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Today, we are going to build an effective HACCP program. There is nothing that threatens every restaurant no matter how big or how small more than food poisoning and food borne illness. HACCP is your defense against it.

What Is HACCP?

HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points. It’s a system developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to try to reduce the number of cases of food borne illness.

One thing that the government actually did very well on this front, was

to not define an exact system that was to apply universally to all restaurants (and farmers, production facilities, and distributors). In this instance the government actually allowed flexibility within the program to develop the procedures that work best for your company. Along this line they developed a 12 step plan to help you form your own HACCP program .

While there is not a specific procedure your have to use, your local health inspector is likely looking for some form of a HACCP plan that is set in place. Failure to show that you are trying to prevent food borne illness can result in serious violations, fines, and even the closure of your restaurant.

While the threat of food borne illness is not 100% preventable, the stronger you build your HACCP program, the more likely you can reduce the chance of food borne illness occurring at your restaurant. Having these systems may also help to prevent or fight any improperly accused cases of food poisoning as well.

Step 1: Assemble A HACCP Team

The first of the 12 steps for creating a successful HACCP program is the formation of a solid HACCP team. Your team should consist of at least one person that is ServSafe Certified and is well versed in the requirements and creation of a HACCP program as well as the Critical Control Points present in your restaurant processes.

The other team members should each have a specific role that they are performing. These roles may include jobs such as: Overseeing Log Sheets, Watching for Improper Sanitation, Temping Out Food, Cross Contamination Prevention, Hand Washing Enforcing, and Ensuring Proper Cooling Times. Where possible, give each of your kitchen employees (you can include front-of-house here as well) a specific area of interest to watch out for to allow employees to keep themselves accountable. By giving each employee a small bit of authority when watching for a certain cause of food borne illness you share the responsibility of proper food handling and empower employees to do the right thing.

Step 2: Determine Process and Distribution of Foods

Each step in processing and distribution is an opportunity for contamination or improper handling. For each food item you should record whether it needs to be refrigerated, needs to be frozen, or whether it can remain stable on the shelf; and for how long.

If you can determine an average shelf life for the product, record that as well.

Step 3: Define Intended Use and Consumers

Define the ingredients within a product. Determine if it poses a risk to people with certain allergies. Note any specific characteristics such as if it is sugar free, vegetarian, or low-fat.

Specify if it poses any risk for food borne illnesses.

Step 4: Develop A Flow Diagram

Form a flow chart or each food item that shows where that food item goes from the second it enters your restaurant. For instance, let’s look at chicken: Received From Distributor > Walk-in Cooler > De-boning > Cooler > Prepping/Marinating > Cooler > Main Line Cooler > Grill > Plate. Create a flow chart for each of your products.

Step 5: Conduct a Hazard Analysis

What types of hazards exist? Are the hazards physical, chemical, or biological? Determine where hazards could occur and also the probability that the hazard is likely to occur. Is the hazard preventable? How? If a hazard occurs, how severe will the consequences be?

Step 6: Determine Critical Control Points

Determine any point in your distribution and process flow chart above where a hazard can be prevented through an employee or process control. These are your Critical Control Points.

Note: Different products may have different control points. Just because one product has a certain control point doesn’t mean another product has to as well.

Step 7: Establish Critical Limits

Determine where your critical limits are, or in other words, determine the line where a product becomes potentially hazardous. This is typically related to temperature, physical surroundings, or time sitting in certain areas.

The most common critical limit, relates to the Temperature Danger Zone. The USDA defined this range as being between 40° and 140° Fahrenheit. This is the temperature range where food borne bacteria is most likely to grow and contaminate. No high risk product such as meat or fish should remain in the Temperature Danger Zone for longer than 4 hours total during the life of the product. This includes the time checking it in from the distributor, prepping, cooling, and even the time spent cooling a hot product from the line down below 40°. Any time a product remains between 40° and 140° counts down from the total four hour limit. For some products 4 hours may be much too long and they will be at risk much quicker.

Any at risk product that remains in the Temperature Danger Zone for longer than 4 hours must be removed from service and disposed off. Failure to do this may cause serious food borne illness which could lead to severe sickness and maybe even death.

Critical limits can apply to non-food items as well. Chemicals need to reach certain concentrations as to properly sanitize but as to not cause a threat. Use pH strips or a similar testing method to ensure your concentrations are safe.

Step 8: Establish Monitoring Procedures

There is no good in having thorough procedures if they are not actually being preformed. Monitor your procedures. Have a sheet on every cooler or write on the outside of the lexicon containers your products are in. Track when products enter and leave the danger zone.

Make the system quick and easy to ensure it gets done. Have simple checks and balances in place to ensure items are properly handled and recorded. Have timers or routine checks to ensure items are properly cooled or heated in rapid fashion. Use ice baths or hot baths to reduce the time products remain in the Temperature Danger Zone.

Step 9: Establish Corrective Action

Define the procedures to take when a problem occurs. If times are missing, put an item aside to make sure it isn’t used until it’s times and safety can be verified.

If a product’s safety is unknown or cannot be verified it should be properly disposed of or otherwise eliminated. Record, in writing, any product that had to be disposed of or any hazard that had to be removed.

When it doubt, throw it out.

Take corrective action to ensure the error doesn’t happen again.

Step 10: Establish Verification Procedures

Have procedures in place daily, weekly, and monthly to ensure proper record keeping is taking place.

Verify that all of your Critical Control Points are being properly managed and that all record keeping and monitoring procedures are being performed.

Step 11: Establish Record-Keeping and Documentation Procedures

Have a set place where all records go. Any records you take in terms of temperature, times, disposal logs, and verification procedures should go in an easily accessible file and kept on hand for at least 2 years. This will ensure that your HACCP program is properly followed and can provide assistance or verification if a potential situation arises.

Step 12: Evaluation and Revision

Evaluate and revise your procedures as needed. You should add to your HACCP program anytime you add a new product. Revisit procedures and ensure proper training when adding a new employee. When new equipment is added or products are moved around you HACCP program needs to be reevaluated.

It takes a lot of work to set up an effective HACCP program. However, aside from being required by the USDA, it is one of your greatest defenses against food borne illness. If you need help setting up an effective HACCP program, contact us, we can help.

For more information on building your HACCP Program you can check out the USDA’s Guidebook here.