Editor’s note: This is the first of five articles on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points sponsored by PAR Technologies. There are seven HACCP principles outlined by the FDA to serve as a guideline to creating a systematic approach in the identification, evaluation and control of food safety hazards. 

Since the early ’90s, meat, egg and high-risk food product companies have been mandated to use hazard analysis critical control points, best known as HACCP, to create cohesive food safety plans.

“HACCP is comprised of seven principles as a structured way for food companies to go through the process of creating a food safety plan to identify which things are most important to keep products safe,” explains Donna Schaffner, independent HACCP consultant microbiologist and the Associate Director of Food Safety, Quality Assurance and Training for Rutgers Food Innovation Center.

“Now, with preventative food regulations put into place through the Food Safety Modernization Act, things that aren’t considered high risk now must have a food safety prevention plan which includes HACCP.”

Principle 1: Conduct a hazard analysis
When going through HACCP, the first step is to identify which areas along the entire production chain are at risk of causing injury or illness if not controlled properly.

“This requires a close look at the flow diagram of a company – from receiving, storage, preparation, processing, packaging, storage and shipping out,” explains Schaffner. “Within this analysis, you’re looking for physical, chemical and biological hazards.”

For example, physical hazards in a ground beef plant, may include metal shavings off worn grinding equipment or pieces of bone fragment.

“Things like plastic and metal can contaminate meat from something as simple as an ink pen falling from behind an employee’s pocket while leaning over a container or a screw coming off a piece of grinding equipment,” explains Schaffner. “But the utilization of metal detectors and scanners can be used to ensure foreign objects don’t end up in the product.”

According to Schaffner, while chemical hazards are typically viewed as food that has been exposed to substances such as machine cleaning disinfectants, they can also include allergens and food exposed to radiation.

“If a ground beef plant is processing plain hamburger patties, but also using the same equipment to make meatloaf which includes allergen ingredients, there must be strategic controls to keep allergen containers in a place where they won’t accidentally contaminate the plain beef, and properly clean and swab test equipment between uses,” says Schaffner.

It’s also important for food companies to pay attention to the events surrounding their ingredient sources, adds Schaffner. For example, in the event of a radiological disaster, an animal being raised for human consumption may have high levels of radiation.

“It’s not just food products that may be contaminated,” she explains. “If companies are buying in packaging which have been sterilized with radiation, they need to make sure the packages haven’t been overexposed.”

Schaffner says the hardest hazards to identify are biological due to opportunity for pathogen growth to occur at anytime during the processing chain.

“Even if the entire ground beef processing facility is following protocol to control pathological growth, the incoming beef product may have been contaminated in the slaughter facility. There are several steps taken to minimize contamination, such as rinsing bigger pieces of meat before going into the grinder and keeping temperatures a low enough level to inhibit bacteria growth,” she explains.

“Biological hazards have the ability to quickly compromise the safety of a food product and must be monitored.”

Create a HACCP team
One of the biggest challenges Schaffner sees food companies face when conducting a hazard analysis is lack of expertise to adequately assess all the components along the processing chain. To overcome this, it is essential a company form a HACCP team with representatives in each sector of the processing chain working together to develop, implement and maintain HACCP.

“The plant engineer is going to pick up on a potential hazard that someone in shipping would have missed. And if a company doesn’t have someone in-house to adequately assess a portion of a company, like a microbiologist for recognizing biological hazards or sanitation specialist, they need to bring someone in,” she explains.

“It’s also important to note it’s legally required that at least one person on the HACCP team has a HACCP training certificate to ensure they are adequately trained in developing a HACCP system.”

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