Sunday, March 27, 2011

Food Smarts - For Real: ‘Wassup with HACCP?’ Part 1

Are some of you wondering what is this HACCP (pronounced as “has-sip”) thing? For those of you who do know something about HACCP, I can now imagine your pained expressions. That is the usual reaction when I mention HACCP to someone who knows about HACCP. Have you just been asked to write a HACCP plan by your local Health Department? Has your Health Inspector asked you to provide HACCP training to your employees? Many questions – many answers coming. HACCP is an acronym that stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point. HACCP is a Food Safety Management system that focuses on the concept that if significant biological, chemical or physical contaminations are identified at specific points within a product’s flow through an operation, they can be prevented eliminated or reduced to safe levels. Blah, Blah, Blah … what does that really mean?

I remember the first time I sat in Food Service Manager Certification class and hearing the same info, thinking, “I have no idea what this means.” To tell you the truth – I felt overwhelmed and in over my head. I think that can be explained by the language that is used to describe HACCP. To give you some history: HACCP was originally developed by NASA who consulted with Pillsbury who had developed the concept in the 1960’s in their own manufacturing plants. My first question to self, when I learned this was, “Why is NASA getting involved with Food Safety? What did they care?” Then I connected the dots and realized that it was very important to NASA to avoid foodborne illness for their astronauts for the lunar launch.

HACCP was initially enforced in the U.S. for fish and meat plants. Nowadays, it is nationally required if an establishment is seeking a variance. The common denominator for most of these activities that require a variance is that they are “methods of food preservation.” In a nutshell, the variance is required for the following activities and will not be granted unless written proof (a written HACCP Plan) is demonstrated that the establishment can handle the food safely through the entire flow of the food item. This makes sense, as when preserving food, if done improperly, there is much opportunity for bacterial growth to occur. Some of the activities that require a variance and thus, simultaneously, a written HACCP plan are:

  • Smoking Foods as a method of food preservation
  • Curing Foods as a method of food preservation
  • Using Food additives as a method of food preservation
  • Using Reduced Oxygen Packaging as a method of food preservation
  • Serving Molluscan Shellfish from a display tank as a method of food preservation
  • Custom process animals for personal use as a method of food preservation

Most of our customers and most of you are not doing these activities, so how does it affect you? In real life you do what your local health inspector or jurisdiction requires of you, for example in the State of Maryland, HACCP is required as per COMAR, “Health-General Article, §21-321, Annotated Code of Maryland, and the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) 10.15.03 Definitions of priority assessment levels are found in COMAR 10.15.03.33C. A HACCP plan is required for all high or moderate priority facilities. Facilities which serve only hand dipped ice cream or commercially packaged potentially hazardous foods do not require a HACCP plan.”

Translated, this means a HACCP plan needs to be provided before an establishment gets approval to open or if they do construction or a remodel of an existing building. Some establishments were grandfathered and did not have to provide a HACCP plan, but now they are being asked to provide one to their local Health Department. Catering companies and mobile trucks that serve food are also required to provide a HACCP plan. Additionally in Maryland, we have been getting requests by restaurants to help them with their HACCP plans even though it was approved in the past. This is because they are being reviewed in many cases every 5 years.

Some of our customers have told us that their local Health Inspector has asked them to provide HACCP training to their employees. I translate “HACCP Training” synonymously with “Food Safety Training.” If you provide “Food Safety Training” to your employees, you are in compliance with HACCP training. HACCP serves many purposes; protect your public’s health, serves as written proof to your health inspector that you know proper procedures and lastly it protects you if you are accused of a foodborne illness and have to go to court. Next month, we will go over how to write a HACCP plan.

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