Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a systems approach that looks for key leverage or control points to manage food safety issues. It is built upon a series of prerequisite conditions designed to first ensure basic environmental and operating conditions. These prerequisite conditions might be viewed as efforts to remove the bottlenecks to an effectively functioning system. These include facilities that maintain sanitary conditions; proper equipment construction, installation, and maintenance; personal hygiene by employees; etc.
Once these basic conditions of food safety are accomplished, HACCP looks for options for interventions at multiple leverage or control points and institutes a series of safeguards at these specific points.
Meat safety issues reflect this approach. Ground beef, which often combines meat from leftover portions of multiple animals, has been identified as a high-risk product or hazard. Toxin-producing strains of E. coli are widespread in ground beef products and have been responsible for a number of fatal outbreaks of foodborne illness in the past. The threats to health have led to a more coordinated systems thinking approach using the HACCP system. Let us take a look at the HACCP process and the ground beef example.
The systems thinking approach known as HACCP attempts to understand, monitor, and quickly respond to breakdowns in the food safety system. This methodology, originally developed for the U.S. space program, is based on the principle that risks to food safety exist from the field to the fork. HACCP is increasingly being adopted for such products as seafood, meat, poultry, and fruit juices. HACCP includes the following seven steps:
• Analyze hazards. Potential hazards associated with a food and potential interventions to control those hazards are identified. The hazard could be biological, such as a microbe; chemical, such as a toxin; or physical, such as ground glass or metal fragments.
• Identify critical control points. These are points in a food’s production—from its raw state through processing and shipping to consumption by the consumer—at which the potential hazard can be controlled or eliminated. Examples are cooking, cooling, packaging, and metal detection.
• Establish preventive measures with critical limits for each control point. For a cooked food, for example, this may include setting the minimum cooking temperature and time required to ensure the elimination of any harmful microbes.
• Establish procedures to monitor the critical control points. Such procedures may include determining how and by whom cooking time and temperature should be monitored.
• Establish corrective actions to be taken when monitoring shows that a critical limit has not been met. An example is reprocessing or disposing of food if the minimum cooking temperature is not met.
• Establish procedures to verify that the system is working properly. An example is testing time- and temperature-recording devices to verify that a cooking unit is working properly.
• Establish effective recordkeeping to document the HACCP system. This would include records of hazards and their control methods, the monitoring of safety requirements, and actions taken to correct potential problems. Each of these principles must be backed by sound scientific knowledge—for example, published microbiological studies on time and temperature factors for controlling foodborne pathogens.
Key control points at which ground beef may be contaminated in the meatpacking process have been identified. Monitoring by testing now includes a random testing process on all batches of ground beef. The process uses rapid testing of a sample of the finished ground beef and holding up distribution until the results are available. Education of consumers about the danger of eating rare or raw ground beef is also a key component of this strategy. In addition, separating beef products from other food preparation, especially from food products eaten raw, is an important educational effort.
The HACCP process has already had a major impact on the incidence of disease associated with ground beef. It is not a cure-all but looking at the process as a whole has helped us come up with effective interventions.
Finally, let us take a look at the use of systems thinking to predict the future.