Food Poisoning

According to federal agencies, over 76 million people contract a foodborne illness in the United States each year, resulting in over 5,000 deaths per year. Most of these people get sick or die from food poisoning that could have been prevented.

In order to prevent foodborne illnesses in your plant or kitchen, HACCP principles need to be applied. This is a total product safety system used in food operations, non-food processing plants, distribution centers, grocery stores, hospital kitchens, etc. It was originally developed by NASA and Pillsbury in order to ensure the safety of the food supply to the astronauts. The requirements for HACCP for certain industries can be found in the Codes of Federal Regulation (CFRs): meat and poultry (9CFR417), seafood (21CFR 123), and juice (21CFR120).

There are seven principles of HACCP. The seven principles have been standardized by the National Advisory Committee for the Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) and the Codex Alimentarius. Each principle is applied in turn to ensure the safety of the food from purchasing, receiving, storage, preparation, service, and re-service. These principles can be used in your operation to eliminate food poisoning, whether you are preparing food for 4,000 or a family of four.

There are several steps that must be taken in order to set up a working HACCP program.

The 12-Step Program

There are five preliminary steps that must be addressed before the seven principles may be applied:

  1. Assemble a HACCP team. This should be a multi-disciplinary group, with personnel from different parts of the operation.
  2. Obtain the product and process information.
  3. Describe the finished products and its uses. For instance, “this plan covers frozen vegetables to be sold to the retail industry.”
  4. Construct a process flow diagram and plant schematics. This flow chart must include every step in the operation, from purchasing to shipment or service.
  5. Verify the flow diagram and plant schematics on-site.

Then, apply the seven principles of HACCP:

  1. Identify and assess the hazards. This needs to be done at every step in the process. Use the flow chart for this.
  2. Identify the critical control points (CCPs).
  3. Establish the critical limits.
  4. Establish the monitoring procedures.
  5. Establish the corrective actions.
  6. Establish verification steps.
  7. Establish recordkeeping requirements.

The Seven Principles.

The first principle requires that you do a hazard analysis for each type of product and each step in your process. The hazards in food fall into one of three categories: microbiological/biological, chemical or physical.

Biological Hazards: These are the most serious as they affect most people and cause most of the deaths and illnesses. These microbiological hazards are pathogenic (harmful) bacteria, viruses and parasites, of which bacteria are the largest group.

Some bacteria can cause serious problems for all consumers (i.e., Clostridium botulinum). These bacteria will grow in food if it is left to stand at room temperature. E. coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella species have been reported to have caused recent illnesses and several deaths. Other bacteria cause milder illnesses (Listeria species, Bacillus cereus) in healthy people but can be fatal in immuno-compromised people or for pregnant women’s fetuses.

Viruses (i.e., Hepatitis A, Norwalk virus, etc.) do not grow in food but can be spread easily by food from an infected employee to the consumer, causing the consumer to become ill.

Parasites (Trichina spiralis, etc.) can be found in certain species of food like raw pork or in infected food handlers or contaminated water. If these are not killed, usually by heat or freezing, they can cause the consumer to become ill.

The biggest problem with these harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites is that the consumer cannot see, smell or taste them, and therefore eats the food and becomes ill. It is therefore essential when working with food that you know what microbiological hazards you are dealing with, where they come from, and how to remove or kill them.

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