Food safety is important at all levels of the food industry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six Americans get sick from foodborne illness every year. 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die from foodborne illness. The Food Safety Modernization Act focuses on preventing food safety problems before they occur. It also helps enforce food safety regulations and helps facilities meet safety and hygiene requirements. But, how do food manufacturers use hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) plans to protect consumers?
The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, requires food production facilities to have a written preventive controls plan. These plans help companies identify, evaluate, and control food safety hazards. The preferred type of plan recommended by the FDA is a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan. An HACCP plan is formed by evaluating food safety hazards in the facility at critical control points. A critical control point is a point during production where a control is needed to prevent or reduce food safety hazards. Some processes at critical control points can include testing ingredients for chemical residues, cooking products to kill bacteria, and refrigerating pre-cooked food to keep new bacteria from multiplying. The HAACP specifies what steps and controls are used to minimize or prevent those hazards. It should also include procedures for monitoring controls, recordkeeping guidelines, and corrective actions. Certain facilities may have modified requirements for their plans or may qualify for exemptions from certain requirements. All facilities must still address potential food safety hazards and monitor preventive controls. Facilities that don’t follow an HACCP plan must choose an approach that is at least as thorough and effective as the HACCP approach.
How Does An HACCP Plan Work?
To comply with FDA regulations and keep food safe, food manufacturers and packagers must follow current good manufacturing practices. Manufacturers must know and follow the current industry recommendations for design, monitoring and control of manufacturing processes and facilities. Manufacturers must keep up with new developments in food safety and implement improvements promptly, even if the laws have not been updated to require these new practices by name. These practices include:
- Considerations for workers’ hygiene and health
- Making sure workers wash their hands before starting work
- Wearing gloves, hair nets, and other necessary protective equipment
- Cleanliness of the work facility and the surrounding property
- Ensuring that operations, facilities and controls are maintained in a sanitary fashion
HACCP plans aim to reduce or eliminate three primary types of food safety hazards: biological hazards, chemical hazards, and physical hazards:
- Biological hazards include bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella
- Chemical hazards can include pesticides that may not have been completely cleaned off of produce, or cleaning product residue from a work surface that wasn’t completely rinsed
- Allergens can also be considered a chemical hazard if they don’t belong in a food
- Physical hazards include metal, glass, or other non-food objects getting into a food item
For HACCP plans to successfully reduce or eliminate hazards, employees need to follow prerequisite programs and processes at their facilities. These programs can include good manufacturing practices, standard operating procedures, sanitation programs, pest control, allergen control and temperature control.
Critical Control Points
Hazards are controlled at critical control points by properly managing all production steps. This includes:
- Preparation of foods that will be cooked and ready-to-eat when someone purchases the food at a store or restaurant
- Monitoring cooking stations to make sure that foods are being cooked long enough and hot enough to kill bacteria
- Proper storage of foods that need to be refrigerated or frozen
- Monitoring temperatures in refrigerators or freezers to make sure the food stays at a safe temperature until it can be cooked or sent off for distribution
- Allergen controls to prevent cross-contact
- Sanitation controls
- Supply-chain controls
- Recall plans
- Written procedures in place to monitor hazard controls and ensure they’re working as designed
Corrective actions are steps used to identify and fix problems that occur during food production. Corrective actions also used to prevent problems from occurring, or reduce or eliminate the chances that a problem could happen again. Corrective actions can take many different forms, depending on the equipment or food products.
Some examples include:
- Identifying and repairing problems with a protective control
- Evaluating food that might have been affected or contaminated
- Preventing affected food from being sold or distributed
If a corrective action is needed, it must be performed as quickly as possible to keep unsafe products from being distributed.
Facilities must be kept safe and free of contamination or debris. Good general cleanliness practices include:
- Keeping floors, walls, ceilings, and work surfaces clean when work isn’t being performed, especially surfaces that come into direct contact with food products
- Equipment and tools must be stored in a way that prevents them from being contaminated when not in use
- All food contact surfaces and utensils must be cleaned and sanitized as often as needed to avoid contaminating them or creating cross-contact contamination of other food products
- Drains must be kept clear and free-flowing
- All hand washing sinks must work properly and be stocked with necessary supplies
Employees must stay clean and healthy to avoid contaminating food. They must:
- Wash hands on a regular basis throughout the day, particularly before work
- Change gloves and wash hands thoroughly before working with a different product
- If leaving the work area for any reason, such as to use the restroom or go to lunch, wash hands and put on clean gloves before returning to work
- Practice good personal hygiene before and during shifts
- Bathe or shower regularly, paying special attention to any part of the body that could feasibly meet food
- Use good personal grooming to keep hair from becoming a loose contaminant
- Pay attention to health – if workers become sick, notify supervisors before coming into work
Any food production or preparation environment will have controls in place to help keep products safe for consumption. Some controls are part of the facility’s design, while others will require employees to wear specific clothing or perform certain actions to keep the food products safe. Some facility-based controls include:
- Metal detectors on production lines
- Measurements for temperatures and moisture
- Proper heating, cooking, refrigeration and storage procedures
Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment, or PPE, will generally include:
- Hair net
- Body covering over other work clothes, such as a coat, apron or smock
- Employees with facial hair keep it neat and trimmed, and wear a beard guard
As part of their hazard analysis, facilities must audit their HACCP plans and other food safety programs on a regular basis. Food safety audits review and examine food safety processes and procedures to make sure that safety measures are still adequately protecting food. Facilities will perform audits as part of their standard operating practices. An audit may also be performed if an incident occurs during production or distribution, such as a defect in a product from that facility, or a recall notice being issued for a particular food item.