What is HACCP? And why does every restaurateur need it?
Anyone handling foodstuffs needs a plan for keeping on top of hygiene
Reports of unhygienic conditions in food service and the food industry are always making the rounds. With the advent of social media, horror stores of mould, dirt and pests now spread faster than ever before. Regardless of that, though dealing with hygiene is a daily challenge and a great responsibility for anyone handling food. Restaurateurs are legally obliged to serve their guests perfectly hygienic food. Each country has its own food hygiene regulations for this. If a restaurateur violates one of these rules, they may face fines or, in the worst-case scenario, end up in prison. Not to mention the lasting damage to their reputation it would cause.
Every restaurateur is responsible for checking up on their own business and ensuring that hygiene rules are observed. To do this effectively, they need to develop a system of checks based on principles known as HACCP. Known as what? Those outside the industry have rarely ever heard of this abbreviation. However, catering professionals know how important hygiene checks are when handling food – and how important the concept of ‘Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points’ (HACCP) is. It is the name of a tool to ensure food safety in a relatable way in food production, food service and food retail. HACCP helps to detect and eliminate risks to hygiene. In addition, it is useful for helping to avoid errors or – if they have already occurred – to reliably trace them.
The HACCP system provides clear instructions and documentation on everything to do with hygiene in food-service businesses. To start with, it enables these businesses to identify risks and what it calls critical control points in the first place. In addition, it is an aid to setting up regular routines for checks and, where necessary, to eliminating anomalies or dangers. The HACCP system can also be used to precisely record all processes relating to hygiene in the company. The head chef is responsible for complying with hygiene requirements in the food-service industry. However, the chef can of course delegate responsibility to employees and, for example, appoint an HACCP officer or an HACCP team.
Guidelines and checklists can be of great help in constructing a system but there is no one, universal HACCP system. Each one is specific to that business. In other words, it is precisely tailored to the respective food-service establishment, whether that is a commercial kitchen in a hotel or a small restaurant. You must therefore always adapt the industry guidelines to your own processes. Various associations and institutes offer HACCP seminars to help restaurateurs to set up individual processes and controls. Dishwashing machine manufacturer MEIKO offers regular HACCP training courses at its production site in Germany.
The HACCP concept helps to detect and eliminate risks to hygiene. It can be useful in all areas of the food industry and for its suppliers (e.g. in the cleaning and packaging industry, in mechanical engineering, in the chemical industry, etc.)
All HACCP systems are based on seven principles which are intended to help build an effective and reliable system in order to ensure high standards of hygiene in any business which handles food. It is important to check on each of these principles regularly and each company is responsible for doing this for itself.
The seven principles are listed here:
- Determine the relevant hazards (hazard analysis). Which risks can be identified throughout the stages of food processing in the company?
- Identify the critical control points. Where might there be a threat? And how can you reduce the likelihood of that threat becoming reality?
- Define limits for the critical control points. Setting and monitoring limits helps to identify risks in good time and thus avoid dangers. These kinds of limits can, for example, be set for storage times and temperatures for food items. Or define minimum and maximum heating times, service lives or periods of exposure to detergents.
- Set up a monitoring system. This will involve clearly defining which employees in the company carry out checks, how often and how they are to document them.
- Determine what remedial processes are to be launched should it become clear that a critical control point is no longer under control. Foolproof instructions should therefore be provided for the event that any limits are exceeded. Responsibilities must also be clearly defined: which employee is responsible for eliminating the source of danger?
- Create documents and records as part of your HACCP plan. There are no rules for what type of documents you should use or their scope. Flow charts, checklists and forms have proven useful in this but they are not the only options.
- Establish procedures to confirm that your company's HACCP system is working properly (verification). These could be additional inspections or measures which confirm a particular aspect. One idea is to have random samples tested at an external lab or use a method known as direct contact testing.