What Is Haccp

HACCP is a science-based, objective, and proactive method of assuring food safety by focusing on hazard identification and control at its source. Originally developed in the early 1960s by the Pillsbury Company, the U.S. Army Natick Laboratories, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop safe food for astronauts, HACCP is derived from failure mode and effect analysis (FMEA). This is an engineering system that looks at a product, all of its components and manufacturing stages and asks what can go wrong within the total system [4].

HACCP-like controls for thermally canned foods were first mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1973, followed by regulations concerning acidified foods (marinated vegetables) that likewise mandated HACCP tools [5,6]. The National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria (NACMCF) prepared the first official HACCP document in 1989, which was subsequently issued by the FDA as a proposed regulation for recommending HACCP as the food safety program of choice for the entire U.S. food industry [7,8]. In 2001 the FDA issued its mandatory juice HACCP regulations that apply to the production of all fresh fruit and vegetable juices [9].

Although not yet mandated by the FDA, HACCP for the fresh-cut produce industry presents some unique challenges because there is no definitive kill step for pathogens (e.g., retorting, pasteurization, acidification) in the processing operation. Instead, HACCP must incorporate a series of intervention steps or hurdles, such as using antimicrobial agents in flume wash water, applying modified atmosphere packaging techniques, and following consistent good sanitation and low-temperature management practices to retard pathogen growth [10-12]. Today, HACCP implementation is recommended or required by FDA/U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) throughout the food industry in the U.S. [13]. HACCP has achieved international acceptance with the recognition by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the most effective means of controlling foodborne disease [14].

Traditionally, the fruit and vegetable industry has used the concept of end-line product testing to attempt to ensure a high level of safety and quality of products. Today the defect detection approach has given way to defect prevention whereby a process is monitored as a product is being manufactured to determine when adjustments are required to maintain stability and where a change is needed to reduce inherent variability [15]. This prevention approach is in harmony with HACCP, which also focuses on prevention, whereby potential hazards are identified and controlled within the food processing environment to prevent unsafe products from being made [16].

While prevention is obviously superior to detection, it is not always easy to accomplish. This is because all processes are inherently unpredictable in nature and gravitate toward the natural force of entropy or disorder [17]. The only way to overcome the effects of entropy is to utilize statistical tools to find and eliminate the causes of disorder in the production system so the process can be brought back under control.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) drafted a report in 2003 that included science-based tools for food safety regulatory use in ensuring safe food production for the American consumer. It recommended the establishment of performance standards that would guide fruit and vegetable producers and processors to an appropriate means of ensuring food safety when operating under a HACCP system [18]. The committee also recommended the use of SPC as the most appropriate scientific tool for monitoring performance standards in fruit and vegetable operations and for developing the science-based food safety criteria that processors will need to verify and validate their HACCP programs.

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