Developing, implementing and maintaining a food safety program are essential elements to good business.

Richard F. Stier
More and more food processors, supermarkets and ingredient manufacturers are going to their suppliers with a simple demand: if you want to sell to us, we expect that every product we buy will be manufactured under Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP).

Developed by NASA, Pillsbury and the US Army Laboratories at Natick to ensure the safety of foods used on manned missions in space, HACCP has been around since 1959. At one time it was considered an American program, but today HACCP is mandatory for many food processors around the world.

HACCP & the international stage

One of the forces that helped drive international recognition of HACCP was the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene. Codex issued its first HACCP guidelines in the mid-1990s and updated them in 2003. Entitled Recommended International Code of Practice and General Principles of Food Hygiene, the guidelines state that HACCP "can aid inspection by regulatory authorities and promote international trade by increasing confidence in food safety." Keep in mind Codex is a guideline, not a standard.

Internationally, the next step forward for HACCP is through the International Standards Organization (ISO). The organization's technical committee, TC-34, is developing an auditable food safety management program. Although there are currently no internationally recognized food safety standards, national standards do exist. If and when the TC-34 standard is finalized, it will take precedence over the national standards. This will, hopefully, minimize confusion and further increase the safety of foods and ingredients traded around the world.

Your HACCP program

As more food and ingredient processors in this country and abroad realize they need to implement HACCP programs, the question most often asked is: How? Development and implementation of a HACCP plan is difficult but not rocket science. There are several basic elements to creating a good plan:

  • Obtain management support. Without it, the program is doomed to failure. Once the company is committed to the development of HACCP and management is onboard with the program, you can move forward.
  • Education is critical. Send your people to workshops that teach them the principles as well as emphasize a practical approach to learning about the system. Look for a program that offers scheduled breakout sessions where the class works together to develop programs.
  • Consider hiring a third party to help train staff and/or work with you to develop your HACCP plan. Use him or her as a facilitator to work with your HACCP team to build the plan. It's important that your staff has a hand in developing the plan, which fosters a sense of ownership and increases the plan's success.

If you do hire an outside consultant, that person should have the following qualifications: practical experience in the industry; basic knowledge of microbiology and food-borne illness; understanding of sanitation, GMPs and industry operations; basic understanding of chemical and physical hazards; understanding of equipment and means of control to eliminate hazards; understanding of HACCP and hazard analysis; and an ability to communicate this knowledge effectively.

Commit to training the HACCP team, management and staff involved-it could literally mean everyone in the plant. But don't skimp on this step. It is the best investment that can be made in your business.