For those in the food industry, demonstrating a commitment to food safety and maintaining compliance with regulatory standards is incredibly important. Not only is this a legal requirement in many cases, but it can also improve the relationship and trust with your consumers and help boost your brand’s reputation.

Whether you own a restaurant or work at a multi-national catering business, HACCP is something you should know about. Here’s everything you need to know about the HACCP process, from what it stands for to its importance within the food industry and how you can gain certification.

What does HACCP stand for?

HACCP stands for ‘Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points’. So, what exactly does this mean? Put simply, HACCP is a systematic method of pinpointing and managing different types of risks related to food safety, including biological, chemical and physical hazards. Its purpose is to help food facilities involved in all stages of the food chain from production to consumption to create an effective food safety plan. HACCP plans are also internationally recognised.

What are hazards?

A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm, loss, disruption or damage. For example, salmonella is a hazard because the bacteria can infect the food chain.

Those in the food industry should be aware of the following three types of food hazards:

  • Microbiological: These types of hazards involve harmful bacteria such as salmonella and fungi.
  • Chemical: Chemical hazards involve chemical contamination from things like pesticides and detergents.
  • Physical: Physical hazards can involve objects like hair or plastic getting into food.

Why is HACCP important?

HACCP plays an important role in maintaining a safe environment when dealing with food. This can help assure customers, the public and regulatory bodies that your processes are well-managed and meet regulations.

The HACCP principles also align with the legal requirements of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). While a HACCP plan doesn’t fulfil each requirement, it does meet the majority and can help steer you in the right direction. 

HACCP principles explained

There are 7 guiding principles to help you develop an effective HACCP plan. These are as follows:

1.      Conduct a hazard analysis

To carry out a hazard analysis, start by listing down the steps involved in your production process. From here, you can sift through each step and identify any hazards associated with the tasks required, being sure to assess the severity, significance and frequency of each risk. You can then set preventative measures based on the findings of your analysis. This will help you understand where the risks are in your processes.

2.      Determine critical control points

A critical control point (CCP) is a point at which controls can be applied to prevent, eliminate, or reduce the impact of a food safety hazard. A CCP decision tree can be used to help identify critical control points in the process, usually with the help of your hazard analysis. One CCP might control more than one hazard, but in some cases, multiple controls might be needed to control a single hazard. To determine exactly how many CCPs are needed, you’ll need to assess the process and decide the level of control needed to ensure food safety is at an acceptable level.

3.      Establish critical limits

Critical limits (CLs) are the upper and lower boundaries that must be met to control food safety hazards. The critical limit is usually established based on scientific findings and regulatory standards and is typically measured by time, temperature or other criteria. By doing this, you can help prevent, eliminate or minimise food safety hazards.

4.      Develop monitoring procedures

The HACCP team will outline the monitoring procedures that will be used to measure the critical limit at each critical control point. These procedures should describe when and how the measurement will be taken, who is responsible for taking the measurement, and how often the measurement should be taken during production.

5.      Establish corrective actions

If there’s a breach in a critical limit, corrective actions must be taken to keep potentially unsafe food out of the food chain. Your HACCP team will determine the necessary steps to correct the process. This typically involves finding out what the issue is, implementing an effective solution, and taking measures to prevent it from happening again.

6.      Create verification procedures

Verification activities go beyond monitoring to make sure the HACCP plan is valid and that the processes within your facility are functioning according to the plan. The HACCP team can perform various verification activities, such as auditing CCPs, reviewing records, examining shipments and testing products.

7.      Recordkeeping and documentation

The final principle is recordkeeping, which is arguably one of the most important. This is how your facility can prove that all food is being handled safely and in accordance with the HACCP plan. Your records should include information on everything from product descriptions and hazard analysis to critical limits and corrective actions.

What is a HACCP plan?

So now that you know what the principles are, you can put these into practice within a HACCP plan. This means creating an operating plan for controlling and managing risks within the food industry to make sure all food produced and distributed is safe and high quality.

Before coming up with a plan, you’ll need to create a HACCP team representing individuals from each area of your facility to make sure everything is covered. This might include quality assessors, maintenance operatives and production team members.

What is a HACCP certification?

A HACCP certification provides official recognition that a business is meeting the necessary food safety standards and can assure customers and regulatory bodies that they’re taking the appropriate steps to maintain a high level of food safety, whether they’re producing or distributing food items.

How do you get HACCP certification?

Getting your hands on HACCP certification can involve a few different steps, including training courses, audits and visits, which we’ll explain in further detail below.

Training courses

To begin, complete training courses that cover the principles and requirements of the HACCP system. These courses provide a comprehensive understanding of the HACCP plan and its implementation.

Good Manufacturing Practice audit

Start by contacting an NSF auditor to conduct a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) audit. This will assess your facility’s compliance with the HACCP plan and its effectiveness in ensuring food safety. You’ll then have an off-site visit which consists of an interview to discuss your HACCP plan and exchange any necessary documentation.

This will be followed up with an on-site visit from the auditor during which they’ll carry out an inspection of your facility’s operations, including the handling, storage and preparation of food. They’ll assess how well your facility is adhering to the HACCP plan and look for potential hazards that could compromise food safety.

After the auditor has completed their assessment, they’ll provide a report on their findings at your facility. If you meet all the requirements of the plan and demonstrate a commitment to food safety, you’re likely to be awarded with a HACCP certification.

How long is HACCP certification valid?

Once you have your HACCP certification, you’ll be subject to regular audits to make sure you’re keeping up with the HACCP plan. These audits usually come around once a year, and if you’re complying with the plan, your certification will be renewed.

We hope this guide has shed some light on the HACCP process from start to finish. Whether you’re new to the industry or need a refresher on food safety compliance, we’ve covered everything you need to know to prevent poor food safety within your facility.

For more advice on everything from food safety in catering to menu management in healthcare, check out our blog.