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What Is The HACCP System? The Complete Food Safety Guide

Food safety management is important to ensure public health, protect your business and your customers. Establish a HACCP system and structure your processes for better food safety.

Nicky Liedtke

by Nicky Liedtke | June 21, 2022 | Reading time: 9 minutes

What Is The HACCP System?


Improperly stored food, unhygienic conditions, inadequate kitchen protocols or faulty manufacturing of food items can drastically harm consumers and have fatal consequences at worst. Such poor practices in relation to food production, handling, consumption and distribution need to be avoided at all costs in order to preserve safety and health.


Especially in a globalized world it can be difficult to make sure food is safe to circulate. This is why the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) were established. The method is an internationally recognized system managing food safety, largely through preventive measures that food producers, distributors or manufacturers can follow.


When integrating HACCP into your food safety program and strategy, you must consider biological hazards, as well as other dangerous factors, like chemical and physical risks, in order to be recognised by the committee, as HACCP is a holistic system that pays attention to all factors that could represent danger.


By following the HACCP guidelines, you can assure yourself, as well as your customers, the public and other agents, that you value food safety and have taken steps to ensure that any hazards relating to food have been minimized.



In this guide we will discuss:


1. Why you should use the HACCP system


2. What the 7 principles of HACCP are


3. How to plan for an integration of HACCP


4. The steps you need to take toward a HACCP certification



3 women in seafood production following the HACCP system

Why Use The HACCP System? That’s Why It’s Important!


As already mentioned, using the HACCP system signals to your customers, potential partners within the industry, and consumers that you take food safety seriously and are willing to implement necessary measures to guarantee it. Integrating HACCP into your business procedures inspires confidence and makes you a desirable organization to work with.


However, the benefits of using the HACCP system go far beyond trust and your business reputation. HACCP is an important and integral part of any business in the food industry because it


  • is a process control system that detects, prioritizes, prevents, and controls potential hazards in food production.
  • generally ensures compliance with the law and applicable regulations.
  • aims to prevent foodborne illnesses and allergic reactions due to unsafe practices and can therefore save lives or prevent and lessen serious health issues.
  • allows companies to adopt a holistic view of food risks and control factors such as biological, chemical and physical hazards efficiently.
  • permits organizations to be in full control of all their procedures.
  • ensures that food safety standards across the globe increase, as many customers nowadays require their suppliers to use fully certified HACCP systems.

HACCP is essentially a quality management system (QMS) that can be used at almost any point within the food industry chain, from production and delivery, food storage and temperature regulation to ensuring restaurant hygiene. Even though a HACCP certification is not always mandatory, following the guidelines still has immense benefits, makes you globally competitive and improves the inner workings of your organization.



What Are The HACCP Requirements? The 7 Golden Principles


HACCP is based on seven basic principles that are outlines alongside guidelines about the assembly of a HACCP team and prompts about how to conduct employee education and design a HACCP plan.


These seven principles that incorporate all possible operations that occur within the food chain that are relevant for food safety can be summarized as follows:


  1. IDENTIFY & ANALYZE HAZARDS

    Before hazards of any kind can be addressed adequately and effectively they first need to be identified, for as the saying goes: A danger foreseen is a danger avoided.

    In order to conduct a risk assessment in accordance with HACCP, you need to look for biological, physical or chemical hazards that might impact the safety of your products during the production, storage, packaging or other stages. Where and at which stage could potential risks occur? Be as thorough and diligent as possible to get the most out of your work.

  2. IDENTIFY CRITICAL CONTROL POINTS

    Critical control points or CCPs help you identify how to avoid, prevent and eliminate hazards in order to be in full control of your operations. How can you best control risks at the points in which they occur? This includes refrigeration of your foods as necessary, testing for substances or examining your processing methods.

    Good to know: CCPs are the bulwark that protect your business from food safety issues by reducing risks and forcing the implementation of corrective actions.

  3. ESTABLISH CRITICAL LIMITS

    In order to reap the benefits of your newly determined CCPs, it is important to attach critical limits to them that are based on what science finds safe for humans to consume. Breaching such a safe level may result in food that may ultimately be unsafe for human consumption.

    Examples for critical limits include parameters such as
    • food temperature (for safe eating/bacteria elimination)
    • presence of microorganisms
    • moisture levels
    • additives

    Note: Any CCP breach must be reported and addressed immediately through pre-established corrective actions.

  4. MONITOR THE CCPs

    CCPs need to be monitored regularly for them to have any effect. Therefore it is vital that you put a system in place that allows for a monitoring of the CCPs. You can achieve this by employing a specific observation sequence that needs to be adhered to that can be documented via checklists.

    Checking temperature logs in a predetermined time interval is a pretty common CCP monitoring practice. This can occur both manually or even automatically, depending on your means and needs.

  5. ESTABLISH CORRECTIVE ACTIONS

    You should always be prepared to implement corrective actions, no matter how diligent your CCP monitoring is, there is always a margin that allows for mistakes. As soon as a breach of critical limits has occurred, corrective actions need to be triggered to eliminate or at the very least minimize the hazard.

    Pre-establishing corrective actions for likely breeches permits you to act quickly and efficiently in order to protect consumers as well as your business. Corrective actions could include the disposal of undercooked items or re-calling products from sale that may have been compromised at any stage in production.

  6. VERIFY THE EFFECTIVENESS OF YOUR HACCP SYSTEM

    Establishing processes that ensure that corrective actions have been taken and that issues have been either resolved or addressed appropriately is essential for your HACCP system to succeed.

    A verification process could include regularly scheduled reviews at different stages of the process. It is important that you document all your verifications in order to be able to prove that your HACCP system is fully functional.

  7. DOCUMENT YOUR PROCEDURES

    It is absolutely vital that you record all your HACCP planning, monitoring and verifications as such documentation is necessary for auditing purposes. By diligently documenting your efforts, it is easier to assess whether your system needs updating or if there are any tweaks that can be made. Further, full documentation is valid proof of your commitment to food safety and your compliance with regulatory requirements.


Sou-chef preparing side salad in restaurant according to HACCP

How To Plan And Build A HACCP System In 5 Steps


In order to build a useful HACCP system, it is important to stick to the seven basic principles and integrate them into your planning. However, preliminary work is also required as per the guidelines and will facilitate the integration of your HACCP system greatly.


Since HACCP is applicable in various industries, procedures will vary depending on the work that you do, however, five general steps are useful for any kind of organization to undertake before moving forward to the hitherto discussed requirements.


1. ESTABLISH A HACCP TEAM


By appointing specific employees to oversee HACCP implementation, you will eventually have a team of experts that are familiar with the regulations and always ready to prepare all that is required.


Ideally, your HACCP team is made-up of employees from various sectors within your company. This way you can achieve a holistic and multi-facetted viewpoint that permits members to assess every aspect of your processes.


In order for HACCP operations to run smoothly, training your employees is an essential step of your team’s establishment. Such training is generally outsourced and conducted by experts in the field. HACCP training is crucial to ensure compliance and can be broken down into the following steps:


  • Make sure all team members are aware of what HACCP is and why it’s important. By emphasizing the relevance of the system, employees are more likely to take their training seriously and make sure they follow food safety procedures to the T.
  • Help team members by identifying common food safety hazards so that they know what to look out for and avoid (from foreign substances in products to triggering food allergies).
  • Inform your team members about food safety practices – but keep in mind that these are often subject to change and need to be reviewed regularly.
  • Teach your team the seven basic HACCP principles in order for them to follow the steps diligently

2. DESCRIBE THE PRODUCT & ITS DISTRIBUTION


In order to make sure that you are addressing all important factors in your hazard analysis, it is important to make sure that you know everything that is relevant to and about your product:


  • How is the item composed?
  • What are the ingredients and hazards pertaining to them?
  • How much water does the product contain and is it enough to favor microbial growth if not diligently monitored?
  • How does the product need to be packaged/stored/shelved?
  • etc.

Don’t underestimate this step and the importance of your product’s make-up. The more precise you are in your description and labeling, the safer your product will be for consumers.


3. IDENTIFY THE PRODUCT’S INTENDED USE


Whereas it may seem trivial at first glance and perhaps only tangentially related to food safety, who is going to be consuming your food and how they are going to use it is an important factor to consider for a successful HACCP implementation.


Is the intended target group susceptible (e.g. infants, the elderly)? Can the food be misused in any way by certain consumers? Make sure you record this information precisely and keep it at the back of your mind when implementing HACCP in order to protect potentially vulnerable consumers.


Much in the same vein, it is important to consider whether your product will need to be cooked or processed by consumers or if it is fit to be consumed directly. This can directly assist you in identifying any potential hazards later on.


4. DESCRIBE THE PROCESS


Once you have established your team and analyzed your product, it is time to develop the HACCP process. This is generally done by drawing up a so-called commodity flow diagram (CFD). This flow diagram varies from industry to industry and even within different countries and sectors.


This diagram represents the entire manufacturing process in a graphical format – starting from raw materials and ending with the finished product.


5. TEST THE FLOW DIAGRAM


In a final preparatory step, it is necessary to confirm the CFD that has been drawn up on site so that your food safety program can be kickstarted successfully. Does the theoretical production diagram actually match reality?


In a process of “walking the line”, your team follows the production process step-by-step, without deviation, and reconfirms everything that is represented in the flow chart. It is important to make sure that all vital information is properly recorded and integrated into the CFD.



How To Get HACCP Certified


There is no general protocol that every country can follow in order to get HACCP certified, as the regulations and certification procedures are different in every country. While HACCP is an internationally recognized standard, rules, regulations and procedures differ, just the same as accreditation bodies. Some businesses are generally required to have HACCP systems for food safety in place (e.g. seafood, juice) but for other industries, HACCP may not be a necessity. Nevertheless, a HACCP system is always an asset and can help your business thrive by eliminating potential hazards.


To guarantee a successful audit process, make sure that you


  • follow the 12 steps in order to properly prepare for a certification. To do that follow the five preparatory steps and then integrate the seven HACCP principles. Build a checklist, take your time, be thorough and reap the benefits of HACCP. Here is a summary of the 12 previously mentioned steps:

    1. Establish your HACCP team
    2. Describe your product
    3. Describe the product’s intended use
    4. Draw up the CFD
    5. Confirm the CFD
    6. Principle 1: Identify hazards
    7. Principle 2: Determine CCPs
    8. Principle 3: Establish critical limits for CCPs
    9. Principle 4: Introduce a monitoring procedure
    10. Principle 5: Establish corrective actions
    11. Principle 6: Verify your HACCP plan
    12. Principle 7: Record your efforts

  • have all your documents prepared and submitted in advance.
  • respond to any concerns raised by your auditor as soon and as thoroughly as possible.
  • make sure that everything is in order and in compliance before you schedule the final third-party audit.

Even though there are no strict rules in place, you can follow these general guidelines on your way to a certification:


  1. STUDY THE MATERIAL

    Get familiar with the HACCP regulations through a course and intense study of the material.
  2. FIRST AUDIT HALF

    Generally the HACCP audit is divided into two parts. In the first part, the external auditor reviews the team and confirms it. In order to do this they examine management standards and the team’s preparedness before assessing whether the company complies with HACCP certification standards.
    They draw up a report where they detail where standards were met or raise concerns about areas that are lacking.
  3. SECOND AUDIT HALF

    During the second half of the audit procedure your company is reviewed more in depth. The auditor makes sure that you are in compliance with HACCP regulations and that your food safety management system is in place. Once the audit process ends, the auditor and food safety manager meet and discuss issues raised, upon which the auditor will recommend certification and establish whether any further requirements need to be met.

    Businesses are observed for around 2 years afterwards, during the so-called surveillance audit, in order to make sure that they are following the HACCP plan and provide safe food and reduce risks within the food industry.


Supermarket aisle in big grocery store
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Nicky Liedtke

Nicky Liedtke

Passionate about literature and writing of any kind, Nicky graduated with a master’s degree in cultural and literary studies in German, English and French and is now putting her writing and research skills to the test at Lumiform, growing and learning together with the company. In her free time she likes to work creatively with fabrics of any kind, enjoys reading, theatre and museums, making music, and can often be found swimming in all the lakes and bodies of water that Berlin has to offer.

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