What is a HACCP Plan?

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There are no consumers who wittingly buy food that will either injure or cause a foodborne illness. Consumers trust food manufacturers that they have taken all necessary steps to ensure that the food sold to them is safe and meets their expectations.

In this article, HACCP will be briefly discussed, including an overview of food safety hazards.

Introduction

Food handling organisations  have a huge responsibility to ensure they supply food and food products that do not cause harm to consumers. This where the HACCP Plan or Food Safety Plan comes in. The ultimate goal of a HACCP Plan is to ensure consumers are supplied with safe food.  It is the responsibility of every food handling business to ensure it produces safe, legal, and high quality food if it is meant for human consumption. A HACCP plan or food safety plan is a comprehensive proactive risk based approach used to identify possible food safety hazards that must be controlled to prevent potential food contamination. One of the fundamental requirements of BRC is that a food handling organisation MUST have a HACCP or Food Safety Plan.

The HACCP risk assessment was first developed by a group of food scientists in late 1950s to early 1960s to ensure that astronauts working in space consumed safe food.  In 1993 it was then approved by the Codex Alimentarius Commission- a joint between FAO and WHO on food safety standards, as the most cost-effective approach that ensured food safety.

Where Is HACCP Applicable?

HACCP can be applied throughout the food chain from primary production to final consumption, and its implementation should be guided by scientific evidence of health hazards to human health. These health hazards are generally known as  food safety hazards  in the food industry and are groped in  into the following categories biological, physical, chemical and allergens.

Biological hazards 

Biological hazards occur when food becomes contaminated by microorganisms and macro-organisms. These biological hazards can be found in the air, plants, food, water, soil, animals and the human body. You get MICRO (cannot be seen with the naked eye) and MACRO (visible with the naked eye) biological hazards.  Of all the hazards, microbiological hazards poses the greatest thread to food safety. Examples of these microbiological hazards include:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Yeast
  • Moulds

Many microorganisms are helpful and necessary for life itself. However, given the right conditions, some microorganisms may cause a foodborne illness.

Macrobiological hazards include parasites and worms that are single-celled organisms. Human beings may be infected with single-celled parasites (e.g. Giardia lamblia) through consumption of contaminated water and foods like raw vegetables.

Human beings may also get infected with parasitic worms through the consumption of –

  • undercooked meat
  • freshwater fish and
  • freshwater snails

Examples are:

  • tapeworms
  • Clonorchis sinesis
  • Angiostrongylus cantonensis

Physical hazards

Physical hazards are tangible foreign materials that can cause choking, internal injury and sometimes death.

Examples of physical hazards include:

  • broken glass
  • staples pins
  • metal chips
  • pests like rats, mice, cockroaches, flies
  • screws and bolts

These would normally get into food because of negligence and poor housekeeping.

Chemical hazards

Chemical contamination occurs when food comes in contact with chemicals, which can lead to chemical food poisoning. This also includes chemical spillage in a food-handling environment (even if the food is not in direct contact).

Examples of chemical hazards include:

  • cleaning chemicals
  • maintenance chemicals
  • excessive use of permissible chemicals
  • heavy metal presence in food stuffs way above the recommended limit
  • packaging material that is not food grade, resulting in chemical leaching into the food
    pesticides

Allergens

An allergy is a medical condition in which exposure to a food or substance, normally a glycoprotein triggers a harmful immune response in a person.
The immune response, called an allergic reaction, occurs because the immune system attacks proteins in the food that are normally harmless.
The proteins that trigger the reaction are called allergens. The symptoms of an allergic reaction to food can range from mild (itchy mouth, a few hives) to severe (throat tightening, difficulty breathing).

The eight major food allergens that are responsible for most of the serious food allergy reactions in South Africa are:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • Wheat (gluten)
  • soy
  • fish
  • crustacean shellfish

It is however important to note that proportionally only a small segment of the population has allergies. In other words, not everyone develops an allergic reaction to these foods. The BRC Global Standard requires that food manufacturing businesses incorporate the Codex Alimentarius HACCP principles in their food safety plan and identify significant food safety hazards. The HACCP principles will be covered in detailed in part II of this articles.

Conclusion

In conclusion, HACCP is a scientific system that identifies potential biological, physical, chemical, and allergens related to food and its processes and establishes specific control measures to prevent possible contamination. The system focuses on implementing preventative control measures rather than relying on the end product test. It is meant to proactively protect consumers by anticipation what food safety risks can occur in food.
Should you need help with drawing up a HACCP risk assessment, please contact ASC Consultants on info@ascconsultants.co.za

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