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HACCP Questions and Answers

HACCP, or the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system, is a process control system that identifies where hazards might occur in the food production process and puts into place stringent actions to take to prevent the hazards from occurring. By strictly monitoring and controlling each step of the process, there is less chance for hazards to occur.

HACCP is important because it prioritizes and controls potential hazards in food production. By controlling major food risks, such as microbiological, chemical and physical contaminants, the industry can better assure consumers that its products are as safe as good science and technology allows. By reducing foodborne hazards, public health protection is strengthened.

While many public opinion studies report that consumers are concerned primarily about chemical residues, such as from pesticides and antibiotics, these hazards are nearly non-existent. The more significant hazards facing the food industry today are microbiological contaminants, such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, Campylobacter, and Clostridium botulinum. HACCP is designed to focus on and control the most significant hazards.

HACCP is not new. It was first used in the 1960s by the Pillsbury Company to produce the safest and highest quality food possible for astronauts in the space program. The National Academy of Sciences, National Advisory Committee for Mcirobiological Criteria for Foods, and the Codex Alimentarius have endorsed HACCP as the best process control system available today.

The current food inspection program is based on a see, smell and touch approach that relies more on detection of potential hazards than prevention. Furthermore, the current inspection program was designed in the 1930s when the threat of diseased animals and physical contaminants were the main concerns. Today, microbiological and chemical contamination, which cannot be seen, are of greater interest. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently mandated HACCP for the nation’s 7,000 meat and poultry plants.

Many of the nation’s meat and poultry processing facilities have implemented some or all of the HACCP principles into their operations. Many companies have also provided HACCP training to management and in-plant workforce.

USDA is pursuing a farm to table approach to food safety by taking steps to improve the safety of meat and poultry at each step in the food production, processing, distribution and marketing chain. On July 25, 1996, USDA released its Pathogen Reduction/HACCP final rule. The final rule will further target pathogens that cause foodborne illness, strengthen industry responsibility to produce safe food, and focus inspection and plant activities on prevention objectives. The final rule covers three major areas:

Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system

There are seven principles, developed by the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods, that serve as the foundation for a HACCP system. They are:

Microbiological testing can play a valuable role in HACCP programs as a means for verifying the HACCP system is working properly and to track trends and profiles of products. By tracking microbiological data, plants can identify when the production process is not being properly controlled or verify that prevention efforts are successfully reducing bacterial levels. End-product microbiological testing, however, is less effective. There is not sufficient data to determine what is considered an acceptable level of bacteria on raw meat and poultry, so an end-product test will not provide useful data, other than for trends analysis. While end-product testing may indicate bacteria are present, it does not solve the problem of identifying and eliminating contamination.

New technologies will play critical roles in HACCP programs since HACCP is designed to institute practices that reduce or eliminate harmful contamination. If new technologies are developed that prevent or eliminate hazards throughout the production process, they will be widely accepted and adopted. The industry has studied several new technologies and petitioned USDA to approve them for use.

There are seven HACCP principles that must be followed to implement HACCP. Every food production process in a plant will need an individual HACCP plan that directly impacts the specifics of the product and process. Government and industry groups are developing some generic HACCP models that provide guidelines and directions for developing plant-, process- and product-specific HACCP systems. The International Meat and Poultry HACCP Alliance has developed training curriculum to assist the meat and poultry industry.

For the most successful implementation of HACCP, it should be applied from farm to table — starting on the farm and ending with the individual preparing the food, whether in a restaurant or home. On the farm, there are actions that can be taken to prevent contamination from occurring, such as monitoring feed, maintaining farm sanitation, and practicing good animal health management practices.

FSIS plans to work with the Food and Drug Administration and state and local governments to begin to implement HACCP in the distribution and retail sectors. FSIS intends to work with FDA to develop federal standards for safe handling of food during transportation, distribution and storage prior to delivery to retail stores. Also, FSIS will work with FDA to provide food safety guidance to retail stores through the updated Food Code. The Food Code is a model ordinance intended to serve as a guide for state and local authorities. Following proper sanitation and handling guidelines will help ensure that further contamination and cross contamination do not occur.

Consumers can implement HACCP-like practices in the home by following proper storage, handling, cooking and cleaning procedures. From the time a consumer purchases meat or poultry from the grocery store to the time they cook and serve a meal, there are many steps to take to ensure food safety. Examples include properly refrigerating meat and poultry, keeping raw meat and poultry separate form cooked and ready-to-eat foods, thoroughly cooking meat and poultry, and refrigerating and cooking leftovers to prevent bacterial growth.

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