The Evolution of HACCP

Editor’s Note: The author would like to thank William Sperber, PhD, for the insight he provided on the development of HACCP during the 1980s.

As it approaches its 50th anniversary, hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) has repeatedly shown itself to be the most effective system to ensure food safety. The principles can be applied in a variety of venues, from agricultural production to food service, from multinational corporations to small processors in developing countries. It is a systematic approach to building safety.

The HACCP concept has continually evolved over the years. The changes that it has undergone have built a complete food safety management system (FSMS) with increased efficiency and effectiveness.

Early Days

HACCP was developed in the late 1950s by a team of food scientists and engineers from The Pillsbury Company, the Natick Research Laboratories, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The team developed a system designed to build quality into the product to ensure food safety for the manned space program.

In 1971, Pillsbury presented this concept at the National Conference on Food Protection sponsored jointly by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Public Health Association. Initially, HACCP consisted of three principles:

  • identification and assessment of hazards associated with food from farm to fork;
  • determination of the critical control points to control any identified hazard; and
  • establishment of a system to monitor the critical control points.

Changes have been made to HACCP to simplify the concept, to make it easier to implement and maintain an FSMS, and to make the FSMS more effective. The initial concept of HACCP, however, has never changed.

The FDA incorporated the concepts of HACCP into its low acid and acidified food regulations in 1974. These regulations were developed in response to outbreaks of Clostridium botulinum poisoning in commercially canned food and have effectively prevented such occurrences since their implementation. Recent outbreaks in commercially canned food have occurred in the products of companies that did not precisely follow the regulations. During the late 1970s, general interest in HACCP waned. Yet during this time, HACCP was implemented and used by several large food processing companies.

HACCP Takes Over

Toward the end of the 1980s, a number of publications were instrumental in making HACCP the predominant food safety system. In 1985, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences published An Evaluation of the Role of Microbiological Criteria for Foods and Food Ingredients. This publication, also known as the green book, recommended that the food processing industry and governmental agencies use HACCP, describing it as the most effective means to ensure the safety of the U.S. food supply. The expert committee stated that HACCP would have to be made a regulatory requirement to ensure widespread use.

It is interesting to note that the use of HACCP in the United States was driven by the marketplace rather than by regulations. Customers like McDonald’s required all of their suppliers to implement HACCP to ensure the safety of the food sold in their restaurants. Other suppliers soon followed suit.

In 1989, The National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) published the first HACCP document. This standard codified the practice of HACCP to date, including the seven principles of HACCP.

Also in 1989, the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods (ICMSF) published Microorganisms in Foods 4: Application of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) System to Ensure Microbiological Safety and Quality. The book described the application of HACCP to the entire food chain from the farm through food preparation in the restaurant and home. Hazard analysis was based on a combination of risk and the severity of the hazard. As part of the hazard analysis process, the microbiologist was to ask a number of critical questions related to the product’s manufacture, composition, and distribution.

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