What is HACCP? How to Prevent Food Poisoning

HACCP is basically health and safety for food so it doesn’t make you sick or even kill you through food poisoning, poor hygiene, sanitation or contamination. HACCP was devised by NASA (that’s right.. NASA) and Pilsbury Corporation (USA’s largest food manufacturer in the 60’s) in the build up to the space race between the USA and the USSR in the 50’s – 60’s. It was originally designed to ensure that the food the astronauts took into space was not contaminated with food poisoning bacteria, harmful chemicals or any other physical agent which might be dangerous to someone who eats it.

HACCP is now a legal requirement in all EU countries, the USA and many other countries worldwide. It is pushed by the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation into countries legislation. Basically if you are a food business and want to export food to other countries you need a HACCP system in place. It is enforced by Environmental Health Officers in the UK and Health Inspectors elsewhere.

It’s really very simple; in order to have a HACCP Plan you need to:

1. Have a HACCP Team (kind of like the Health and Safety Team) who will draw up the documentation.

2. The HACCP Team then draws up a Process Flow Diagram of the food preparation or manufacturing process. E.g. Goods Inwards, Chilled Storage, Preparation, Packing, Finished Goods Storage, Temperature Controlled Delivery.

3. You then take each of these process steps and try to identify things that could go wrong (i.e. hazards). For example, in the Chilled Storage step mentioned above, the fridge could break down and the temperature of the food could increase and bacteria present can them multiply. This would be described as a hazard “Bacterial growth (temperature not low enough)”.

4. Then we describe the control measure for the hazard. In the above example, the control measure would be “Effectively operating refrigerator”

5. What we do next is decide if the hazard is critical to food safety or not, i.e. is it a Critical Control Point (CCP). There are a number of ways to do this but basically it all boils down to this fact. We need to ask ourselves ‘If the control measure (in this case “Effectively Operating Chilled Storage”) were to NOT WORK, would someone get sick or die because of it?’ – If we answer yes to that question then this is a Critical Control Point. That means we must establish Critical Limits, a Monitoring Procedure and a Corrective Action. In our Chilled Storage example the answer to this question is often yes and therefore anything that involves refrigerated storage is usually a Critical Control Point.

6. Having identified a CCP we need to put some numbers on the hazard to decide what the ‘known and safe’ levels or Critical Limits would be for that hazard. In our example, we know that food is safe (i.e. bacteria don’t grow very fast) at 5oC so our Critical Limits are 1-5oC or <5oC.

7. So now we know what to measure we need a Monitoring Procedure that outlines how to measure the critical limit, how often to do it who is to do the measuring.

8. We need a Corrective Action so that we have a plan in place in the event that the Monitoring Procedure finds a Critical Limit outside the acceptable range, i.e. >5oc in this example’s case.

So there you have it, phew!! It’s a lot to take in and that’s why a lot of food businesses struggle with it but HACCP is a logical approach to ensuring food safety; it is international, comprehensive and a legal requirement in many countries.