So what is HACCP?
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a Food Safety Management System that was developed in the early 1960s for American astronauts now entering the space race against Russia. It was JF Kennedy’s promise to start exploring space and eventually land on the moon that triggered this system of providing safe food for astronauts. Can you imagine a space traveller in a sealed space suit with food poisoning? Some of the symptoms of food poisoning include sickness and diarrhoea (the shits). So an astronaut with these symptoms would quickly fill their space suit and drown in their own bodily fluids….not a welcoming thought and something to put off even the most ardent of potential astronauts.
HACCP was developed from a system perfected by jet fighter engineers for checking the safety of these airplanes. It was initiated by scientists, the military and later published by the Pillsbury Dough Corporation.
Since the 1st January 2006 all food businesses, regardless of size, must use a Food Safety Management System based on HACCP, or rather, the principles of HACCP.
UK law does make allowances for smaller food businesses and allows them to use a more flexible system which can be downloaded from the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) website. It consists of diary entries, explanations, forms for completion, etc.
That’s the background to HACCP, but what does HACCP do, why use it?
In essence it is a system for preventing contamination entering the Food Safety Chain. The Food Safety Chain consists of links, much like a metal chain. Each link represents a process in the manufacturing of food for eventual consumption by consumers. We also use a phrase “From Farm to Fork”.
The links include:
Other links could be added as sub-links for example after storage, the food item might be ready for serving, or after cooking further preparation might be required. If food items are to be cooled for use in a cold dish, there would be a sub-link after cooking, i.e., chilling or cooling.
The integrity of the Food Safety Chain must be upheld at each link or sub-link, in other words contamination must not be allowed to enter the Food Safety Chain at any link (or sub-link).
What is contamination? The text book definition is the “Introduction or Presence of a Food Safety Hazard”. Drilling even deeper, a Hazard is “Anything with the Potential to Cause Harm.
There are 4 main Food Contaminants:
Biological, Physical, Chemical and Allergenic.
Biological, or more often microbiological, includes bacteria, viruses, parasites and protists. They are responsible for 80% of all food poisoning outbreaks, mainly because they can’t be seen (they are microscopic) and they don’t produce any visual indication of their presence. (Unless they are food spoilage bacteria, which generally won’t hurt you but their presence is noticeable and our natural reaction is to reject the food).
Physical contamination is something, usually, that is physically noticed in the food product, such as hair, string, metal, stones, plastic, etc. This is generally more of a nuisance factor unless the contaminant is a food safety hazard such as glass shards. But even a hair in food is classed as contamination and is illegal.
Chemical contamination is the introduction or presence of chemicals in food, which can give rise to more chronic effects on health. (Chronic = long term effects, Acute = short term effects). So cleaning chemicals, petrol fumes, aftershave/perfume, arsenic from pest control chemicals, agricultural residues, pesticides, an excess of additives/preservatives, etc. are all classed as chemical contaminants.
Allergenic contamination is the presence or introduction of a substance that could invoke an allergic reaction from a consumer. The 14 main allergens are shown below:
Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats
Crustaceans for example prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish
Nuts; namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts
Celery (including celeriac)
Sulphur dioxide/sulphites, where added and at a level above 10mg/kg in the finished product. This can be used as a preservative in dried fruit
Lupin which includes lupin seeds and flour and can be found in types of bread, pastries and pasta
Molluscs like clams, mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid
People can also be affected by fruit and vegetables and alcohol (especially the contents of alcoholic drinks such as sulphites or yeast). A severe allergic reaction to food can give rise to an anaphylactic shock (anaphylaxis), which is life threatening. Anaphylaxis is the body’s way of overcompensating for what it believes is the ingestion of “poison”
The body is very adept in fighting infection, either from outside the body or within. Inside our body, for example, we have sensors covering the membranes of our mouth, throat and oesophagus. These sensors (Chemo-receptors to give them their correct name) monitor all food and drink that enter the mouth and oesophagus on its journey to the stomach and eventual digestion. If the sensors pick up signals of what is perceived to be a poison, i.e. something that could harm the human body, they send messages to the brain, which instigates an attack on the “poison”.
Scientists have not worked out why this happens with allergens, as they are not poisonous, but the sensors mistakenly send signals to the brain to act accordingly.
The attack mode the brain uses is to instruct cells from the immune system (white blood cells) to release histamine to attack the “perceived poison”. However, during anaphylaxis, the brain overcompensates and instructs too many of the cells to release the histamine. This results in symptoms of a rash, swelling of the throat and oesophagus and subsequent blocking of the trachea, causing respiratory failure, collapse and death.
People who are subject to such attacks are prescribed an Epi-pen, which contains adrenalin. (Epi stands for Epinephrine, which is the American term for Adrenalin) When this is injected into the person’s thigh will cause the symptoms to subside.
What are the steps in setting up a HACCP system?
The Codex Alimentarius Commission has provided a 12-point system for setting this Food Safety Management System into operation:
Bring together and provide training for the HACCP team and define the terms of reference.
Provide a full description of the product, recipe and process.
Identification of end user.
Construction of flow diagram.
Walk the Talk by confirming the flow diagram.
Identification of hazards, risks, severity and control measures.
Determination of the critical control points.
Establishment of critical limits and target levels for each control point.
Provision of a monitoring procedure for each critical control point.
Corrective action to be undertaken when a critical control point is moving out of control.
Establishment of documentation and what records require maintaining.
The HACCP course is very straightforward to understand, although there are far too many definitions and phrases to remember, especially when the underlying principle of this system is to prevent contamination entering the Food Safety Chain.