HACCP stands for hazard analysis critical control points. It is a food safety management system that is used in the food processing industry to prevent foodborne disease outbreaks. A foodborne disease outbreak is defined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an incident in which two or more persons experience a similar illness after ingestion of a common food.

Outbreaks can have devastating effects on the survival of your food processing operation. The CDC reports that more than 48 million people in the US, or 1 in 6 Americans are infected with a foodborne illness each year. Of these, 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3000 people die. These incidents cost the US more than 77 billion dollars in annual economic loss due to personal suffering, time off from work, medical and other illness-related expenses. Being intentional about managing food safety risks is the only way you can armor your business against potential outbreaks.

HACCP is a proactive program that seeks to identify food hazards before they cause injury. These hazards may be biological, such as bacteria, viruses, molds and parasites; chemical, such as pesticides, cleaners and sanitizers; and physical, such as metal, plastic, glass, stone and sand. Biological hazards are by far the main cause of foodborne illnesses. Sources of these hazards can come from raw material, food contact surfaces, and workers. For example, workers who attend work sick with flu-like symptoms, or who don’t wash their hands properly can easily pass on germs to the food they are preparing.

HACCP was first developed for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA was concerned about the possibility of astronauts getting sick from contaminated food while they were on their mission in space. To eliminate this problem, they thought of doing more rigorous end-product testing to check for food product safety. However, they calculated that they would need to sample a very large portion of products to be statistically confident that each batch was safe. This was not very practical. Therefore, NASA needed to come up with a better solution; one that prevented food hazards rather than depending on testing. As a result, they collaborated with a team of Food Scientists and Engineers from the Pillsbury Company and the US Army Laboratories in 1959. The Scientists came up with the concept of HACCP which comprised three basic principles:

  1. Identify and assess all the hazards associated with the food
  2. Identify critical control points (CCPs)
  3. Establish a system to monitor and control the hazards at each CCPs

This plan worked out well for NASA’s astronauts, but it took another 12 years for the system to be adopted by the food industry. This happened after Pillsbury introduced HACCP for the first time in 1971 at the National Conference on Food Protection, sponsored by the FDA and the American Public Health Association. Today, HACCP has evolved to include seven principles which I will discuss in later posts. These are:

  1. Conduct a hazard analysis
  2. Identify critical control points (CCPs)
  3. Set critical limits for CCPs
  4. Monitor CCPs
  5. Take corrective actions
  6. Verify that CCPs are met
  7. Keep records

Critical control points, as will be described in upcoming posts, are processing steps where hazards must be controlled to prevent consumers from getting sick. One example is roasting chicken. The roasting step is a critical control point in the process since this is the step where salmonella and other harmful pathogens are destroyed. Failure to roast the product properly will result in foodborne injury.

Facilities that produce meat, poultry, and egg products, juice, seafood and low-acid canned foods in the US are required to have a HACCP plan. Food companies that do not fall under this category are now required under the US food safety modernization act (FSMA) to implement a similar program called hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls (HARPC). Like HACCP, HARPC requires that food manufacturers monitor risks by assessing the hazards and taking the same steps to eliminate them. Having a HACCP plan offers food companies many benefits such as:​

  1. Faster and more accurate identification and control of potential hazards in food system
  2. Reduction and prevention of foodborne illnesses
  3. Ability to demonstrate proof of food safety compliance to regulatory authorities
  4. Provides assurance to customers of your commitment to food safety
  5. Facilitates a culture of food safety in the organization
  6. Saving more money in the long run

​Food companies that successfully implement HACCP are those that have good management support. Without this top-down approach, there will be little motivation to follow through on the many additional responsibilities of HACCP which calls for greater vigilance, documentation, commitment and discipline for food safety. By setting the tone, management can create the buy-in needed to nurture a strong food safety culture.

Author

  • Courtney Simons

    Dr. Courtney Simons has served as a food science researcher and educator for over a decade. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and a Ph.D. in Cereal Science from North Dakota State University.