HACCP Programs and Practices Evolve

Editor’s Note: This article is based on three webinars from The Microbiology Webinar Series, co-sponsored by AES-Chemunex, Inc. and Carpe Diem, A Wiley Company. Donald Schaffner, PhD, professor and extension specialist at Rutgers University’s School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, was the keynote speaker for both “Challenges in Implementing HACCP: Validation and Verification, Quantitative Risk Assessment: Is it the Next Step After HACCP?” and “Use of Predictive Microbiology to Support HACCP Decision Making.” The webinars also featured Pascal Yvon, PharmD, MBA, CEO of AES-Chemunex, Inc., and Rick Biros, publisher of Food Quality. Webinar archives are available at www.foodquality.com or www.aeschemunex.com.

The risk of injury due to biological, chemical, and physical hazards in the food supply is a constant one. Food supplies in the United States and the rest of the world are continually challenged by a diverse array of food pathogens, the increasing variety of products and processes, and increased international trade. Even food manufacturers with the best quality assurance programs need to remain vigilant and can be negatively impacted by marketplace issues out of their control, the worst of which is the recall of a product that has caused or is thought to have caused illness or injury to consumers.

Economic losses can be devastating, especially when the exact cause of an outbreak takes weeks or months to pinpoint, as with the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak early last year. On June 3, 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began issuing warnings about the consumption of red round, red Roma, and red plum tomatoes, which were initially thought to be contaminated. It was not until mid to late July that the FDA ultimately determined that jalapeño and Serrano peppers grown, harvested, or packed in Mexico were the source of the contamination.

The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange estimates that U.S. tomato growers and shippers lost $130 to $140 million because of the outbreak. Such potential losses are sure to have companies implementing and updating their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) programs. HACCP is a scientific, systematic method of identifying specific hazards using risk assessment techniques throughout our food chain, from raw materials to final products.

Currently, the FDA and the Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) only mandate the use of HACCP programs for the juice, seafood, meat, and poultry processing industries in the United States. Failure to comply can result in a number of penalties, including legal action by the regulatory agencies. Although HACCP is vol- untary for all other food industries, it is certainly a priority for companies interested in protecting the food supply, public health, and their own reputations.

According to Donald W. Schaffner, PhD, a professor and extension specialist at the Rutgers University School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, quality assurance or quality control (QA/QC) departments should consider implementing a HACCP plan. Companies with a HACCP plan already in place should consider it flexible and subject to regular revision, so that they can anticipate and adapt to changes in the marketplace.

“QA/QC managers must continually think about unexpected threats, alternate procedures, new technologies, and other strategies to safeguard quality,” said Dr. Schaffner. “The challenge in implementing an effective HACCP plan, however, is to make sure it can withstand the test of validation and verification. Verification asks ‘Are you following the HACCP plan?’ Validation answers the question, ‘Will the plan work if you follow it correctly?’”

Validation and Verification

“We need to be concerned with validation and verification to make sure the HACCP plan is accurate and being implemented properly,” Dr. Schaffner added. “For example, if a HACCP plan says ‘Cook a product to at least 160ºF,’ and product is cooked to 161ºF, implementation of the HACCP plan has been verified.

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