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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, October/November 2005

Food Poisoning

The figures speaks for themselves

by Michael C. Bushaw

According to federal agencies, over 76 million people contract a foodborne illness in the United States each year, resulting in over 5,000 deaths per year. Most of these people get sick or die from food poisoning that could have been prevented.

In order to prevent foodborne illnesses in your plant or kitchen, HACCP principles need to be applied. This is a total product safety system used in food operations, non-food processing plants, distribution centers, grocery stores, hospital kitchens, etc. It was originally developed by NASA and Pillsbury in order to ensure the safety of the food supply to the astronauts. The requirements for HACCP for certain industries can be found in the Codes of Federal Regulation (CFRs): meat and poultry (9CFR417), seafood (21CFR 123), and juice (21CFR120).

There are seven principles of HACCP. The seven principles have been standardized by the National Advisory Committee for the Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) and the Codex Alimentarius. Each principle is applied in turn to ensure the safety of the food from purchasing, receiving, storage, preparation, service, and re-service. These principles can be used in your operation to eliminate food poisoning, whether you are preparing food for 4,000 or a family of four.

There are several steps that must be taken in order to set up a working HACCP program.

The 12-Step Program

There are five preliminary steps that must be addressed before the seven principles may be applied:

  1. Assemble a HACCP team. This should be a multi-disciplinary group, with personnel from different parts of the operation.
  2. Obtain the product and process information.
  3. Describe the finished products and its uses. For instance, “this plan covers frozen vegetables to be sold to the retail industry.”
  4. Construct a process flow diagram and plant schematics. This flow chart must include every step in the operation, from purchasing to shipment or service.
  5. Verify the flow diagram and plant schematics on-site.

Then, apply the seven principles of HACCP:

  1. Identify and assess the hazards. This needs to be done at every step in the process. Use the flow chart for this.
  2. Identify the critical control points (CCPs).
  3. Establish the critical limits.
  4. Establish the monitoring procedures.
  5. Establish the corrective actions.
  6. Establish verification steps.
  7. Establish recordkeeping requirements.

The Seven Principles.

The first principle requires that you do a hazard analysis for each type of product and each step in your process. The hazards in food fall into one of three categories: microbiological/biological, chemical or physical.

Biological Hazards: These are the most serious as they affect most people and cause most of the deaths and illnesses. These microbiological hazards are pathogenic (harmful) bacteria, viruses and parasites, of which bacteria are the largest group.

Some bacteria can cause serious problems for all consumers (i.e., Clostridium botulinum). These bacteria will grow in food if it is left to stand at room temperature. E. coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella species have been reported to have caused recent illnesses and several deaths. Other bacteria cause milder illnesses (Listeria species, Bacillus cereus) in healthy people but can be fatal in immuno-compromised people or for pregnant women’s fetuses.

Viruses (i.e., Hepatitis A, Norwalk virus, etc.) do not grow in food but can be spread easily by food from an infected employee to the consumer, causing the consumer to become ill.

Parasites (Trichina spiralis, etc.) can be found in certain species of food like raw pork or in infected food handlers or contaminated water. If these are not killed, usually by heat or freezing, they can cause the consumer to become ill.

The biggest problem with these harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites is that the consumer cannot see, smell or taste them, and therefore eats the food and becomes ill. It is therefore essential when working with food that you know what microbiological hazards you are dealing with, where they come from, and how to remove or kill them.

Chemical Hazards: These are chemicals in use in our operations that can cause people illness or injury. This list includes cleaning chemicals, sanitizers, liquid heat, pesticides, lubricants, paint thinners, etc., which can cause internal organ damage when ingested. Allergens are also a chemical hazard. These can be common foods that most people eat without a problem (i.e., peanuts, egg products, celery, etc.). For some people, these cause anaphylactic shock and in some cases death. Last but not least are those chemicals that have been declared health hazards if not limited in their usage (i.e., preservatives, sulfites, etc.) or labeled properly (i.e., aspartame, saccharin, etc.).

Physical Hazards: These are foreign objects (metal and wood splinters, glass fragments, earrings, bone fragments, box staples, etc.) or natural items (cherry pits, walnut shells, olive pits, etc.) hidden in the food that cause people to break a tooth, cut a gum or choke.

Hazard Analysis: Since one cannot see, smell or taste these hazards in food, it is essential that you know where they can get into food and how to do something about it, before the consumer eats the product. These hazards can get into the product at your supplier, during distribution to your facility, in storage at your facility, during preparation in your facility, during service to your customer, etc. Every effort should always be made to protect food at all times, and prevent contamination.

Critical Control Points: This is the second principle of HACCP. This is the step in an operation at which you are going to prevent, eliminate or control the hazard. You can help prevent hazards by purchasing from approved suppliers, protecting the overhead lights and having a written glass control procedure, sending unhealthy employees home, having an integrated pest management program in place, keeping food and all other products covered, washing hands, educating employees, etc. You can help eliminate hazards by cooking foods properly, freezing foods (for parasite control), irradiation of foods, sieving/filtering of foods, etc. You can help control hazards by cooling foods rapidly, keeping food hot (above 135°F [57°C]), keeping food cold (below 41°F [5°]), etc.

Refrigeration is a method of controlling bacteriological hazards.

Critical Limits: The third principle of HACCP pertains to the upper or lower limits at which the system is out of control. For instance, the limit for keeping perishable foods cold is 41°F [5°C]. The critical limit for cooking foods is simply the proper cooking temperature, as measured in the thickest part of the food item.

Monitoring Procedures: The fourth principle of HACCP simply asks for the who, how, when and where the products will be checked at the CCP to ensure that the critical limit has not been reached.

Corrective Actions: Principle five asks you to define what to do when critical control limits are exceeded. For cooking, that might involve increasing the cook time or temperature, or both. For holding cold foods, it might involve discarding foods that have gotten too far above 41°F [5°]. Records must be kept of any corrective actions. The corrective action records, (CARs) need to include the following elements:

  • The cause of deviation is identified and eliminated.
  • The CCP is back under control, and no product that is injurious to health enters commerce (proof of quarantine or destruction).

Verification Procedures: The sixth principle of HACCP requires that you develop procedures for verification that the CCP is being held in control as per the written program. For instance, checking the thermometers for calibration or signing off on daily cooking temperatures would help to verify that the process is working as planned.

Record Keeping: Principle seven states that some sort of recordkeeping system is required. After all, if you didn’t write it down, you have no proof that the system is working as planned. This would include temperature logs for coolers and freezers, temperature logs for cooked or pasteurized products, etc.

Food Safety: Most people get sick or die from food poisoning that was totally preventable. By using the seven principles of HACCP, you will be able to prevent food poisoning in your facility, whether that is your place of work, or home. Each principle is applied in turn to ensure the safety of the food from purchasing, receiving, storage, preparation, service, and re-service. These easy principles will make it possible to exert control over your operation, no matter the size. They can be used in your operation to eliminate food poisoning.



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