Everything You Need to Know About HACCP

Food safety is essential to the success of any food business. The 7 principles of HACCP can help you take control of the food safety risks in your business and protect your customers (and yourself) from the consequences of a food safety incident.
Everything You Need to Know About HACCP
April 26, 2019

Food businesses in Canada are required to have a Food Safety Plan, which is a set of written procedures that help to eliminate, prevent or reduce food safety hazards that can cause your customer to become ill or injured. Your Food Safety Plan also helps to protect your business from:

  • the financial and legal consequences of causing food poisoning or a food-borne illness outbreak
  • the financial and legal consequences of causing a severe allergic reaction from improperly handling food allergens
  • losing customers as a result of a reputation for unsafe food handling or unhygienic premises

Food Safety Plans are based on the seven principles of HACCP.

What is HACCP?

‘HACCP’, which stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points, is a systematic and preventative system developed in the 1960s by NASA and a group of food safety specialists. Considering that each astronaut on Apollo 11 — the first manned mission to land on the moon — had only 73 cubic feet of space (roughly 4' x 4' x 4') and no toilets, a system was required to prevent the astronauts from contracting a food-borne illness while in orbit.

Today, HACCP principles form the basis of Food Safety Plans worldwide. HACCP is applied to processes throughout every stage of the food supply chain, including production, preparation, packaging and distribution, and is used to manage food safety across many types of food businesses.

What are the seven principles of HACCP?

Think of HACCP principles as the steps you need to take to manage and control food safety risks in your business.

The seven principles of HACCP are:

  1. Conduct a Hazard Analysis
  2. Identify Critical Control Points
  3. Establish Critical Limits
  4. Monitor Critical Control Points
  5. Establish Corrective Actions
  6. Establish Record Keeping Procedures
  7. Establish Verification Procedures

1. Conduct a hazard analysis

The first step in any Food Safety Plan (or HACCP Plan) is to identify all possible food safety hazards that could occur in your business. First, consider your processes. These might include:

  • receiving goods
  • cooking food
  • serving food
  • waste disposal

Next, consider the food safety hazards that could occur during each of these processes. A food safety hazard is anything that causes food to become contaminated (and therefore harmful or unsafe). There are three types of food contamination:

  1. biological contamination (e.g. bacteria, viruses)
  2. physical contamination (e.g. pieces of broken glass, metal staples)
  3. chemical contamination (e.g. detergent, sanitizer)

Once you have identified all the potential hazards in your business, categorize them as biological, physical or chemical.


2. Identify critical control points (CCPs)

Now that you have identified all your food safety hazards, you need to identify critical control points (CCPs). CCPs are the steps in your process where a control measure is applied and is essential to prevent, eliminate or reduce a hazard or hazards to an acceptable level.

Identifying CCPs will help you to reduce the risk of food-borne illness in your business by helping you to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria and other microorganisms, as well as to prevent cross-contamination between different types of food, which can trigger life-threatening allergic reactions in some customers.

Some examples of CCPs could be:

  • the sign-off step when receiving deliveries
  • checking the temperature of food before serving
  • cooking food to a specific temperature

It is important to remember that there is no generic template that can be used to identify the CCPs in your food business. Many factors, such as the physical layout of your business, your equipment, the ingredients you use and your processes, make your business (and its food safety hazards) unique. Even facilities that process or prepare similar foods won't necessarily identify the same hazards or CCPs.


3. Establish critical limits

A critical limit is the maximum or minimum value to which a food safety hazard (biological, chemical or physical) must be controlled to prevent, eliminate or reduce the hazard to an acceptable level. Each CCP must have one or more critical limits for each hazard.

Critical limits are generally concerned with parameters that are measurable with equipment or can be answered with a yes or no answer, such as:

  • time
  • temperature
  • acidity
  • best before or expiry dates

Critical limits must be assigned an actual value (e.g. high-risk foods must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 74°C/165°F*). Determining or assigning actual values to critical limits can be challenging, as there is such a wide variety of hazards, each with different acceptable values.

In some cases, you may need to conduct tests or obtain information from outside sources (e.g. regulatory guidelines, expert opinions) to get the information you need. If information is not available, make a judgement call — be sure to err on the side of caution, and keep your reasons for making the decision and any reference materials you used in your Food Safety Plan.

*Cooking high-risk foods to an internal temperature of 74°C/165°F is a general rule, but different types of high-risk foods have different minimum cooking temperatures (and these can vary from province to province). If you are unsure about the minimum cooking temperature of a particular high-risk food (e.g. beef, pork, poultry, eggs), refer to your local legislation.


4. Monitor critical control points (CCPs)

Monitoring must be done to ensure that food remains within the critical limits determined at each critical control point. Put simply, monitoring means checking that food is safe.

Monitoring techniques can be broken down into four different categories:

  • observation monitoring (e.g. checking cleaning schedules, monitoring delivery checklists)
  • sensory monitoring (using taste, smell, touch and/or sight to check whether food is within critical limits)
  • chemical monitoring (e.g. checking acidity levels, conducting a nutritional analysis)
  • physical monitoring (e.g. checking food temperature, pressure, weight, etc.)

The best way to make sure (and verify) that monitoring is being done regularly is by using checklists and other documentation to record results.


5. Establish corrective actions

Corrective actions are the actions that must be taken if a deviation from an acceptable critical limit occurs. These are either immediate or preventative.

An immediate corrective action is stopping a breach that is happening now. For example:

  • throwing out contaminated food
  • rejecting a food delivery with signs of pest infestation
  • refrigerating food to keep it out of the Temperature Danger Zone (4°C–60°C/40°F–140°F*)

A preventative corrective action is stopping a breach from occurring in the future. For example:

  • performing routine maintenance on equipment
  • changing work procedures
  • training staff to follow food safety best practices

If corrective action must be taken, remember to record and communicate it to the appropriate person (or people) in the business.

*In Manitoba, the Temperature Danger Zone is 5°C–60°C/41°F–140°F.


6. Establish record-keeping procedures

Record keeping is essential to the effective operation of your Food Safety Plan and must include an up-to-date hazard analysis and details of any corrective actions that have been taken in your food business.

There are many day-to-day records associated with your Food Safety Plan. For example:

  • delivery checklists
  • signed-off cleaning schedules
  • temperature recordings
  • pest inspection results
  • staff training records

All employees should know where the Food Safety Plan is located, what they are responsible for doing (e.g. updating cleaning schedules, filling out temperature logs), when they need to do it and who to report issues to. It's common for Health Inspectors to ask for these types of documentation during a health inspection, so be sure to store them in a safe place.


7. Establish verification procedures

Developing your Food Safety Plan is only the first step towards food safety; consider your first draft (and each new version) a blueprint that requires real-world testing, adjusting and tweaking. A Food Safety Plan is a “living document” — it will not and should not stay exactly the same.

Perform an audit of your Food Safety Plan at least once a year to verify that it is working as expected, and to identify opportunities to improve it. Once you have identified these opportunities (and you will), adjust your Food Safety Plan and implement the necessary changes.

There are several methods that food businesses use to seek out information, including:

  • internal inspections
  • external audits
  • employee feedback

For each audit, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have we added any new products/dishes or changed any recipes?
  • Have we changed any processes or food preparation steps?
  • Have there been any changes to food safety laws or regulations that will impact operations?
  • Are there any patterns in the records that point to an opportunity to improve?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to update your Food Safety Plan.

Find out more

For a deeper understanding about HACCP and the seven principles of HACCP, download the CIFS Guide to Understanding HACCP Principles.

If you need to build a Food Safety Plan for your business, the CIFS HACCP Food Safety Plan Kit provides you with all the information, tools and instructions you'll need.