HACCP Food Safety

For those working in the food industry the acronym “HACCP” has become well known, if not widely understood. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points and dates from the development of manned space flight in the 1960’s.

NASA was concerned about the risk of food poisoning to astronauts travelling to the Moon, and developed the HACCP Food Safety system in conjunction with the food manufacturing giant Pilsbury.

Before the introduction of the HACCP Food Safety system, post-production sampling ensured the quality and safety of manufactured food. A certain (small) percentage of the food produced was submitted for microbiological examination, if this proved satisfactory the batch was then released for sale. By definition sampling could not guarantee the safety of the whole batch, only the portion that had been sampled.
The use of HACCP Food Safety procedures was intended to ensure that all the food produced was safe to eat. HACCP Food Safety achieves this by identifying the stages in food production that are critical for food safety. The critical points are those where, if something goes wrong in the process, consumers may become ill if they eat the food produced.

An example of a “Critical Point” might be the baking stage in the production of meat pies. The raw meat may contain food poisoning bacteria, which will only be destroyed if a sufficiently high temperature is reached. In a HACCP Food Safety system the temperature of the pies would be routinely monitored and if it fell below that required to kill dangerous bacteria further baking would then take place. The monitoring of the temperatures would be recorded in writing.

It was quickly realised that HACCP Food Safety was a far better way of ensuring the production of safe food than the old system of post-production food sampling. So its use spread rapidly to large food manufacturers, firstly in the USA and then across the world.

In recent years there have been attempts to introduce HACCP Food Safety procedures into smaller businesses such as caterers and retail outlets. Such food business often lack the staff experienced in the introduction of formalised food safety procedures and the initials HACCP has sometimes been thought to stand for “Have a Cup of Coffee and Panic.”

Despite the reluctance of many small businesses to embrace HACCP Food Safety it has now become a requirement in most food businesses across the European Union. To aid smaller businesses to meet their legal obligations simplified HACCP Food Safety systems such as “Assured Safe Catering”, “Safer Food Better Business” and in Scotland “Cook Safe” and “Retail Safe” have been developed.

There can be little doubt that one of the unexpected results of man landing on the Moon, HACCP Food Safety systems, has made a major contribution to food safety and will need to become embedded in the way all food businesses are run, if food poisoning cases are to be reduced.