An IT approach to maximizing the benefits of HACCP
Most companies now have some sort of Hazard Analysis at Critical Control Point (HACCP) data following the elevation of risk assessment to a legal requirement for food businesses. However, it is often perceived as a 'necessary chore' rather than a business critical mission providing real benefits. This is because for a HACCP system to work as it should, there needs to be a constant review and verification against actual factory practices and test results. If a manual system is used, review and corresponding document updates and issue control becomes a paperwork nightmare. New developments in IT integration can provide a better solution.
HACCP is a preventative control system based on food safety. It is widely applied in today's Industry, especially with regard to quality. It is derived from an engineering system, 'failure mode and effect analysis' which looks at a product, all its components and manufacturing stages and asks what can go wrong. Developed as a food safety tool in the 1960's by the Pillsbury Company, the United States Army Laboratories and NASA, it's original purpose was to ensure that food for astronauts would be free from pathogens and toxins. It was presented by Pillsbury to the American National Conference for Food Protection in 1971 and has since been modified and developed by the Food Industry. A company can gain a number of key business benefits if it adapts the HACCP approach:
- it provides a more systematic approach to the control of identified hazards than can be achieved by traditional inspection and quality control procedures
- its overall purpose is to enhance management confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the whole process
- it can identify areas of concern where failure has not yet been experienced and is therefore particularly useful for new operations
- it enables meaningful process control standards to be set and as such is a vital building block of a quality system, such as ISO 9000, that ensures those process controls are adequately executed and documented
- it is a useful training tool, giving in depth details of processes, and it reduces loss of technical knowledge following organizational changes
- it saves money by focusing technical resource into critical areas, reducing the requirement for end product testing and reducing product losses
Risk assessment is now a legal requirement for food businesses in the UK and many other countries across the world. To address these requirements, HACCP is proving to be a useful tool with endorsement from many organizations. The World Health Organization and the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods (ICMSF) has encouraged the use of HACCP. The British Government has also recommended its use following suggestions made in the Richmond Report on microbiological food safety. Also, HACCP was viewed as useful in demonstrating 'Due Diligence' under the UK Food Safety Act in 1990. After the Act the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations of 1995 made a risk assessment based approach to food safety, of which HACCP is the prime example, a legal requirement.
An implementation strategy
A HACCP system is implemented according to some basic principles. These fundamentally follow a logical, systematic and well-recognized method for implementation:
- conduct an analysis and prepare a flow diagram
- identify Critical Control Points
- establish target level(s) and critical limits
- establish a monitoring procedure
- establish corrective action
- establish documentation
- establish verification procedures
- revalidate HACCP and update controls
There are some common problems experienced by organizations with HACCP. Often, the time taken to complete studies can be too long. Out of date HACCP plans can be left lying on a shelf if a product alters. If the plans are available, they may not be integrated to main organizational systems. These plans may also not be reviewed and effectively verified. Finally, incorrect limits can result in inefficiencies, out of control processes and non compliances.
IT systems are now available that will help with each of these stages and provide solutions to each of these problems. Specialist HACCP software, (such as QSA™ HACCP), will guide a user through the first stages of analysis, risk assessment and documentation.
This software helps the user along in a structured and systematic manner ensuring the basic principles are adhered to. The time taken to complete these studies is greatly reduced by database features such as use of generic process studies, elimination of multiple entry of hazard details, copying of studies and automatic production of flow diagrams. Such database systems are easy to keep up-to-date because changing a detail in one place allows that change to be globally applied.
Once a HACCP study has been completed, the 'outcomes' need to be rolled out to the factory. Documentation, (factory specifications and check sheets) could be automatically produced as database reports. This eliminates the drudgery of manual changes. This could be done via integration of the controls and limits into a complete product specification database as part of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. Controls are globally defined and updated from a single source. This eliminates time consuming and potentially inaccurate double keying of data and time lags when implementing changes. Authority to print could be limited for these reports or the reports could be viewed on workstation screens to reduce the hazards of paper based document issue control. However, significant benefits over and above this could be gained by taking the standards set and integrating them with data capture systems. Figure 1 suggests how the interrelationships could operate.
Fig.1 The interrelationship between HACCP and data capture systems
For instance, functionality in these areas could be enhanced with down-loads to hand held data loggers. A stage further would be direct control of the factory floor through Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), automatically operating machinery against set limits and logging details of processes. Such systems build in advanced features like Statistical Process Control (SPC). Application of SPC techniques can be used to validate the accuracy of operational limits against the critical control limits. This will challenge the calibration and potential variances of factory equipment to ensure control is maintained.
In essence, data capture systems coupled with reporting and trend analysis tools would allow the HACCP feedback loop to be completed. Controls, critical limits and corrective actions would be defined in HACCP. These would automatically update the specification. The specification containing operating limits and test results would be challenged against them.
If the results were outside of the operating limits, a check would then be completed to establish if critical limits were exceeded. If they had been exceeded non-compliance would be automatically flagged. The defined corrective actions would then be followed. Longer-term trend analysis would be used to review the efficacy of the limits.
On one level this automation saves time and therefore in the medium term cost. However, perhaps even more significant benefits are available. The synergies of ERP approach data sharing provides real control and demonstrates it to both customers and in law. Above all, it ensures that HACCP does what it was designed to do, provide safe food for the consumer in the most efficient manner for business.
Chandi Gmuer's experience encompasses food technology roles in Research & Development and the position of senior technologist for Iceland Frozen Foods. He is now responsible for business development at QSA.
QSA Ltd. is a food consultancy company that specializes in software solutions for the Food market.
S. Leaper 'Technical Manual No.38 - HACCP: A Practical Guide' Campden Food & Drink Research Association - November 1992
'The Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995' Printed in the UK for Her Majesty's Statistical Office - 1995
'The Food Safety (Temperature Control) Regulations 1995' Printed in the UK for HMSO - 1995
Department of Health 'Chilled and Frozen - Guidelines on Cook-Chill and Cook-Freeze Catering Systems' HMSO - 1989
John S. Oakland 'Total Quality Management - the route to improving performance' - 2nd Edition Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd. - 1993
Richard A. Sprenger 'Hygiene for Management - A text for food hygiene courses' - 7th Edition Highfield Publications - September 1995
LACOTS 'Risk Assessment - A consultation document for Food Liaison Groups on guidance to local authorities on the application of risk assessment principles to food hygiene inspections.' 1995
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