So now you have CCPs, Critical Limits, and monitoring procedures for your budding HACCP program. You know what you are going to control, where you are going to control it, and how to know your Critical Limits are being met. So what happens if a Critical Limit is not met?
A story I heard from a former health inspector illustrates the need for Principle 5 perfectly. This health inspector was reading the logs kept by the kitchen manager for the temperature Critical Limit on a Process 2 chicken breast. The entries were dutifully noted at the correct times and appeared to be accurate. They read something like this:
Check 1: 155 degrees Fahrenheit
Check 2: 168 degrees Fahrenheit
Check 3: 146 degrees Fahrenheit
Check 4: 162 degrees Fahrenheit
And so on. What’s wrong with this picture? Well, the Critical Limit for Process 2 chicken breast at the cooking CCP is 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds. The health inspector reviewed the restaurant’s HACCP program and found that the 165 degrees Critical Limit was indeed right there in writing. The monitor had kept accurate track of the temperatures of the chicken breast. Every single part of Principles 1 – 4 had been followed correctly.
But when a Critical Limit was not met, no corrective action was taken! That brings us to Principle 5 in the HACCP program. When monitoring reveals the failure to meet a Critical Limit, corrective action must be immediately taken. Usually the corrective action is pretty easy: if the chicken breast isn’t at temperature, cook it longer. Later, some other actions may be taken, like calibrating the heat on cooking equipment or cutting smaller pieces of chicken. Regardless, do what you need to do to ensure the Critical Limit is being met consistently. It’s probably also a good idea to step up monitoring after corrective action has been taken to make sure the problem has been effectively addressed.
Taking immediate corrective action is the short term response to a Critical Limit failure. The long term corrective action is just as important. Identify what went wrong and change your HACCP and Prerequisite Program procedures to prevent it from happening again. In this way your HACCP program should be viewed as an evolving thing. The best procedures are going to reveal their shortcomings in practice, and only a willingness to make adjustments to meet realities in the kitchen is going to make your program truly effective.