Hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) guidelines are the primary preventive approach applied in the United States to keep food safe from biological, chemical, and physical hazards at every stage of the production process or food chain. HACCP guidelines were revised extensively in 1997 and promulgated. Much more recently, HACCP has added radioactivity to its list of hazards.
If your company is required to comply with HACCP guidelines—and they are applicable in food manufacturing to preparation processes such as packaging and distribution, as well as to retail sales and food serving—your steps are laid out in the seven principles of HACCP. The overriding goal of these principles is to prevent harm to customers (and also to mitigate damage to the reputation of your brand and customer loyalty). The plan’s methodology emphasizes a systematic approach to the entire process, and the result is a HACCP plan and food safety system for your business. The fundamentals of HACCP have been applied successfully to growing, harvesting, processing, manufacturing, distributing, merchandising, and preparing food for consumption. The details for each stage, industry, and business will be different, of course. (Prerequisite quality assurance, such as good manufacturing practices, is viewed as a foundation for HACCP success.)
Systematic Planning, Implementation, and Monitoring
Because the essence of HACCP is systematic planning and vigilance, its implementation at a company requires an across-the-board effort. This means that the plan must have complete buy-in by top management and the company must adopt a commitment to making food safety and quality an enduring priority. It means the kind of leadership that catalyzes the interest and commitment of employees at all levels. One tool of management is regular training in key concepts, control points, standards, and best practices in monitoring different kinds of processes and stages in production (see “Employee Roles in a HACCP Program,” below).
The HACCP Team
All of these and other roles are defined by the HACCP team you form to create and launch the plan. Special knowledge and expertise, representation from various departments, and other considerations go into choosing your team. Depending on your industry, size, and any special issues, your plan might include production, sanitation, quality assurance, food safety, manufacturing, and operations. In addition, you probably will need to involve consultants with specific technical expertise. When creating your team, you’ll want to think about the following elements.
Products and processes to cover: Get clear about your final food product—ingredients, recipes, and final product standards, for example—and how it is prepared, including materials, equipment, and processes.
Food product use and users: This element could be considered the public at large, but also, more specifically, babies and children, hospital patients, or members of the armed services.
Distribution and storage methods: A key variable, for instance, will be at what temperature the food is distributed (room temperature, chilled, frozen).
The procedure: How does the food move through the parts of the system that your firm controls? What are the stages where the HACCP process is vital, and what are the checkpoints?
Check your flow diagram on site: Whether your core team or an outside inspector handles this component, you must check the accuracy of the flow diagram “on the ground” and modify it as needed to both perfect and, if possible, streamline it. Usually, the more attention you bring to these “setup” steps, the better you will be prepared to apply the seven principles of HACCP.
Implementing HACCP Principles
FDA guidelines offer comprehensive guidance for the entire HACCP process, including instructions for each guideline, a glossary of key terms, diagrams, tables, and appendices. It is not the goal of this article to repeat that information, but to offer an overview of the seven principles—the essentials—and how they progress.
1. Conduct a Hazard Analysis
The HACCP system is built on the identification of hazards. In this context, a “hazard” is a “biological, chemical, or physical agent that is reasonably likely to cause illness or injury in the absence of its control.” The standard is “reasonably likely,” and the preventive measures (control responses) are required to reasonably control the hazards. In other words, no complex, continuous process is perfect. The focus is on hazards that are reasonably likely to occur. Although your company is focused on quality, and safety is an aspect of quality, the HACCP process should focus resolutely on hazards and not quality.