What is HACCP?

HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points. This is really just a fancy name for a method of quality control and hazard prevention that has been adopted by many in the food industry to prevent food spoilage and food poisoning.

HACCP is used in the professional food handling industry to identify areas (or points) in the food handling and preparation process where any hazards that will affect food safety are most likely to occur. Once these points in the process have been identified, actions can be taken to prevent the hazard from ever happening, and if it does happen, clear procedures are in place to show the food handler what must be done with the food. In plain simple English, you figure out ahead of time where the problems will happen and take steps to find or prevent them from happening, and if a problem occurs, you have already decided what to do about it.

This method is particularly useful when transporting, storing, handling, preparing and cooking potentially hazardous foods. These are foods that have the ability, under certain conditions, to quickly promote rapid bacterial growth and thus result in dangerous food poisoning for consumers.

Why use in HACCP a Mobile Food Stand?

Potentially hazardous foods include meats such as beef, pork, fish and poultry. These foods are considered potentially hazardous because under certain conditions they will easily support the rapid growth of harmful bacteria that will hurt anyone who consumes the spoiled food. As it happens, these are the very foods which are often served from mobile foods stands. Ground meats, such as are found in sausages and burgers, are particularly prone to food spoiling hazards. This is because of the additional steps taken in preparing these meats and the fact that these meats are susceptible to rapid bacterial growth both on the inside and on the outside surface.

Food manufacturing facilities, such as a slaughter house or a butcher, have their own quality control process in place to prevent food spoilage. For a mobile food vendor, the quality control process begins when the vendor receives his food from the supplier whether it be a butcher or a food chain store. Once a vendor accepts his food, he is now responsible for maintaining its quality and safety. Having an HACCP process in place will actually make taking care of this responsibility easier.

Using HACCP is actually easy, efficient, economical and quick. It identifies problems before they happen and prevents them. The quality checks are simple, cheap and quick. They include simple things like measuring time and temperature. When a problem occurs, the proper response is already decided and controlled by the operator. There is no waiting for a response to a lab test from a distant laboratory. There is no worrying about if the food is safe or not. The procedures that are already in place and down in writing will clearly determine this for you.

You actually use it already – almost.

The HACCP process is not complicated. It is actually a common sense procedure which most of us employ to a certain degree with food in our own homes.

In our own personal home-made food quality control program, we begin by carefully selecting our meat at the store. If the meat does not appear in good condition, we reject it at the store. Thus, the store is our first Critical Control Point. The inspection is visual. It is based on food appearance and the “best before” date shown on the food label. The action or response is to reject the food if it appears to be bad or is past the “best before” date.

The next step in our home food quality program is during the transport from the store to our home. We know that if we take too long in getting the meat from the store to home, it will spoil. We know that the food temperature is also very important. We also know that it is more critical to get the meat home quickly on a hot summer day than on a cold winter day. The critical points here are time and temperature during transport home.

Once we get the meat home, we either place it in the freezer or the refrigerator. If placed in the freezer it will last for months. If placed in the refrigerator, we know that we must use it within a week or less. Again, the critical points here are time and temperature during storage.

Finally, during the cooking process at home, we know that we must cook the food adequately for it to be edible and safe. We may follow a recipe of temperature settings and time to cook. Or we may look at the interior of a cut of beef to check the color to see how well done it is before we decide to serve it. Or we may use a proper food thermometer and stick it into the meat to check the internal temperature to see if it is fully cooked. Again, the critical points here are the time taken to cook the meat and temperature reached during the cooking process.

Finally, once the meat is cooked, we know we have to eat it within a certain time. We cannot leave it out on the counter at room temperature for too long or it will spoil. Again, the critical points here are time and temperature – time spent holding after cooking and before consumption, and the holding temperature during that wait.

There are a few important differences though between our quality control program that we use at home and the HACCP quality program used by professional food handlers. In the professional HACCP program the whole process is down in writing. The procedures, times and temperatures are all written down on a chart with specific instructions as what to do and exact measurements such as time and temperature to record and compare. The food is monitored and the results are recorded on paper for future reference.

If a problem occurs, this will be noted and recorded by the food handler. The HACCP guide will also instruct the operator what to do with the food in the event of a quality issue. Because of the potentially dangerous health issues with food when it has fallen outside of quality control guidelines, the usual response is to discard the food to prevent a food poisoning incident. It simply cannot be safely used or consumed by humans.

What is involved in setting up a HACCP program?

Your local county health unit can help you with setting up a HACCP program. They will provide you with many of the details including required cooking and storage times and temperatures. An example of an HACCP program for cooking chicken is available to download here: HACCP Cooking Chicken.

An HACCP can be developed quite easily for any type of food. Simply follow these 7 steps:

Step 1
Build a Simple Flow Chart

First, build a simple flow chart of your specific food service operation. This flow chart will include all the points in your particular food handling process such as you receiving the food, storing it, transporting it to your food mobile food cart, storing it on the cart, cooking it, holding it for serving, and finally serving it to your customer. There may be minor variations to this process for your particular operation. For instance, you may have the food delivered or you might pick it up yourself at the supplier. All these steps in your process need to be arranged in order in a flow chart that will now be a reference for the rest of the HACCP procedures.

Step 2
Identify the Hazards

Identify the hazards to food safety in your flow chart. These food safety hazards are any condition or property that could cause the food to be unsafe. For instance, during the receiving phase, these hazards might include receiving it in damaged or soiled packaging; receiving the food at an unsafe temperature; or receiving it past its “best before” date. Later, in the cooking phase of the flow chart, the hazards would include improper heating allowing bacteria to survive the cooking process or having it fall to the ground during serving.

Step 3
Identify the Critical Control Points (CCPs).

A Critical Control Points (CCP) is simply a point or step in your flow chart where you can apply a control such as a test to prevent a hazard from ever developing or checking to see if one has occurred. This would include using a thermometer to measure the temperature of food when it is received or using a thermometer to check the temperature of the meat when cooking it. Another is labelling the food when you receive it with the date received so that you can be sure to use it before it expires in storage.

Step 4
Establish the Critical Limits for each Critical Control Point.

A critical limit is the maximum or minimum value for a potential hazard such as temperature or time.  These may be specified by the county health department or you may have to decide on what is reasonable and safe.

An example of a temperature critical limit would be the 4 degrees Celsius maximum temperature for meat being received. Another example would be a minimum temperature critical limit of 75 degrees Celsius core temperature for a piece of chicken being cooked. Time can be a critical limit also, such as the “best before” date on a food package in storage.

Step 5
Establish Monitoring Requirements

Establish the monitoring requirements for critical control points. This step would include what activity and what equipment is necessary to accomplish the test at the CCP.

An example might be checking the temperature of stored food in the ice box of the food cart every 2 hours using an approved food grade thermometer. In this example the monitoring requirement is to first check the temperature every 2 hours and secondly to have an appropriate thermometer on hand to do it.

Another example would be correctly piercing a sausage with a food grade thermometer to measure its core temperature during cooking to ensure that required internal temperature is achieved indicating that it is fully cooked. In this second example the monitoring requirements are to check the internal temperature of the sausage to ensure it is cooked and to have a appropriate food grade thermometer on hand to do this test.

Step 6
Establish Corrective Actions

You must decide on the corrective actions to be taken when a deviation from your established safe critical limits is discovered. This is an action that is previously decided upon in order to prevent a hazardous event from occurring. This action must be followed without exception.

An example would be if the temperature of food being received is 10 degrees Celsius when the Critical Limit is established as a maximum of 4 degrees Celsius. The corrective action is to reject the shipment, return it to the supplier and reorder more food. Another example would be if food was discovered in storage that is past its “best before” date. The corrective action would be to discard the food. Because of the seriousness of the consequences of poor food quality, most corrective actions with regard to food found outside of established critical limits are to reject and discard the affected food.

It is very important to realize that food that is spoiled can not be rendered safe by cooking it longer or at a higher temperature. This may kill any existing bacteria but it will not eliminate the harmful poisons already produced by bacteria that are now present in the food. People will still get sick. Throw the spoiled food away. Do not use it.

Step 7
Keep Accurate Records

Be sure to keep accurate records of your HACCP Procedures and record your procedures for all appropriate products. The tests that you establish under your HACCP program must be recorded. These include things such as temperature measurements, the dates shipments are received, and any deviations found and the corrective actions taken. These should all be written down in a logbook and kept for a reasonable time. The health inspector may ask to see your records and you are legally required to show them. Recent records should be kept with you on your cart so you can prove that what you are selling is safe.

If your food process changes in any way, such as by a change in menu or new equipment being used, the HACCP procedure should be reviewed and adjusted as required. Of course, new government regulations affecting critical limits such as temperatures would also necessitate a change in your HACCP procedures.

Do I Really Need to Do This?

Having a working HACCP procedure may or may not be a legal requirement in your city or region. As we have seen, it is not a very complicated procedure. In fact, it may actually make your job easier because you have all your procedures decided upon and down in writing. Your cart and the product you sell will be safer. You know ahead of time what to do if a problem arises.

Even if it is not a legal requirement for you in your county, the principals in such a system are very beneficial to a food business and should be instituted to a certain degree to ensure food quality and the safety and satisfaction of your customers.

HACCP links

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

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