This article explains the HACCP system in a practical way. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this powerful quality management and risk management tool.
What is HACCP?
HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and is aimed at risk assessment for food products. That makes it a system for food safety. The HACCP system originated in American space exploration. In the 1960s, NASA came up with it as a way to inspect astronaut food. It was an important mission to come up with ways to send food up for extended periods of time, without risking food poisoning from it becoming spoiled.
HACCP is a preventive system and is part of European legislation. All organisations that are involved with the preparation, processing, treating, packaging, transporting and distribution of food are confronted with the HAACP standards. It concerns a variety of sectors, including the hospitality industry, food industry and logistics, food wholesalers and retailers such as supermarkets. The HACCP standard is meant to ensure that the entire production process of food products is done with care, reducing the risk of contamination or spoiling to a minimum. When processing food products, it’s possible for mistakes or mishaps to occur that could endanger food safety. That’s why businesses have to determine what can go wrong for each stage of production, and how they can prevent those things. The potential risks have to be described in a food safety plan; the HACCP plan.
Seven Stages for a HACCP plan
The HACCP plan is based on seven stages. Each company has to interpret and apply these themselves. Companies indicate themselves where and in what stage of the production and distribution risks to the health of consumers might arise. Companies come up with a food safety plan using approved hygiene codes. The HACCP plan also describes what measures businesses should take to prevent risks to the health of consumers, which checks need to be carried out and what the results are. What follows is a step-by-step description of what businesses need to do to create a proper HACCP plan.
Stage 1: identifying threats
Each HACCP plan starts with a list of potential dangers in terms of food safety. Possible dangers of the processes carried out within the company that can occur on a (micro-)biological, chemical, physical and biotechnological level. Each company and each industry has its own dangers and risks. It’s also necessary to first estimate the likelihood of the danger actually occurring and how serious the damage would be if it did.
Stage 2: determining critical points
The so-called critical control points (CCPs) indicate where in the process the risk can be prevented or reduced. These points need to be monitored to prevent any dangers to food safety. This involves common hygiene measures or process steps that are crucial to food safety.
Stage 3: setting standards
By setting a standard for each critical control point, it becomes clear when a potential risk is acceptable and allowable. Applicable laws will always have to be taken into account when setting those standards.
Stage 4: developing a monitoring system
By laying out how the control points have to be monitored and checked, all the parties involved know what is expected of them. Developing a monitoring system makes it possible to properly follow procedures and more easily achieve the goal. This shows in concrete methods and actions.
Stage 5: writing down action points
By writing down corrective measures for each control point, it becomes clear what actions are required when it is established that a CCP does not meet the standards that have been set or when risk limits are exceeded. These actions mainly consist of preventive measures to prevent repeats and to ensure that consumers are involved with risks as little as possible.
Stage 6: applying verification
A periodic check to verify if the HACCP approach is working properly ensures strict monitoring of methods and safety. By writing down procedures, all the information regarding methods, purchasing procedures and measures becomes clear.
Stage 7: developing verification procedures
Without documentation and registration, it’s impossible to apply verification (stage 6). Verification is necessary to check whether procedures help to safeguard food safety. Think of inspecting food products and work methods and documenting the results.
A health hazard is a danger that might be present in food production and that can then become a threat to consumer health. By identifying and then managing health hazards in preparation and processing processes, you increase the safety of the product. Examples are:
- Microbiological hazards such as bacteria, moulds, viruses and parasites that can contaminate food and lead to serious infection after ingestion.
- Chemical hazards as a result of harmful substances such as dioxins, heavy metals, antifungals and pesticides.
- Physical hazards including sharp particles made of metal, wood, bone, or glass or other splinters that can threaten people’s health.
Analysis refers to analysing the potential presence of hazards. Companies have to first assess potential risks. The risk is a combination of the likelihood of the danger and the seriousness of the effects on consumer health if it were to occur. Critical Control Points are points in the process that have to be managed in order to prevent any hazards, or to reduce them to acceptable levels.
In the Netherlands, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) is the organisation that monitors if businesses comply with HACCP standards and hygiene regulations. In order to ensure a safe food production process, all food companies and animal feed companies have to implement a food safety system based on HACCP. One of the things the NVWA inspects is if businesses have and comply with an HACCP system. Different sectors use different hygiene codes. Such a code serves as a guide for businesses that handle food and is created by the industry itself. The NVWA employs different hygiene codes for different sectors, including, dairy, care facilities, retail, hospitality, abattoirs, butchers and poulterers.
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? Is HACCP applied within your organisation? What are your thoughts on the HACCP plan?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Bauman, H. (1990). HACCP: Concept, development, and application. Food technology (USA).
- Mortimore, S., & Wallace, C. (2013). HACCP: A practical approach. Springer Science & Business Media.
- Pierson, M. D. (2012). HACCP: principles and applications. Springer Science & Business Media.
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