What is HACCP?

Table of Contents

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, or HACCP, is a food safety management system that is widely used in the food industry. HACCP is a systematic approach to identifying potential hazards in the food production process, and implementing measures to control those hazards.

The HACCP system was first developed in the 1960s by the Pillsbury Company in collaboration with NASA. The goal was to ensure the safety of food that astronauts would consume during space missions. The success of HACCP in space food production led to its adoption by the food industry as a whole.

Food businesses have a legal obligation to implement an effective food safety management system that is based on the principles of HACCP. They also have a legal duty to implement and follow the system. In fact, everyone who works in a food business has a responsibility to implement and maintain the system.

Prerequisite programmes

Before we dive in to explore the principles of HACCP there are a few things that a business must have in place first. These things are known as prerequisite programmes. These are essentially things to cover the general principles of food safety and hygiene.

Don’t worry! They’re nothing too complicated. They’re obvious things like making sure the premises is designed with food safety in mind and has suitable facilities and equipment.

The required prerequisite programmes will vary depending on the type and size of food business but may include:

  • Suitable premises and equipment design and structure
  • Personal hygiene procedures
  • Product specifications
  • Cleaning and disinfection procedures
  • Pest control and waste disposal arrangements
  • Staff training
  • Procedures for dealing with customer complaints
  • Product recall and traceability procedures
  • Procedures for dealing with visitors to the premises
  • Stock control and storage arrangements

The HACCP principles

HACCP is based on seven principles, which are:

  1. Identify hazards:

The implementation of a HACCP system begins with a hazard analysis. This involves identifying potential hazards in the food production process.

A food hazard is anything that could cause harm to consumers. The main hazards in relation to food safety can be microbiological, chemical, physical or allergenic. Identifying hazards means going through each of the food production steps from raw materials to finished products to see which hazards may occur at each step. Food production steps may include purchase, receipt, storage, defrosting, preparation, cooking, cooling and service (including hot or cold display).

In the main hazards will be identified at the steps where:

  • Bacteria get introduced to the food. For example; food could be contaminated with micro-organisms (such as bacteria or viruses), chemicals or physical objects. These could contaminate food directly or indirectly via food handlers, surfaces or equipment.
  • Bacteria can multiply in the food. Some bacteria can even release toxins if the food is kept at the wrong temperature for too long. These toxins can be heat resistant meaning they will not be killed through cooking. The only way to prevent these toxins from forming is to handle high-risk foods (i.e. cooked meat and poultry, seafood and dairy products) correctly and safely.
  • Bacteria survive a process that was designed to kill them. For example; where the cooking process or disinfection of equipment is inadequate.
  1. Identify critical control points (CCPs)

Once potential hazards have been identified, the critical control points (CCPs) must be determined. CCPs are points in the production process where control measures can be implemented to remove or reduce a hazard to an acceptable level to ensure that the final product is safe to eat. The CCP is essentially the final chance in the process to remove or reduce the hazard. For example; cooking is normally a CCP as the temperature needs to be right to eliminate microbiological hazards.

CCPs must be monitored and corrective action taken if they are not met.

  1. Establish critical limits

Critical limits are the maximum or minimum values that must be met to ensure that a hazard is controlled at a CCP. For example; a maximum temperature could be set for chilled storage of high-risk foods and a minimum core temperature could be set when cooking food.

In relation to cooking a critical limit might be the minimum cooking temperature of a product to ensure that any potential microbiological hazards are eliminated.

Critical limits must be monitored and corrective action taken if they are not met.

  1. Establish monitoring procedures

Monitoring procedures must be put in place to ensure that the critical limits at each CCP are being met. The frequency of monitoring must be set for each CCP. It is not necessary to monitor critical limits every time a step is performed but checks should be carried out at regular intervals. For example; it is not necessary to probe every cooked food item but instead, a selection should be probed throughout the day.

It is not necessary to record every check that is made but record keeping should reflect the nature and size of the business. Managers or supervisors should check that monitoring is being undertaken and that it is being done correctly.

For CCPs such as cleaning and disinfection, it may be that a manager or supervisor needs to carry out visual checks to ensure the correct process is being followed.

  1. Establish corrective actions

Corrective actions are to be taken if the critical limits at a CCP are not met. The goal is to identify and correct the problem before it results in a food safety hazard. For example; where an insufficient cooking temperature has been identified, corrective action may be to continue cooking the food until the required core temperature is reached.

In the case of chilled food where the maximum temperature has been exceeded corrective action may include adjusting or repairing the fridge and assessing whether the affected food needs to be thrown away.

  1. Establish verification and review procedures

Verification procedures must be put in place to ensure that the HACCP system is working as intended. This could include regular audits, reviewing customer complaints, observing food handlers at work and knowledge checks with food handlers.

The HACCP system must be reviewed periodically and when any changes take place. This could include changes to processes, equipment, ingredients or menus.

  1. Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures

Finally, record-keeping and documentation procedures must be established to ensure that the HACCP system is being properly implemented and maintained. Accurate record-keeping and documentation are essential to demonstrate that the HACCP system is working as intended. The extent of the records and documentation should be appropriate to the nature and size of the business.

It is important to realise that each food production operation is different and each business must focus on the hazards that are specific to their business and the controls that are critical to their operation.

Keep reading to find out what documents and records a food business may need.

Benefits and challenges of implementing a HACCP system

The implementation of a HACCP system can provide several benefits to a food business. These benefits include:

  1. Improved food safety: HACCP is designed to identify and control potential hazards in the food production process. By implementing a HACCP system, a food business can reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
  2. Increased customer confidence: By implementing a HACCP system, a food business can demonstrate its commitment to food safety. This can increase customer confidence in the safety and quality of the products produced by the business. Some commercial customers may ask to see evidence of their food supplier’s HACCP system.
  3. Compliance with regulatory requirements: By implementing a HACCP system, a food business can ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.
  4. Improved efficiency: HACCP can help to identify inefficiencies in the food production process. By addressing these inefficiencies, a food business can improve its efficiency and reduce costs.

Despite the benefits of HACCP, implementing a HACCP system can be challenging. Some of the challenges include:

  1. Lack of understanding: Implementing a HACCP system requires a thorough understanding of the food production process, potential hazards, and control measures. If the staff responsible for implementing the system do not have this understanding, the system may not be effective.
  2. Resistance to change: Implementing a HACCP system may require changes to the food production process. Some staff may be resistant to these changes, which can make it difficult to implement the system effectively.
  3. Maintaining the system: Once a HACCP system is implemented, it must be maintained. This requires ongoing monitoring, record-keeping, and documentation. If the system is not maintained, it may become ineffective.

Despite these challenges, the benefits of implementing a HACCP system far outweigh the challenges. Not to mention it is a legal requirement for any food business and provides protection in the form of a ‘due diligence’ defence if something were to go wrong.

Safer Food Better Business (SFBB), Safe Catering (Northern Ireland) and CookSafe (Scotland)

Some national HACCP templates are available to download for free. These include:

  • SFBB which is is a food safety management guide produced by the Food Standards Agency for small businesses. It includes information on cross-contamination, cleaning, chilling, cooking and management. It also contains a diary that can be used for recording monitoring and corrective action.
  • Safe Catering which is a food safety management guide produced by the Food Standards Agency for caterers and retailers in Northern Ireland. This guide is split into sections comprising a safe catering plan, hygiene requirements and additional guidance and record forms with additional resources.
  • CookSafe is a food safety management manual produced by Food Standards Scotland for catering businesses in Scotland. The manual consists of a flow diagram template, HACCP charts section and ‘house’ rules section.

Whichever of these templates a food business chooses to use, the key thing that matters is that it adequately covers and controls all of the potential food safety hazards in the business. Also, the template needs to be completed to make it specific to a business and it needs to be followed in practice. It is important that food handlers are trained in the parts that are relevant to their jobs to ensure they can work safely and implement the system.

Documentation and record keeping

Food safety documentation allows a business to show that food safety hazards are being controlled and helps the business clearly demonstrate that they know what they are doing. Businesses with the right documentation and records in place should receive a better food hygiene rating, provided their systems are being followed in practice.

So in terms of records, what records may a food business want to keep? This will depend on the nature and size of the business but may include:

Traceability records

Traceability records are important in case unsafe food needs to be recalled from the market. Records may include supplier details and details of any businesses that the food business supplies food or ingredients to.

Temperature records

This may include temperature records for deliveries, chilled and frozen storage, chilled display units, cooked/ reheated food, hot held foods and cooling. Where a digital temperature probe is used to check temperatures it is important to periodically check that the probe is working properly. This is known as calibration. It is good practice to keep records of probe calibration checks.

Cleaning records

This may be in the form of a cleaning schedule that sets out what needs to be cleaned, what needs to be disinfected, how often it needs to be done, the method for cleaning/ disinfection, when the cleaning/ disinfection tasks have been completed and by whom.

Pest control records

Daily visual checks should be made for signs of pests. These checks may be recorded. Where a business chooses to have a pest control contract in place records of the pest control visits should be kept.

Staff training records

Anyone responsible for developing or maintaining a food safety management system or HACCP procedures should be suitably trained in food safety to be able to do this.

The law requires that food handlers are trained in food safety before they start working with food. This includes allergens. The Food Standards Agency offers free online food allergy training here.

Records of training provided to staff should be kept.

Maintenance records

This may include records of any maintenance carried out to the premises or equipment.

Audits / inspections

Some food businesses may have in-house audits or inspections. In these circumstances, records should be kept.

Staff sickness records

For any food handlers suffering from vomiting or diarrhoea, they must not return to work with food until they have been clear of symptoms for at least 48 hours. It is for this reason that records of staff sickness should be kept.

Things that have gone wrong and corrective action taken

As we learnt earlier, corrective actions are to be taken if the critical limits at a CCP are not met. It is good practice to record these corrective actions.

Digital HACCP and monitoring systems

Different food businesses have different requirements when it comes to food safety management systems. However, all will share the same goal: saving time.

Ultimately every food business owner or manager needs to focus on selling food but of course food safety can’t be forgotten. Making food safety management fast and as simple as possible is important. This has the potential to be achieved through the introduction of a digital HACCP system or digital food safety records.

There are many digital HACCP and monitoring solutions on the market. Some such as FoodDocs offer HACCP plan production and monitoring solutions. While others such as Leafe App offer food hygiene records in an app.

Summary

In conclusion, HACCP is a food safety management system that is widely used in the food industry. HACCP is based on seven principles, including conducting a hazard analysis, determining critical control points, establishing critical limits, establishing monitoring procedures, establishing corrective actions, establishing verification procedures and establishing record-keeping and documentation procedures.

Implementing a HACCP system is a legal requirement and it can provide several benefits including improved food safety, increased customer confidence, compliance with regulatory requirements and improved efficiency.

Some national HACCP templates have been developed to help small businesses, these are free to download. These are SFBB, Safe Catering (Northern Ireland) and CookSafe (Scotland).

Food safety documentation allows a business to show that food safety hazards are being controlled and helps the business clearly demonstrate that they know what they are doing. The type of documentation required will depend on the nature and size of the business but may include traceability records, temperature records, cleaning records, staff training records, pest control records, maintenance records, staff sickness records, records of audits/ inspections and details of things that have gone wrong and corrective actions.

Finally, there are many digital HACCP and food safety monitoring solutions on the market, they all have the same goal: to help food businesses manage food safety effectively while also saving time.

References

UK Hospitality Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice- Catering Guide

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