Editor’s note: This is the third of a seven-part series on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points sponsored by PAR Technologies. There are seven HACCP principles outlined by the Food and Drug Administration to serve as a guideline for creating a systematic approach in the identification, evaluation and control of food safety hazards. 

Once a food company’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points team establishes critical control points (CCPs), their next task is to identify critical limits within each CCP.

While CCPs are the last place a company can control for food safety hazards, critical limits must be set to ensure food safety hazards are eliminated or reduced and maintained at acceptable levels for each CCP, according to Donna Schaffner, independent HACCP consultant microbiologist and the Associate Director of Food Safety, Quality Assurance and Training for Rutgers Food Innovation Center.

“Depending on the product, each CCP may have multiple physical, chemical and biological critical control limits that need to be established,” explains Schaffner. “Temperature, for example, is a common element that needs to be controlled to stop biological food safety hazards.

“If the product is ground beef, the HACCP team needs to establish what temperature it needs to be stored at to keep pathogens from growing, along with what temperature and time the ground beef needs to be cooked to safeguard against food safety hazards such as E. coli O157:H7.”

Other elements, such as weight, pH, water activity, salt concentration, titratable acidity, chlorine and preservatives may need to have critical limits set, along with sensory observations such as smell and visual appearance.

Such determinations require specialized knowledge and training. Critical control limits cannot be established without specific knowledge about the particular food in question, the kind of production operation, and storage practices. 

When it comes to establishing critical limits for CCPs, one of the most important factors is having a HACCP team with the knowledge and experience.

“With so many different components to a food company, from receiving and storing raw ingredients to processing and storing a finished product, there needs to be multiple points of expertise to adequately advise on every physical, chemical and biological hazard,” explains Schaffner.

“Setting critical control limits take a great amount of knowledge and understanding of microbiology and how multiple elements can compromise food safety.”

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