined to ensure that it’s working as intended. As a result, you’ll need to monitor the effectiveness of the procedures that you have in place, both at an individual control point level, and an overall overview. Make sure that everything is working as it should, and if there are gaps, then you need to go through the earlier steps again to remedy them.
The final HACCP principle is record keeping. In order to properly track what’s happening, spot any mistakes and ensure that HACCP is being undertaken as it should, you will need to create records for all of your CCP monitoring and corrective actions to be able to prove that you are producing food safely on any potential inspection.
Checking the temperature of a fridge at regular intervals? You need to have a document in which this information is recorded.
These records should also include a copy of your HACCP plan, including information on products, diagrams, hazard analysis, critical limits, and more. This will allow you to check that standards are consistently being met and help you check that your HACCP plan has been successfully implemented by all staff.
The general guidance is that a HACCP plan should be reviewed periodically, at least once a year, to ensure that it is accurate and up to date. However, if a new hazard is identified or a control measure fails, the plan should be immediately reviewed to make sure that the same problem doesn’t happen again.
It’s the legal responsibility of all managers and supervisors in the catering industry to have completed some kind of HACCP training so that they are compliant with the relevant legislation and can implement a plan based on these principles. If you’re in a managerial position or supervisor role in a catering business, you should undertake this training.
A ‘HACCP Team’ is responsible for implementing a HACCP plan and making sure that it is correctly carried out by all other employees. This team will involve at least one manager or supervisor that has a high level of HACCP training, at least a Level 2 qualification.
Whilst it may seem like a confusing series of principles at first, HACCP actually offers a really useful set of guidelines for conducting a risk assessment and creating a comprehensive set of procedures that help to reduce and remove risk in a food production or retail environment. If you work in the hospitality industry then you will likely undertake certain responsibilities that relate to HACCP principles, so it’s really useful to thoroughly understand the framework.
If you work in food retail or food services, and you feel it would be helpful to know more about HACCP principles, then taking training could be helpful. We offer an online ‘Understanding HACCP’ course that is a great introduction to the topics, as well as ‘Level 2 HACCP’ and ‘Level 3 HACCP’ training courses.