Explore this issueJune/July 2013
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Produce and agricultural manufacturers and processors have long embraced Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles since they were first developed in the 1960s. For those producing meats and poultry, seafood, juices, and a few other high-risk categories, following a HACCP plan isn’t just a good practice; it’s required under federal regulations. But as only one link in the farm-to-fork food safety continuum, manufacturers and processors alone cannot protect consumers from foodborne illnesses.
Retailers and food service providers also play an important role in ensuring food safety, but most are exempted from FDA and USDA HACCP requirements even though they deliver finished products into the hands of consumers. Regulated by state and local authorities, this important segment of the continuum is increasingly turning to HACCP in response to business trends, greater awareness of potential risks, and regulatory changes at the state level, industry observers say. While broader HACCP adoption may eventually help improve food safety in stores and restaurants by providing them a time-tested framework, some observers also say it’s difficult to measure the net impact on consumer safety and the benefits to businesses that embrace it.
“Clearly people are moving in this direction if they haven’t already,” states Robert Gravani, a professor of food science at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “Most people want to raise the bar; they’re not going to want to do just the minimum.”
A faculty member at Cornell’s department of food science, Gravani teaches HACCP principles to businesses through the university’s extension program. While anecdotal, there is evidence to show that more companies are expressing an interest in how HACCP can improve food safety at their stores and restaurants, he says. This rise, he points out, stems from the fact that many retailers offer a growing menu of fresh and prepared foods—through a traditional salad bar, a hot food stand, or even a sushi bar. For example, a visit to a Whole Foods supermarket is akin to a stop at a food court because it offers a variety of traditional and ethnic foods.
“Today the number of freshly prepared foods and menu items are just absolutely astounding and tremendous. There are eat-in restaurants within retail stores. There are a lot of foods available for carry out in a variety of places, so it makes great sense to apply the HACCP principles to the preparation and services of these foods,” Gravani points out.