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While a fear of lawsuits, fines, and shutdowns may seem like the biggest concerns for food producers, processors, and distributors, it isn’t really the top priority at most companies.  When talking about food safety at most businesses in the food supply chain, the concern one hears most, from the CEO to the late shift line worker, is a desire to have a safe product for their customers. Regardless of lawsuits and shutdowns, it is the thought of making a customer ill that bothers them the most.  The principles of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) provide a guideline for those in food industry to ensure that the food consumers buy contains no health risks or dangers.

HACCP Provides a Systematic Approach to Food Safety

In the past, food safety was relegated to single point inspections and spot checks.  Now the focus is on establishing a food safety system.  Inspectors from federal and state agencies, as well as key customers, are as concerned with auditing the food safety system as they are in spot checks of work areas or activities.  This is because a functional food safety system built on HACCP principles will identify and correct potential hazards or the need for better control without waiting for outside inspectors to discover the problem.

While HACCP is not a regulation or standard itself, it lays out the principles for creating a food hazard prevention system that serves as the foundation for meeting food safety regulations internationally.  Plus, it also is highly suitable for incorporation with other Quality Management Systems like the ISO 9001 and ISO 22000 standards.  It directly aligns with ISO fundamentals like; create a plan, define and monitor processes, and take corrective action.

The Seven HACCP Principles

HACCP is built on seven principles to establish an on-going food safety system.

  1. Conduct a Hazard Analysis:  For every process/product, determine the risks and sources for potential hazards.  This could include unsafe temperatures, exposure to contamination, and time delays.
  2. Determine Critical Control Points (CCPs):  After potential hazards are identified, determine where and how each hazard could be introduced (i.e. exceeded acceptable temperature while stored in receiving area). These are areas that require adequate controls to prevent the introduction of possible hazards.
  3. Establish CCP Limits:  Determine the acceptable limits or ranges to prevent safety issues (i.e. safe temperature range or shelf life).  A control point limit could also address potential contamination, and call for regular cleaning of work areas and equipment, periodic training, or air quality standards.
  4. Monitor CCPs:  Once critical limits are established, control and monitoring have to be set in place to ensure the limits are not exceeded.
  5. Establish Corrective Action:  A plan should be in place to take corrective action anytime a CCP limit is exceeded or not met.  In order to maximize consistency and minimize risk, the plan should call for a specific action to address a specific CCP violation.
  6. Establish Record Keeping:  A proper food safety system will generate evidence of compliance in the form of records that show CCPs are not exceeded and mitigation activities are carried out.
  7. Verify the Functionality of the Food Safety System:  The last HACCP principle requires that procedures are established to verify the system is effective at controlling safety hazards and adaptable to meet changing requirement and improve over time.

These principles have proven effective for any size of organization anywhere in the food supply chain – from farmers to retailers.

Using HACCP Software for System Management

There are numerous software packages available that claim to assist organizations with implementing and managing HACCP principles.  Many of them will simplify aspects of record control and document management.  They are certainly worth exploring, and perhaps there is a great match between a HACCP software application and a particular organization’s HACCP goals and needs.

Comments posted on food safety related bulletin boards, however, suggest that some organizations experimenting with HACCP software eventually return to the basics; using Word and Excel to document and manage HACCP.  They like the flexibility and familiarity of the MS Office applications, in opposition to the learning curve and the difficulty in customizing off-the-shelf HACCP software. The same comments are common for other types of Quality Management System software, as well.

Whether you use Office apps or a HACCP software program, implementing the HACCP Principles provide the logical, scientific, and systematic approach needed to deliver food safely to consumers.  HACCP is an internationally recognized way for a business in the food industry to realize its ultimate goal; a safe product.