HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) is a proactive approach to food safety that involves identifying points in the process of producing or manufacturing food that are critical to food safety. A key stage in the preparation of the HACCP documentation is the Terms of Reference document. To this day, many companies still don’t spend enough time or effort on this document and yet it is the very foundation of the HACCP system. This article will explain why this is important and discuss the key elements of creating a good terms of reference document.
The Terms of Reference document is actually the first document a HACCP team should compile for each product or product group to be subjected to HACCP Study. It should be compiled and agreed by the whole HACCP team as it outlines the foundation of the HACCP plan and many of its structures. This can affect decisions taken on food safety later on. Lets look at each area of the Terms of Reference document in a HACCP plan. The Terms of Reference should contain the following information:
1. Product / Process Details – this is a description of what we are going to be producing, manufacturing or preparing. It should, in effect, be a description of the process flow diagram in such a way that you could actually draw up a process flow diagram from it. This means that there should be sufficient detail to be able to draw the process flow boxes on paper and connect them up to form the process flow diagram. A good way to do this is to describe exactly how the product is made, what ingredients go into it, how ingredients and packaging are stored and processed. Ensure that this is described in sequence from start to finish. This section should also state what products or product groups are covered by this HACCP plan.
2. Scope of Hazards – here we outline the types and nature of the hazards that are to be assessed in the hazard analysis. For example; in a meat processing operation this will typically say ‘This HACCP plan is concerned with microbial, chemical and physical hazards. The main hazards that are likely to cause a problem are microbes such as E.Coli, coliforms and salmonella.’ You would then go on to describe the main ways in which these microbes can cause problems in the process. For example cross contamination, inadequate cooking or cooling.
3. Scope of Safety – this section is easy. This is simply a statement of where the food safety responsibilities (and therefore the process flow diagram) begin and end. It will typically read ‘Our Company’s food safety responsibility begins when we take delivery and sign for any raw material, ingredient, food product or packaging and ends when our customer takes delivery of our finished product.’
4. Product Specification – here we want to include the relevant details of what is in the product or its recipe. If we have a separate detailed product specification document then we can simply provide a reference to that document.
5. Intended Use – this is a very important part of the Terms of Reference document as it describes who the finished product is intended for consumption by. This section should mention any susceptible groups such as the elderly, infants, pregnant mothers or allergen sufferers. If there are any such susceptible consumers of the product then these must be take in to account during the risk assessment part of the hazard analysis. This section will remind the HACCP team of this.
6. HACCP Team – finally; the HACCP team itself for the product being studied must be documented. Here we need to outline the roles, responsibilities, training and experience of the HACCP team. For example, we will need a HACCP chairman or coordinator who will make final decisions in the event of disagreement and who will keep progress moving forward. We may also need a HACCP Secretary to take notes and minutes. We will definitely need people who can do the practical work of writing up and verifying process flows and then those who are responsible for day to day running of the system as well as training.
As you can see there is more to the Terms of Reference than meets the eye so it is important to get this document correct from the start. Errors and omissions at this stage of the HACCP plan represent the thin end of the wedge and can become major issues that affect food safety later in the HACCP documentation process.