How to Build a HACCP Plan

What is a HACCP Plan?

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a globally recognized system for managing food safety. The system employs a preventive approach to food safety instead of the traditional method of testing a finished product.

The HACCP system is designed to identify and prevent any potential food safety hazards, including any biological, chemical, and physical hazards that might arise at any stage of the farm-to-table process, from harvesting and raw material production to packaging, distribution and food preparation.

In the United States, seafood, juice, poultry, and meat processing plants need to utilize a HACCP system. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the meat and poultry HACCP systems, while HACCP programs for seafood and juice companies are controlled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

While not mandatory for all, most food companies use a HACCP plan voluntarily in order to ensure food safety. Successful implementation of a HACCP plan can help your company improve and maintain product quality, promote uniform standards for food safety, detect and control potential issues, and reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

Preliminary Steps for Developing a HACCP Plan

Developing a HACCP plan takes time and effort. To prepare for the win, start by establishing certain prerequisite programs in your facility. For instance, you may want to train your employees on personal hygiene or implement a pest control program in your manufacturing plant. Prerequisite programs like this serve as the foundation for building a successful HACCP system from the ground up. The FDA website provides some common examples of prerequisite programs.
Once youve set up the prerequisite programs necessary for ensuring a safe working environment, now you can start the process of developing a HACCP plan.

Ideally, your company should develop a HACCP plan for each food product or food processing system. The idea is to tailor the system to your individual product, process, and operating conditions.

Developing a HACCP plan should start with the four preliminary steps-

  1. Assemble a HACCP team.
  2. Describe the product and process
  3. Identify the intended use and end-users of the product
  4. Develop a process flow diagram

At this stage, the purpose is to gather the information and resources for developing a HACCP plan. Lets take a close look at each step.

Assemble a HACCP Team

First things first, assemble a dedicated team for developing and managing your HACCP-based food safety program. The team should include professionals from a range of disciplines, such as quality assurance, engineering, sanitation, food microbiology, and production.

Each team member should have some knowledge and expertise relevant to your product and process. Also, make sure the HACCP team has at least one or two local employees who are directly involved in your daily operations as their hands-on experience could help identify any limitations in the operation more easily.

In addition, it may be necessary to seek help from outside experts to identify any early signs of biological, chemical, or physical hazards in your product or process. However, outside experts should work as consultants rather than as core team members. The ultimate decision-making authority should remain with your internal HACCP team.

Describe the Product and Process

In this step, your HACCP team needs to develop a description of the product or products you are offering and its direct distribution methods. The typical product description should include the below information-

  • The common name of the product
  • The list of ingredients used in the product
  • A description of the preparation process
  • Any specific packaging requirements (For instance, does it need modified atmosphere packaging?)
  • The shelf life of the product
  • How the product should be distributed (For instance, does the product need to be kept at a certain temperature at the time of distribution?)

The purpose of this step is to help you identify any potential hazards or critical limits in the ingredients, processing, and distribution of the product. For instance, the description may help you understand that the product could be sensitive to microbiological growth.

Identify the Intended Use and End-Users of the Product

At this step, you should describe the intended use of the product. For instance, does the product need heating or further processing before consumption? Does the product serve as an ingredient that is used in another product? An example of this could be a type of sauce that is used to flavor other food being served.

This step also requires you to describe the intended end-user of the product. Is the product safe for consumption for the general public? Or maybe the product is designed for a particular group of consumers, such as infants, individuals with a weakened immune system, or the elderly.

Develop a Process Flow Diagram

The next step in the development of your HACCP plan is to create a flow diagram of your process. Your HACCP team is responsible for creating this diagram and it should illustrate all the steps in the production process, starting from buying ingredients to shipment of the final product.

The idea is to provide a clear outline of every step of the process that the facility controls. You may also want to include certain steps that precede and/or follow the processing that occurs in the facility. The flow diagram should be simple and easy to understand.

The Next Steps

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Once you have the preliminary tasks squared away, next is to apply the seven HACCP principles. Here are the steps-

  • Conduct a hazard analysis (Principle 1)
  • Determine critical control points (CCPs) (Principle 2)
  • Establish critical limits (Principle 3)
  • Establish monitoring procedures (Principle 4)
  • Establish corrective actions (Principle 5)
  • Establish verification procedures (Principle 6)
  • Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures (Principle 7)