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A Proactive Approach to Food Safety: The Significance of a HACCP Program

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Developing a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan involves a systematic approach to identifying, evaluating, and controlling food safety hazards in order to ensure the production of safe food. To start off we are going to go over the 12 steps to a HACCP Plan, then how to audit your HACCP Plan, and review a HACCP Audit Checklist.

Follow these 12 steps to complete your facility’s HACCP plan.

Step 1

The first step is to assemble a HACCP team. This team should be a multidisciplinary team that includes individuals with knowledge and expertise in food safety, production processes, quality control, and other relevant areas like receiving and storage.

Step 2

The second step is to describe the product and its intended use. Creating a form that standardizes this for every finished good product will help make this part of your plan easy for you and an auditor to understand. This form should include a detailed description of the product, including its composition, packaging dimensions, and any special characteristics. Then lastly identify the intended use for the product. This could look like it is an ingredient and will be sold to be included in other products or sold directly to consumers.

Step 3

The third step is to create a flow diagram for your product(s). Develop a flow diagram that represents the complete process of your food production, from the receipt of raw materials to the final product. Include all steps, equipment, and personnel involved. You don’t have to write a completely different plan for each product you make if they share the same process. For example, if you are making protein bars and all your bars follow the same process but only have different ingredients you can make one flow diagram for them.

Step 4

The fourth step is to conduct a hazard analysis. You need to identify and assess potential biological, chemical, and physical hazards associated with each step in the process. Consider raw materials, processing methods, equipment, and any other factors that could contribute to hazards.

An example would be de-hulled peanuts that you are using to make peanut butter. A biological hazard example would be salmonella. Then to make peanut butter the nuts must be roasted and ground which includes going through metal blades. This can cause a physical hazard of metal in the fished product. Finally, peanuts are at risk for aflatoxins and are a Big 8 allergen that would be classified under biological hazards.

Step 5

Step 5 is to determine the critical control points (CCPs) in your process. This is based on the hazards identified in step four. The critical control point is a step in the process where a measure can be applied to prevent, eliminate, or reduce hazards to an acceptable level. These are the critical control points that should also be included in your flow diagram! In the peanut butter example, the CCP for the Biological hazard would be a roasting process that met the time and temperature for a 5–log reduction of Salmonella. The physical hazard CCP would be a metal detector after the product has been processed. Then the chemical hazard in the CCP would be a label check to make sure that peanuts are bolded on the label.

Step 6

The 6th step is to establish critical limits for each CCP. Establish specific criteria that must be met to ensure control at each identified CCP. Critical limits may include time, temperature, pH levels, humidity, or other measurable parameters. These parameters can be found on the FDA’s website.

Step 7

Step seven is how you will monitor the identified critical control points. Define the monitoring methods, frequency, and responsibilities. Monitoring ensures that the critical limits are consistently met. In our peanut butter example, this could look like hourly temperature checks on the roaster, or hourly calibrations to the metal detector. Make sure each of the monitoring methods is well documented and records the date, time, and parameter you are monitoring.

Step 8

The 8th step is to establish corrective actions for when there is a deviation outside of the CCP’s parameters. Specify the corrective actions that will be taken to bring the process back under control and prevent the release of unsafe products. For example, if the metal detector goes off on a case of peanut butter what is the procedure to make sure there is no metal in the product.

Step 9

Step 9 is implementing verification procedures. This is the first step in the maintenance of your HACCP plan. You will need to continually test the effectiveness of your plan. This may involve reviewing records, conducting internal audits, testing samples, or other verification activities.

Step 10

Step 10 is making sure you review documents and maintain good record-keeping. All aspects of the HACCP plan need documentation to explain the process and validate it. This includes the plan itself, the SOPs for products, the logs for CCP’s, and the review of all these documents as well on a regular basis. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to maintaining a HACCP plan. Make sure that you have an organized system to track, store, and review the records. DCN is a great example of software that can help with this. You are able to electronically store your HACCP plan and its documents in one convenient place.

Step 11

The 11th step is to review and update your HACCP plan on a regular interval or if something changes in your process. Your HACCP plan needs to match exactly what is happening in your plant so if an ingredient changes you need to update your product description and hazard analysis. A regulation change may also trigger you to review and subsequently update your plan. The main goal of this step is to ensure that the plan remains effective and up to date.

Step 12

The 12th and final step is to train employees. Provide training to employees involved in the implementation of the HACCP plan. This would be the production operator that is responsible for the metal detector checks. These employees need to understand their roles and responsibility to the safety of the food your produce.

Creating and maintaining the HACCP plan is not something you need to do all on your own. There are plenty of materials supplied by regulatory officials that you can use for each step. The FDA has a wonder full resource with examples of what is needed to be compliant for each step. Here is a link to their website HACCP Principles & Application Guidelines | FDA. Once you have thoroughly vetted your plan you can go through a HACCP Audit which is the first step to obtaining higher accreditation like SQF and BRC.

HACCP Audit Checklist

A HACCP Audit checklist is a way for you to review your plan (Step 11). If you are under the FDA’s justification you will need to review your plan at least once every three years. This checklist should be broken up into each of the steps and then a subsection of what needs to be checked for each section. This step is very important in preparations for an audit. Because it allows you to take a look at your HACCP Plan the way the auditor would. Below are some free examples of a HACCP audit checklist.

A HACCP Audit includes looking at your plan itself and then doing a plant observation. You should expect the auditor to review your HCCP Documents, evaluate your pre-requisite programs, and confirm your process flow diagrams. The audit may take your HACCP flow chart and walk through the flow in your plant. You should also expect the auditor to interview the employees that are a part of the HACCP team.

Creating and Implementing a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program is crucial for ensuring food safety and protecting public health. Being able to perform regular self-audits of your plan by going through a HACCP audit checklist will help you when it comes to being audited. HACCP auditors will look at your plan, supporting programs, as well as verifying your flow diagrams.

Use Document Compliance Network (DCN) to create a reliable and stress-free document review and recordkeeping part of the program. DCN will ensure that all documents are current, centrally located, and incredibly easy to search for and find the correct document. Automating what you can, will allow you to spend your valuable time working on other aspects of your food safety program. All in all, HACCP is a proactive approach that food companies can take to ensure consumer trust in confidence that your food is safe.

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