September is National Food Safety Month. This is a great time to refresh our knowledge of HACCP Guidelines, what these mean to us as foodservice professionals, and the proper techniques to build an in-house food safety plan.

Wendy-DimitriWendy DimitriWhat was developed by the Pillsbury Company for the early U.S. SpaceProgram, then adapted for food processing, has evolved to be the worldwide food safety standard.

HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point. In practice it represents a logical system that identifies hazards and critical situations and develops a structured plan to control these occasions.

Seven principles and five preliminary steps make up a HACCP plan, each having its own place within the process. Together these 12 pieces provide the functional structure that allows foodservice operators to keep their guests safe from food-borne illness.

Let's take a look at the pieces that make up HACCP, how they relate to foodservice and incorporate them into a useable plan. We can start with the five preliminary steps:

1. Create an HACCP team.

These individuals play a critical role in developing, teaching, monitoring and managing the plan. Ensure the team members are both knowledgeable about a foodservice operation's products and best business practices for the operation as a whole. Do not only choose back-of-the-house personnel as food safety is everyone's business. Do choose individuals genuinely interested and vested in building an HACCP plan and understand the importance and longevity of the project. Once assembled, the team can choose a leader who will ultimately create the meeting schedules, review implementation and determine compliance with the plan.

2. Describe the food and its distribution.

For restaurants, this means describing the food that comes in your door and its associated menu items. Note if staff will serve the item hot, cold or at room temperature. Some food items will have more than one method of distribution.

3. Describe the intended users of the food.

The simple answer may be "our guests", but in implementing a thorough HACCP plan, this step's intent is to get into some of the details. Note if an item is for a child, an individual with allergy or other dietary needs, or any other intended end user for a specific dish.

4. Develop food flow diagrams.

Flow diagrams are simple block flow charts illustrating each inventory item as it would come in through the back door and the route it takes to become the end product that staff serve to the user. Items in the chart could include: receiving, prepping, storing, heating, reheating, etc. See the sample chart in the side bar.

5. Verify the flow charts.

This is a matter of reconvening the whole HACCP team to cross check the flow charts to ensure accuracy and completeness.

After completing these preliminary steps, we can begin the application of HACCP's seven principles:

1. Conduct a hazard analysis.

The hazard analysis serves as the heart of any HACCP plan. When it comes to food safety, a hazard is a biological, chemical or physical agent that is reasonably likely to cause illness or injury in the absence of its control, according to the FDA.

An example of a part of a hazard analysis for a fried chicken entrée may look like:Hazard-Analysis-chart

2. Identify critical control points.

Critical control points (CCPs) consist of the steps staff can take to reduce, prevent or eliminate food-borne illness hazards and can include measures of safe sourcing to heating, cooling and reheating temperatures and acidification. Each menu item should have its own critical control sheet listing the basics of each step in the preparation of the item. However, the specifics of the CCPs come in the next principle step.

An example of two line items in a critical control sheet may resemble:Identify critical-control-points

3. Establish critical limits.

Here we get specific on the actual points in which food items may become a hazard and the steps to take to prevent the hazard. An example on beef patties directly from the FDA's website is below.Establish-critical-limits

Some would suggest including CCPs and staff standard operating procedures in this step, though the team should ultimately decide based on what's best for that specific foodservice operation.

4. Establish a monitoring procedure.

As we establish all of the technical points of food safety, it is only natural that we also develop a monitoring
procedure. This is the opportunity to review the standards set at CCPs on a managed schedule.

Monitoring supports a successful food safety plan in several ways. First, it tracks the observations. Second, it determines when a loss of control occurs. Finally, monitoring provides written documentation for future analysis.

5. Take corrective actions.

This step seems obvious, but the point is to have the corrective measures as a part of the plan for each item. For example, a corrective action for a grilled chicken breast that has been out of the walk-in for more than four hours is to discard. However, reheating is a corrective action for a soup that falls below 135 degrees F for a short period of time.

6. Establish a verification procedure.

Verification determines the HACCP plan's accuracy and whether staff follow it correctly and if it's been designed properly for ultimate effectiveness. An example of a verification procedure is checking temperature logs or thermometer calibration records. Staff typically execute most of these procedures daily.

More in-depth and formal verification procedures encompassing the whole plan should take place at least annually. Usually this step is performed by the team, but often an outside auditor is also called in.

7. Establish a record-keeping system.

This principle sets HACCP apart from other traditional food safety measures. Record keeping gives written evidence that the HACCP plan is controlling hazards.

An example of record keeping from the FDA website:Establish-record-keeping-system

As one can see, a thorough HACCP plan is not a quick endeavor and foodservice operators should create these food safety tools with care and patience. Your best resources are already in your restaurant with help readily available from government resources and private consultants.