HACCP is no Longer an Option - It's the Law in Europe

December 19, 2003 -- The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) management system is soon to become a compulsory weapon in the European food hygienist's armoury.

Originally devised jointly by Pillsbury and NASA in the early 1960s, HACCP was a discipline developed to ensure the safety of the foods which astronauts were to take into space. Closely paralleling NASA's quest for 'ZDE' (Zero Defect Engineering) HACCP is a technique for scrutinising food preparation processes to find out just where something might go wrong (hazard analysis) and at what stage in the process that imminent fault can first be detected (a critical control point). A "hazard" may be anything from a failure to attain the temperature and time necessary for pasteurisation, or the deterioration of a surface through abrasion such that it is no longer cleanable under the CIP procedures in operation, or the failure of a sensor to provide accurate readings—any defect which can have a direct influence on the hygiene of the product.

In operation, HACCP is a sophisticated system developed to help food producers to anticipate problems. Only if potential hazards have been identified and monitoring procedures have been installed to detect the moment that they occur can prompt corrective action be taken, quarantining unsafe product, rectifying the cause of the problem and bringing the plant back up to standard—and speed—with the minimum of delay. Originally designed to target threats to hygiene there is no doubt that HACCP can additionally reap considerable financial benefits by minimising wastage and downtime.

Until recently, however, HACCP has been good practice, but optional. Now it is to become a legal obligation for all food businesses (except primary producers such as farms and abattoirs) to meet the requirements of Article 3 of the EC Council Directive 93/43/EEC of 14 June 1993 on the hygiene of foodstuffs. This will require them to implement permanent food safety management procedures based on the HACCP principles (together with the application of good hygiene practices) including the identification of hazards and critical control points, the establishment of critical limits, appropriate monitoring procedures and corrective actions as well as check procedures to verify the effectiveness of the system. Furthermore, it is to become obligatory to establish documents and records commensurate with the nature and size of the food business to demonstrate the effective application of the system.

And Article 8 of the same Council Directive says that "Inspection by competent authorities shall include a general assessment of the potential food safety hazards associated with the business. Competent authorities shall pay particular attention to critical control points identified by food businesses to assess whether the necessary monitoring and verification controls are being operated."

A Common Position amongst EU member states was agreed on 27 October 2003 and the last date for food producers to implement such a system has been set as close as 1 January 2006.

Stainless steel is an ideal, and reliable, material for food-preparation equipment. It is smooth, and so resists the adhesion of soils and biofilms. Its hardness preserves this smoothness, which not only maintains its cleanability but also reduces friction between itself and dry food products which, in turn, minimises local temperature rises which can initiate and sustain microbial growth. Its corrosion resistance enables it to withstand strong cleaning agents and to maintain the reliability of process sensors. All in all, stainless steel is a significant asset in any plant undergoing the rigorous scrutiny of HACCP.

-- By Eric Partington, a U.K.-based Consultant to the Nickel Development Institute.