Food businesses and related organisations (e.g. aged care facilities, school cafeterias) in Australia are required to have a Food Safety Program, which is a set of written procedures that help to eliminate, prevent or reduce food safety hazards that can cause your customers to become ill or injured. Your Food Safety Program also helps to protect your business or organisation from:
- the financial and legal consequences of causing a customer to fall ill with food poisoning or causing a food-borne illness outbreak
- the financial and legal consequences of causing a customer to have a severe allergic reaction from improperly handling food allergens
- losing customers as a result of a reputation for unsafe food handling or unhygienic premises
Food Safety Programs worldwide are based on the seven principles of HACCP.
What is HACCP?
HACCP, which stands for 'Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points', is a systematic and preventative system developed in the 1960s by NASA and a team of food safety specialists at the Pillsbury Company. Together, they sought to solve two critical problems facing NASA's crewed space missions: crumbs and disease-producing microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, viruses) or toxins.
Bite-sized foods coated with a material that would prevent crumbs quickly solved one problem, but quality control measures that would prevent astronauts from getting food poisoning in space required more intensive studies and rigorous testing. In the end, the partnership between NASA and the Pillsbury Company led to the development of the HACCP system, comprised of seven core principles, as we know it today.
HACCP principles can be applied to processes at every stage of the food supply chain, including production, preparation, packaging and distribution, and is used to manage food safety across many types of food businesses.
What are the seven principles of HACCP?
Think of HACCP principles as the steps you need to take to manage and control food safety risks in your business.
The seven principles of HACCP are:
- Conduct a Hazard Analysis
- Identify Critical Control Points
- Establish Critical Limits
- Monitor Critical Control Points
- Establish Corrective Actions
- Establish Record Keeping Procedures
- Establish Verification Procedures
1. CONDUCT A HAZARD ANALYSIS
Hazard analysis is a two-step process which involves identifying and evaluating all of the food safety hazards in your food business.
A food safety hazard is anything that causes food to become contaminated (and therefore harmful or unsafe). There are three types of food contamination:
- biological contamination (e.g. bacteria, viruses)
- physical contamination (e.g. pieces of broken glass, metal staples)
- chemical contamination (e.g. detergent, sanitiser)
To properly identify a hazard, you need to be knowledgeable about the food (e.g. its properties and characteristics) and the steps that it goes through on its way to your customer's plate (e.g. receiving, storage, prepping, cooking). A flow diagram can help you to visualise your product as it moves through your business.
First, make a list of all biological, chemical and physical hazards that could occur as a result of:
- ingredients or additives in the food
- a step in your production / preparation process (e.g. receiving food deliveries, cooking food, serving food, disposing of waste)
For example, you may identify that the following hazards could occur during the cooling step in your food production process:
- biological (growth of food poisoning bacteria)
- biological / physical (contamination of food by objects, e.g. hair, broken glass)
Next, evaluate each hazard based on:
- how likely it is to occur
- how serious the consequences of it happening could be (e.g. Is it a public health risk? Could somebody get hurt?)
Setting this information out in a table can help you to visualise and structure data so that it is easy to follow and understand.
2. IDENTIFY CRITICAL CONTROL POINTS (CCPs)
Now that you have identified all of the food safety hazards in your business, you need to identify your critical control points (CCPs). CCPs are the steps in your process where a control measure is applied and is necessary to prevent, eliminate or reduce a food safety hazard (or hazards) to an acceptable level.
Identifying CCPs will help you to reduce the risk of food-borne illness in your business by helping you to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria and other microorganisms, as well as to prevent cross-contamination between different types of food, which can trigger life-threatening allergic reactions in some customers.
Some examples of CCPs could be:
- the sign-off step when receiving deliveries
- cooking food to a specific temperature
- checking the temperature of food before serving
If you identify a food safety hazard at a step where a CCP is necessary but does not exist, then the process must be modified to include a control measure.
A decision-making tree can help you to identify or determine where CCPs exist (or should exist) in your business.
3. ESTABLISH CRITICAL LIMITS
A critical limit is the maximum or minimum value to which a food safety hazard (biological, chemical or physical) must be controlled to prevent, eliminate or reduce the hazard to an acceptable level. Each CCP must have one or more critical limits for each hazard.
Critical limits are generally concerned with parameters that are measurable with equipment or can be answered with a yes or no answer, such as:
- best before / expiry dates
Critical limits must be assigned an actual value (e.g. high-risk foods must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 75°C*). Determining or assigning actual values to critical limits can be challenging, as there is such a wide variety of hazards, each with different acceptable values. Thankfully, information about critical limits can be obtained from a number of sources, including:
- reference materials, technical papers / abstracts
- codes of practice
- legislation (e.g. temperature control limits set out in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code Section 3.2.2)
If information is not available, make a judgement call — be sure to err on the side of caution, and keep a record of your reasons for making the decision and any reference materials you used in your Food Safety Program.
*Cooking high-risk foods to an internal temperature of 75°C is a general rule, but different types of high-risk foods may have different minimum cooking temperatures.
4. MONITOR CRITICAL CONTROL POINTS
Monitoring must be done to ensure that food remains within the critical limits determined for each critical control point (CCP). Put simply, monitoring means performing an action to check that food is safe.
Monitoring techniques can be broken down into four different categories:
- observation monitoring (e.g. checking cleaning schedules, monitoring delivery checklists)
- sensory monitoring (using taste, smell, touch and/or sight to check whether food is within critical limits)
- chemical monitoring (e.g. checking acidity levels, conducting a nutritional analysis)
- physical monitoring (e.g. checking food temperature, pressure, weight, etc.)
The best way to make sure (and confirm) that monitoring is being done regularly in your establishment is by using checklists and other documentation to record the results.
5. ESTABLISH CORRECTIVE ACTIONS
Corrective actions are the actions that must be taken if a deviation from an acceptable critical limit occurs. These are either immediate or preventative.
An immediate corrective action is stopping a breach that is happening now. For example:
- throwing out contaminated food
- rejecting a food delivery with signs of pest infestation
- refrigerating food to keep it out of the Temperature Danger Zone (5°C–60°C)
A preventative corrective action is stopping a breach from occurring in the future. For example:
- performing routine maintenance on equipment
- changing work procedures
- training staff to follow food safety best practices
If corrective action must be taken, remember to record and communicate it to the appropriate person (or people) in the business.
Again, a simple table can help you to structure your data in a way that is quick and easy to understand. Consider setting up your table at the hazard identification step and adding columns as you go through the process.
6. ESTABLISH RECORD KEEPING PROCEDURES
Record keeping is essential to the effective operation of your Food Safety Program and must include an up-to-date hazard analysis and details of any corrective actions that have been taken in your food business.
There are many day-to-day records associated with your Food Safety Program. For example:
- delivery checklists
- signed-off cleaning schedules
- temperature recordings
- pest inspection results
- staff training records
All employees should know where the Food Safety Program is located, what they are responsible for doing (e.g. updating cleaning schedules, filling out temperature logs), when they need to do it and who to report issues to. It's common for Health Inspectors to ask for these types of documentation during a food safety inspection, so be sure to store them in a safe place.
7. ESTABLISH VERIFICATION PROCEDURES
It's important that you perform an audit of your Food Safety Program at least once a year to verify that it is working as expected, and to identify opportunities to improve it. Once you have identified these opportunities (and you will), adjust your Food Safety Program and implement the necessary changes.
During an audit, it is common for food businesses to:
- perform internal inspections
- enlist the services of an external auditor
- ask for employee feedback
During an audit, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have we added any new products/dishes or changed any recipes?
- Have we changed any processes or food preparation steps?
- Have there been any changes to food safety laws or regulations that will impact operations?
- Are there any patterns in the records that point to an opportunity to improve?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to update your Food Safety Program.
Need help getting started with HACCP?
The Australian Institute of Food Safety (AIFS) has developed the AIFS HACCP Food Safety Plan Kit to help food businesses build and implement a compliant Food Safety Program. The kit covers all the steps and principles of the HACCP along with step-by-step instructions for building a Food Safety Program.
The AIFS Food Safety Supervisor course also provides a broad understanding of HACCP principles and teaches employees how to follow a Food Safety Program.
Get in touch to find out how AIFS can help you to design and implement a Food Safety Program based on the seven principles of HACCP in your business.