Planning for food safety

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is an effective way to assure food safety from harvest to consumption. Preventing problems from occurring is the underlying goal of any HACCP system. To meet this goal, 7 principles are used in developing HACCP plans:

  • hazard analysis
  • critical control point identification
  • establishing critical limits
  • monitoring procedures
  • corrective actions
  • verification procedures
  • record keeping and documentation

Under such systems, if a deviation occurs indicating that control has been lost, the deviation is detected and appropriate steps are taken to re-establish control in a timely manner to assure that potentially hazardous products do not reach the consumer.

The HACCP principles should be standardized to provide uniformity in training and in applying the HACCP system by industry and government. Each food establishment needs to develop their own HACCP system and tailor it to the industry's individual product, processing and distribution conditions.

In order to assure food safety, properly designed HACCP systems must consider biological, chemical and physical hazards. For a successful HACCP program to be properly implemented, management must be committed to a HACCP approach. A commitment by management will indicate an awareness of the benefits and costs of HACCP and include education and training of employees. Benefits include enhanced assurance of food safety, better use of resources and timely responses to problems.

Before developing and implementing an effective HACCP plan, prerequisites and training need to be established first.

Prerequisite programs

An effective HACCP system is built on a solid foundation of prerequisite programs. These programs provide the basic environment and operating conditions that are necessary for the production of safe, wholesome food.

Many of the conditions and practices are specified in federal and provincial regulations and guidelines. All prerequisite programs should be documented and regularly audited, and are established and maintained separately from the HACCP plan.

Education and training

The success of a HACCP system depends on educating and training management and employees in the importance of their role in producing safe foods. This should include information on the control of foodborne hazards related to all stages of the food chain. Management must provide adequate time for thorough education and training.

Develop a HACCP plan

The format of HACCP plans will vary and in many cases the plans will be product and process specific. Generic HACCP plans can serve as useful guides in the development of process and product HACCP plans; however, it is essential that the unique conditions within each facility be considered during the development of all components of the HACCP plan.

In developing a HACCP plan, five tasks need to be accomplished. These are assembling the HACCP team, describing the food and its distribution, describing the intended use and consumers of the food, developing a flow diagram which describes the process, and verifying the flow diagram. Once the preliminary tasks have been met, the seven basic principles of HACCP can then be applied.

The successful implementation of a HACCP plan is facilitated by commitment from top management. The next step is to establish a plan that describes the individuals responsible for developing, implementing and maintaining the HACCP system. Initially, the HACCP coordinator and team are selected and trained as necessary. The team is then responsible for developing the initial plan and coordinating its implementation.

Product teams can be appointed to develop HACCP plans for specific products. An important aspect in developing these teams is to assure that they have appropriate training. Implementation of the HACCP system involves the continual application of the monitoring, record keeping, corrective action procedures and other activities as described in the HACCP plan.

Maintaining an effective HACCP system depends largely on regularly scheduled verification activities. The HACCP plan should be updated and revised as needed. An important aspect of maintaining the HACCP systems is to assure that all individuals involved are properly trained so they understand their role and can effectively fulfil their responsibilities.

The Food Safety Guidebook (PDF, 3.9 MB) has online templates and sample forms that can help you develop a HACCP system.

Planning principles

1. Conduct a hazard analysis

The purpose of this principle is to develop a list of hazards that likely to cause injury or illness if not effectively controlled.

This process involves 2 stages:

  • hazard identification
  • hazard evaluation

During the first stage, a list is developed of the potential biological, chemical or physical hazards that may be introduced, increased, or controlled at each step in the production process.

In stage 2, the HACCP team decides which potential hazards must be addressed in the HACCP plan. Each potential hazard is evaluated based on the severity and its likely occurrence.

2. Determine critical control points

A critical control point is defined as a step which control can be applied and is essential to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level. For example:

  • cooking
  • chilling
  • nitrite or cure additions
  • metal detection

3. Establish critical limits

A critical limit is a maximum and/or minimum value to which a biological, chemical or physical parameter must be controlled at a critical control point to prevent, eliminate or reduce to an acceptable level of occurrence of a food safety hazard. A critical limit is used to distinguish between safe and unsafe operating conditions at a critical control point.

Critical limits should not be confused with operational limits which are established for reasons other than food safety. Critical limits must be scientifically based. The critical limits and criteria for food safety may be derived from sources such as regulatory standards and guidelines, literature surveys, experimental results, and experts.

4. Establish monitoring procedures

Monitoring is a planned sequence of observations or measurements to assess whether a critical control point is under control and to produce an accurate record for future use in verification.

Monitoring serves 3 main purposes:

  1. It is essential to food safety management in that it facilitates tracking of the operation. If monitoring indicates that there is a trend towards loss of control, then action can be taken to bring the process back into control before a deviation from a critical limit occurs.
  2. It is used to determine when there is a loss of control and a deviation occurs at a critical control point. When a deviation occurs, an appropriate corrective action must be taken.
  3. It provides written documentation for use in verification. Ideally, monitoring should be continuous, which is possible with many types of physical and chemical methods, that is, temperature or pH levels. Most monitoring procedures need to be rapid because they relate to on-line "real time" processes and there will be no time for lengthy analytical testing.

Personnel responsible for the monitoring process are often associated with production, that is, line supervisor and selected line workers, quality control or maintenance personnel. They must be trained in the monitoring technique for which they are responsible, fully understand the purpose and importance of monitoring, be unbiased in monitoring and reporting, and accurately report the results of the monitoring.

5. Establish corrective actions

Where there is a deviation from established critical limits, corrective actions are necessary. An important purpose of corrective actions is to prevent foods which may be hazardous from reaching customers. Therefore, corrective actions should include the following elements:

  • determine and correct the cause of non-compliance
  • determine the disposition of non-compliant product
  • record the corrective actions that have been taken

Specific corrective actions should be developed in advance for each critical control point and included in the HACCP plan. As a minimum, the HACCP plan should specify what is done when a deviation occurs, who is responsible for implementing the corrective actions, and that a record will be developed and maintained of the actions taken.

6. Establish verification procedures

Verification is defined as those activities, other than monitoring, that determine the validity of the HACCP plan and that the system is operating according to the plan. One aspect of verification is evaluating whether the HACCP system is functioning according to the written HACCP procedures.

An effective HACCP system requires little end-product testing, since sufficient validated safeguards are built in early in the process. Therefore, rather than relying on end product testing, firms should rely on frequent reviews of their HACCP plan, verification that the plan is being correctly followed, and review of critical control points, monitoring and corrective action records.

Another important aspect of verification is the initial validation of the HACCP plan to determine that the plan is scientifically and technically sound, that all hazards have been identified and that if the HACCP plan is properly implemented these hazards will be effectively controlled.

Information needed for validation of the HACCP plan often include:

  • expert advice and scientific studies and
  • in-plant observations, measurements, and evaluations

In addition, a periodic comprehensive verification of the HACCP system should be conducted by an unbiased independent authority.

Verification activities can be carried out by individuals within a company, third-party experts, and regulatory agencies. It is important that the individuals doing verification have appropriate technical expertise to perform this function.

7. Establish record keeping and documentation procedures

The records maintained for a HACCP system should include the following:

  1. A summary of the hazard analysis, including the rationale for determining hazards and control measures.
  2. The HACCP plan:
    • list of the HACCP team and assigned responsibilities
    • description of finished product, including its distribution, intended use and target consumer
    • list of product ingredients and incoming materials
    • plant schematic
    • verified flow diagram
    • list of hazards identified
    • critical control point determination – decision tree
    • HACCP plan summary table that includes information for:
      • steps in the process that are critical control points
      • the hazard(s) of concern
      • critical limits
      • monitoring
      • corrective actions
      • verification procedures and schedule
      • record keeping procedures
  3. Support documentation such as HACCP plan review, verification and validation records.
  4. Records generated during the operation of the HACCP system.