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.

The background
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
  • 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
  • identify Critical Control Points
  • establish target level(s) and critical
  • 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

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