HACCP: An Overview
The acronym HACCP stands for “Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point” (pronounced ‘hás•sip’). HACCP is a food safety management system that is increasingly utilized in all aspects of the food industry. The objectives of this overview are to introduce the topic and to summarize the key components of a HACCP program. HACCP is a system that relies on process controls to minimize food safety risks in the food processing industry. It is useful to think of HACCP as a preventative food safety system and not a traditional quality control inspection system. HACCP is not zero risk and does not eliminate the possibility of a hazard getting into the food product. Rather, HACCP attempts to decrease that possibility to an acceptable level.
Significant hazards for a particular food product are identified after a review of all the processing steps and use of scientific information. The steps during which these hazards can be controlled are identified and critical limits are set for key processing steps, such as processing temperatures and holding times. Monitoring procedures are carried out to evaluate whether these critical limits are met. Should the process fall outside these limits, preplanned corrective actions are taken to prevent the potentially defective product from entering the market. In addition, the HACCP system relies on extensive verification and documentation to assure that food safety has not been compromised during any step. Thus, HACCP provides a structure for assessing risks or what could go wrong and for putting the controls in place to minimize such risks.
Foodborne hazards controlled through HACCP include physical, chemical, and microbiological agents that have the potential to cause adverse health effects when a food containing them is eaten and that are reasonable likely to occur if not controlled. Although consumers have historically been most concerned with chemical hazards such as pesticide residues and heavy metal contamination, microbiological contaminants and allergens have been the recent focus of public health officials. The HACCP system addresses and controls all significant hazards associated with a particular product.
HACCP is not a new system. The concept was developed in the 1960s by the Pillsbury Company, while it was working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and U.S. Army Laboratories to provide safe food for space expeditions. The limitations of end-product testing became evident to those who were trying to provide the safest possible food products. To ensure that food used for space missions would be safe, NASA would need to test almost all manufactured products, leaving little for use. A new approach was needed. The practical and proactive system of HACCP evolved from these efforts to understand and control food safety failures. HACCP has been widely used by industry since the late 1970s and is now internationally recognized as the best system for ensuring food safety. It is endorsed by the United Nations (U.N.) Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization and in the U.S. by the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods.
HACCP and Food Regulation
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) used HACCP-based principles when establishing low-acid food canning regulations in the 1970s. In 1995, the FDA issued regulations that made HACCP mandatory for fish and seafood products, and in 2001 it issued regulations for mandatory HACCP in juice processing and packaging plants. In addition, a voluntary HACCP program was implemented in 2001 for Grade A fluid milk and milk products under the cooperative federal/state National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments program. The FDA also implemented pilot HACCP programs for a variety of other food- processing segments and for retail foods. The USDA has also implemented HACCP. In 1998, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service mandated HACCP be used in the nation’s meat and poultry processing plants. Currently, HACCP systems are used for pathogen reduction in more than 6,500 raw meat and poultry plants. The U.S. food-processing industry will inevitably be faced with more mandatory HACCP programs under FDA and USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulations in the future. The HACCP system has been implemented under regulations in Europe and in other countries (e.g., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and is a high priority program under Codex Alimentarius, the world food standards authority.
HACCP is not a stand-alone program. Necessary prerequisite programs must be in place before its full implementation. Prerequisite programs, an essential part of the overall food safety plan, are practices and/or conditions needed before and during HACCP. Typical prerequisite programs include Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), raw material control programs, vendor certifications, sanitary standard operating procedures (SSOPs), and recall and traceback procedures. Examples of GMPs include sanitary facility design, proper pest control procedures, and handwashing and sanitary facility provision and upkeep. SSOPs include minimizing cross-contamination in the plant, maintaining a potable water supply, ensuring sanitary facilities through specific practices, and maintaining individual pieces of equipment within the facility.
Principles of HACCP
The seven principles of HACCP are:
Principle 1: Conduct a hazard analysis. Potential hazards associated with a food are identified, along with measures to control those hazards.
Principle 2: After evaluating all processing steps, determine the critical control points (CCPs). CCPs are points in a food’s production and processing when significant hazards can be controlled or eliminated.
Principle 3: Establish critical limits for each CCP. Each CCP must operate within specific parameters to ensure the hazard is being appropriately and effectively controlled.
Principle 4: Set up systems to monitor each CCP. Monitoring involves defining how the CCPs will be assessed, monitoring at the appropriate time intervals, determining who will perform the monitoring, and maintaining proper monitoring records.
Principle 5: Establish corrective actions. When a critical limit is not met (a process deviation), proper actions must be taken. These can be both short- and long-term corrective actions. Appropriate records must be maintained.
Principle 6: Establish verification procedures. Verification is used to confirm that the system is working properly and that procedures outlined in the HACCP plan are being followed.
Principle 7: Maintain records and other documentation. This includes all records required in the various parts of the HACCP plan, as well as other key records such as sanitation logs, supplier agreements, and shipping documents.
AFDO. 2004. 7 Principles of HACCP. Association of Food and Drug Officials Website. http://www.afdo.org/ (Accessed 10 May 2005).
Corlett, D.A. 1998. HACCP User’s Manual. Aspen Publishers, Inc. Gaithersburg, MD.
FDA. 2001. HACCP: A State-of-the-Art Approach to Food Safety. FDA/CFSAN Website. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/HACCP/default.htm (Updated May 17, 2013).
Mortimore, S., and Wallace, C. 2001. HACCP. Blackwell Science Ltd. London, UK.
USDA/FSIS. 2005. Pathogen Reduction/HACCP & HACCP Implementation Website. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/04-042N.htm (Accessed 10 May 2005).