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Food Safety Focus (117th Issue, April 2016) – Food Safety Platform

HACCP – An Effective System to Improve Food Safety

Reported by Dr. Anna S.P. TANG, Scientific Officer,
Risk Communication Section,
Centre for Food Safety

In Hong Kong, irregularities and sub-standard practices in foods manufactured locally have caused food incidents from time to time over the past years. Bacteria implicated in food incidents include Listeria monocytogenes in sushi, Bacillus cereus in prepackaged Chinese-style soup, and Clostridium perfringens and Bacillus cereus as suspected organisms in lunch box causing food poisoning, just to name a few. Could these food incidents be prevented at all? Can implementation of HACCP system in these food businesses lower their occurrence? In this article, let us look at how HACCP positively impacts food safety.

What is HACCP?

HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point. It is a safe food production system originated and developed for U.S. Space Programme in 1960s when the idea of Critical Control Point (CCP) was first introduced to produce safe and uncontaminated foods for astronauts. Since the 1970s, HACCP was adopted by a number of large food manufacturers to produce foods for the general public. In the 1990s, HACCP system has been recognised by international bodies including the World Health Organization and the Codex Alimentarius Commission as an effective way to prevent physical, chemical and microbiological hazards in foods. Over the past decades, HACCP has become mandatory in the production of certain food products in some developed countries. HACCP is now mandatory by law for manufacturers of meat and poultry, seafood, and juice products in the United States, and for federally-registered meat and poultry establishments in Canada. In Australia, certain high risk food businesses are required to have HACCP-based food safety programmes.

Timeline of HACCP
Timeline of HACCP

HACCP System – A Cost-effectiveApproach

The HACCP system is a scientific and systematic approach to identify, assess and control hazards in the food production process, from purchasing, receiving, transportation, storage, preparation, handling, cooking to serving. Food safety control is integrated into the design of the process focusing on active prevention rather than relying mainly on end-product testing. It is therefore a cost-effective approach to food safety with considerable long term savings. To circumvent economic constraints which may be a practical barrier to implementing HACCP system for the industry, the cost of implementation can be reduced by spreading the costs over time so that businesses can deal with manageable incremental steps, targeting sectors producing high-risk foods first.

The HACCP Approach - How Does It Work?

The HACCP system identifies specific hazards and measures for their control to ensure food safety and can be applied throughout the food chain from primary production to final consumption. A HACCP system follows seven principles that are universally accepted:-

  1. Conduct Hazard Analysis to identify all possible biological, chemical or physical hazards so as to devise control measures;
  2. Determine Critical Control Points (CCP)s in the production process where an action can be taken to prevent, eliminate, or reduce a food safety hazard to an acceptable level;
  3. Establish limits for each CCP at which a hazard is acceptable without compromising food safety;
  4. Establish monitoring procedures for CCPs by observations, measurements and keeping accurate records to assess whether a CCP is under control;
  5. Establish corrective actions to bring the production process back into control when monitoring picks up deviations from critical limits or detects a loss of control;
  6. Establish verification procedures by applying methods, procedures, tests, sampling and other evaluations to ensure that the HACCP system is working effectively;
  7. Establish a record system to demonstrate the effective application of the HACCP and to document the monitoring and verification results and corrective actions taken when deviations occur.

Benefits of Implementing HACCP System in Food Businesses

Implementing HACCP system brings benefits for consumers, food industry and government. It improves public health by reducing the risks of foodborne diseases. The improved product consistency increases consumer confidence in the product. Business returns are enhanced by lowered production costs with reduced recall and wastage of food and the increased market access. With the decreased business risk, the legal and insurance costs are also lowered. To apply HACCP in food businesses, the food operation should ensure that the appropriate product specific knowledge and expertise is available for the development of an effective HACCP plan, either from within the establishment or from other sources such as HACCP certification bodies. In the next issue, we will talk more on how to implement the HACCP system.