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HACCP Principle 6 – Ongoing Verification

HACCP Principle 6 - Ongoing VerificationNow we are getting into the multiple levels of control that make a HACCP program so effective.  Level 1 is monitoring: people who are directly involved with the food product at the Critical Control Point checking to make sure Critical Limits are met.  These people have taken direct responsibility for the Critical Limits assigned to them and have been given clear guidelines on how often to monitor, what to monitor, and the corrective action to take if a Critical Limit is not met.

But how do you know for sure your monitors are carrying out their very important duties accurately?  Despite best intentions, human error is a very real possibility, and one the success of your HACCP program cannot afford to allow.  Principle 6 in the HACCP program adds another layer to the safety net designed to catch every violation of a Critical Limit.

Verification is different from monitoring in two important ways: it should be carried out by someone other than the monitor, and it should follow a less frequent but very thorough schedule than monitoring.

Monitoring is carried out multiple times every day.  Verification should be carried out maybe once a day or once a week.  The person conducting verification should keep the following in mind:

Observe monitoring as it is being carried out in real time.  This allows you to see if actual situations allow for the monitoring guidelines to be followed properly.  It also allows the verifier to see if the monitor is doing things the right way.

Review records and ensure they are being recorded accurately and consistently.  It’s all too easy for someone in a monitoring position to flub a temperature record in the interest of time during a busy rush.  More innocent mistakes are also entirely possible, like reading a thermometer incorrectly or placing the instrument in the wrong place when trying to read temperature.  These mistakes will be revealed as you check records against observations.

Check actual practices against guidelines.  What’s different between the guidelines and practice?  Is there a problem with the guidelines or with the practice?  Remember, your HACCP program should be an evolving creature, not a rigid set of rules.

Were corrective actions carried out properly?  When a corrective action needed to be taken, was it identified correctly and in a timely manner?  Was the corrective action successful?  Was it recorded properly?

Is monitoring equipment up to snuff?  Finally, make sure the tools your monitors use are properly calibrated and in good working order.  There’s no point in monitoring with a broken thermometer or one that’s 15 degrees off.

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A Complete Guide To HACCP Food Safety

If you’re looking to implement a HACCP food safety program, this series of Back Burner posts will help you get started.  If you’re looking for ways to improve your existing food safety program, this is also a great place to start.  Food safety is a critical part of your food service business, and over the years, HACCP has proven itself to be one of the most effective ways to ensure your customers eat good food in your restaurant every single time.

This guide will walk you through the 7 HACCP principles one by one and will also cover supplemental information like Prerequisite Programs.  Get started on your HACCP program today:HACCP Food Safety

1.  HACCP Principle 1 – An introduction and understanding the hazards and risk factors present in your restaurant.

2.  HACCP Principle 2 – The Difference Between CCP & SOP – Some things in your food safety program will be covered by your HACCP, while other things need to be established as Standard Operating Procedure.  Learn how to organize food safety tasks here.

3.  HACCP Principle 3 – Set Critical Limits – A critical limit is the minimum or maximum temperature food product must reach to stay out of the temperature danger zone where bacteria and pathogens can grow.

4.  HACCP Principle 4– Establish Monitoring Procedures – Critical limits don’t do you a bit of good if you don’t monitor your operation and determine they are actually being met in practice, not just in theory.

5.  HACCP Principle 5– Develop Corrective Actions – Critical limits are worthless without monitoring, and monitoring is worthless without a plan to take corrective action when monitoring finds problems in your HACCP program.

6.  HACCP Principle 6 – Ongoing Verification – The secret to a successful HACCP program is developing multiple layers of quality control that ensure the standards you set in Principle 3 are met on a consistent basis.  Ongoing verification is another layer in the monitoring process.Keep Good HACCP Food Safety Records

7.  HACCP Principle 7– Keep Good Records – All that monitoring won’t help you if someone accuses your business of sickening them and you don’t have records of what you’ve been doing with your HACCP program.  Good records also help you every time the healt inspector arrives, so make sure you record the information you collect while monitoring your HACCP program.

8.  Prerequisite Programs– The essential partner to any HACCP food safety program is the Standard Operating Procedures that promote a clean and sanitary kitchen, like handwashing.  Get some prerequisite tips here.

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HACCP Principle 3: Set Critical Limits

Set Critical Limits For Your Food Preparation ProcessEvery CCP you identified by grouping menu items into processes now must have a critical limit set for it in order to become an official part of your HACCP program.  The FDA’s Food Code and your local Board of Health have established time and temperature specifications for every type of food you serve in your restaurant.  Research the time and temperature requirements at each CCP for each food type in every menu item you serve in your restaurant.

The most important critical limits usually involve keeping food out of the danger zone as much as possible.  The “danger zone” is generally 42 degrees Fahrenheit to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, although this upper limit will vary depending on what you’re cooking.  The space between 42 and 135 is called the danger zone because that temperature range is ideal for bacterial and pathogen growth.  The less time food spends in the danger zone, the less likely it is to develop contamination.

It’s also important to remember that time plays an important part when setting critical temperature limits.  For example, the critical cooking temperature for a chicken breast in a Process 2 or 3 (see Principle 2) menu item is 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.  For Process 3 menu items, where food is cooled after being cooked, it is not enough to set a critical limit for cooling at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.  The food must reach 41 degrees within 6 hours, and must reach 71 degrees by the end of the first 2 hours.  Consult with your local Board of Health or the FDA’s Food Code for more information.

Time can also take the place of a temperature control, and in some cases it might make sense to do so.  For instance, if you cook food using Process 2 and set your critical limit for temperature to be reached during cooking and then serve the food right away, you do not need to set a critical limit for hot holding.  The same principle applies to some cold holding critical limits.  Consult with your local Board of Health to determine exact time specifications.

So now you have identified hazards, grouped your menu items into Processes, and set critical limits for each CCP in each Process.  You have gone a long way towards implementing an effective HACCP program.  Unfortunately, the first three principles were the easy part (relatively anyway!).  Now you have to monitor, establish corrective action procedures, verify monitoring and verification procedures, and establish a record keeping system.  These last 4 steps are designed to make sure the lofty standards you set in steps 1 – 3 are actually achieved.  It’s one thing to talk the HACCP talk.  Now you have to ensure your restaurant is walking the walk.

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HACCP Principle 2 – The Difference Between CCP & SOP

This post is a continuation of last week’s HACCP post and the second in a series of posts here on The Back Burner that will completely outline a proper HACCP program for your restaurant.

HACCP Critical Control PointsA Critical Control Point (CCP) is a specific place where food can become contaminated.  After conducting the Hazard Analysis in Step 1, and identifying the what, where, when, why, and how, you should have a good idea of what your CCPs should be.  However, not all potential contamination points should be labeled a Critical Control Point.  Critical control points are exactly that: absolutely essential to ensuring food safety in your restaurant.

Other points of potential contamination should absolutely be addressed without using the HACCP system.  This is a key distinction when using HACCP: this program is designed for the control of critical contamination points in the food preparation and storage process, and should be used in conjunction with a robust food safety program, not in place of a food safety program.

Unless you are brand new to the food service industry, you have probably already created a list of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for applying proper food safety in your restaurant.  New operators should work with their local Board of Health to develop their SOPs before opening the doors.  These SOPs are called Prerequisite Programs in HACCP.  This distinction is important because as you identify risks and hazards in your restaurant, you are going to find points that should be addressed, but are not absolutely essential to achieving food safety for food safety.

These less critical points should be addressed with a Prerequisite Program, with definitive steps for minimizing risks and hazards.  The critical points in food preparation and storage that have to be done right every time to prevent contamination should be labeled a CCP and folded into your HACCP program.

So how do you decide which points are a CCP and which can be handled by a Prerequisite Program?  A good strategy is to analyze the food preparation process for each item on your menu.  There are a few exceptions, but in general most menu items can be divided into three groups (please keep in mind that the CCPs listed below are the most common examples only; actual CCPs may vary depending on the situation):

Process 1 – No Cook
Process 2 – Cook & Serve
Process 3 – Complex Prep

More on these processes in the next post.

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Food Safety Tips: HACCP

astronautThe HACCP, or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, is a set of guidelines and procedures for food safety originally developed by NASA for astronaut food 30 years ago.  NASA needed a food safety program with “zero tolerance” to protect astronauts from foodborne illnesses while in space.  One can imagine the consequences of a bad sandwich in a spacesuit….

Anyway, these guidelines have been adopted by most restaurants to ensure the safety of the food product and ingredients used and prepared in their kitchens.

HACCP is unique because it focuses on analyzing problem points in the production of food and develops ways to address those hazards rather than testing final products for food borne illnesses.

As a restaurateur, you are probably already familiar with HACCP guidelines.  This information is meant to be a quick refresher course on all the aspects of an effective HACCP program.  Of course, different local health standards in different areas of the country will have their own guidelines for food service, and you should always follow those guidelines over anything said here.

The HACCP system is internationally used and recognized.  The principles of a HACCP are:

1) Conduct an analysis of food safety hazards in the preparation and production of food products in a commercial kitchen.  The three hazard categories include biological (pathogens like bacteria or viruses), chemical (toxins or poisonous agents), and physical (foreign objects).

2) Identify critical control points for managing these three types of risks.  The most common control points in the commercial kitchen include heating, cooling, preparing, and serving food product.  Use NSF certified restaurant equipment and restaurant supplies to make sure the tools in your kitchen are designed with food safety in mind.

Also keep in mind the HACCP system is designed to cover all the steps in the process for food, from harvesting to consumption, so even though your restaurant may not become involved until the end of that process, you should still attempt to indentify problem points that occur before product ever comes through your door.  Make sure you know your food suppliers and their food safety procedures.

3) Establish critical limits for food passing through a critical control point.  For instance, cooked food must reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit, etc.

4) Develop a system that monitors critical limits and ensures they are Data Loggerbeing met.  Thermometers are key to making sure food reaches the 140 degree critical limit.  Data loggers can monitor temperature fluctuations over time in walk-in refrigerators or freezers.  No matter what, the critical limits need to be logged and quantified in order for you to understand if the critical points you addressed in the hazard analysis phase are being met.

5) Have procedures to address problems when critical limits are not met.  The whole point of establishing a critical limit at critical points in the food preparation process is to spot potential problems immediately.  Once that system functions properly and actually finds a problem, you need to have procedures to address them.

6) Establish an effective documentation system for any HACCP program that records problems and data like time and temperature.  Without such documentation, you have no way of identifying problems in your food safety program and documenting for health inspectors the good practices of your HACCP program.

Modern food safety equipment like data loggers can be connected directly into a computer and temperatures automatically loaded into a database.  Taking advantage of such technology not only saves you time but makes your safety program more effective.

Controlling the critical food safety points in your restaurant is key to anybody’s success in the food service industry.  Having an effective HACCP program is good business practice, and will keep your customers safe and the health inspector happy.

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HACCP Principle 4 – Establish Monitoring Procedures

Chefs Need Help Monitoring HACCP ProceduresNow that you’ve established your Critical Control Points and Critical Limits for every preparation process and every menu item in your restaurant, it’s time to monitor.  Limits and CCPs don’t do any good if there’s no enforcement.  The first thing to establish is someone who will accept responsibility for monitoring.  If no one must answer directly for monitoring, then no one will actively enforce the managerial control points you have taken so much time to identify up to this point.

Of course you may want to have different people monitoring different CCPs.  Regardless of who takes responsibility, proper training is an absolute must.  Training ensures that monitoring processes are carried out accurately and effectively.  Every CCP monitor should understand the following:

  • What the Critical Limit is for each CCP under their control
  • How to measure that Critical Limit (for example: how to properly take the temperature of a cooking chicken breast)
  • Where to find and how to calibrate measurement equipment like thermometers
  • How often to monitor

The CCP, Critical Limit, and the procedures on when, how, and where to monitor should all be written down in clear procedures that the person in charge of monitoring has read and signed.  This helps prevent confusion and assigns official responsibility, which is particularly useful in case of problems down the road.

An example set of guidelines for a specific menu item might proceed as follows:

Menu Item: Chicken Parmesan
Assigned to Process 2 (this restaurant cooks once then immediately serves this menu item)

Identified Prerequisite Program Controls:

Identified CCPs:

  • Cooking temperature
  • Hot holding temperature or using time

The Critical Limits Are:

  • 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds for cooking the chicken breast
  • Serve immediately

Note that this particular restaurant serves their Chicken Parmesan immediately, thus using time as a way to control the return of bacterial HACCP Monitoring Includes Checking Hot Holding Temperaturesgrowth.  If the restaurant did not plan on serving the chicken immediately, then a hot holding Critical Limit of 135 degrees Fahrenheit would need to be in place.

So someone in your restaurant needs to be trained and accept responsibility for monitoring the chicken breast while it cooks and ensure that it is regularly hitting 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.  It is up to you to establish the guidelines for the frequency of the monitoring.  The restaurant in this example tests one chicken breast in the beginning of the dinner shift, one in the middle, and one at the end of the rush to ensure temperature Critical Limits are being met.  Consult with your local Board of Health while you are developing your own guidelines.

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HACCP Principle 7 – Keep Good Records

Keep Good HACCP Records!Of course, all the work you’ve put into the first 6 principles of HACCP won’t do you any good at all if you don’t have accurate records.  In the event that your business is implicated in a food borne illness outbreak, all of your HACCP efforts only help protect you if you have clear, accurate records of your food preparation process, and you are able to prove active managerial control.

You should maintain records of at least these 5 areas to help you manage your HACCP program:

  1. Prerequisite Program records like handwashing, equipment sanitization, etc.
  2. Monitoring records– temperature logs should record the monitoring process at each CCP in your program.
  3. Corrective action records– when corrective action needs to be taken because a Critical Limit is not met, this action should be carefully documented, not only so that the process can be adjusted to avoid future corrective actions, but so that you can protect your business from liability should an outbreak coincide with the action.
  4. Verify and validate record keeping.  Many people in your restaurant will be keeping records.  As we discussed previously, regular verification and quality control needs to take place to make sure temperatures are taken and recorded accurately.
  5. Record equipment calibration.  Thermometers and other equipment you use to measure Critical Limits needs to be calibrated on a set schedule.  Make sure this schedule and a record of the calibration is carefully maintained.

When you first start keeping records, the frequency you record critical information should be high.  This allows you to spot problems in your new HACCP program quickly.  As you master the processes laid out in the first 6 Principles of your program, record keeping can be modified to promote efficiency.

Remember that these are just guidelines!  Every restaurant is different and has unique situations and requirements when it comes to planning and managing an effective HACCP program.  Consult with your local Board of Health to make sure that the unique situations you encounter in your HACCP program still meet food safety guidelines and are helping you accomplish your ultimate goal: successfully controlling food borne illnesses in your establishment.

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Food Safety Tips: Prerequisite Programs

Food Safety Prerequisite ProgramsThose of you familiar with the HACCP approach to food safety know that HACCP is just one part of the food safety puzzle in your restaurant.  It’s very good at managing cooking and holding temperatures for food product, which should be considered the first line of defense against pathogens that could sicken customers.

But HACCP also relies heavily on what it calls “prerequisite programs,” or standard operating procedures (SOPs) that keep your restaurant’s kitchen a clean, microbe-free environment at all times.  Without prerequisite programs, HACCP becomes your only defense against food borne illness, and that means unacceptable risk for your business.

Think of these SOPs as the base and HACCP as the tip of a spear in the battle against bacteria.  Most of these procedures are obvious precautions which you probably already have in place in your restaurant, but having a checklist can be helpful in making sure you’re taking a comprehensive approach:

Staff handwashing.  A handwashing sink with posted guidelines on when to wash hands and how to wash hands properly is a fundamental SOP for any restaurant.  Also make sure you train your staff on handwashing procedure and carry out regular enforcement to make sure your staff are handling food product with clean hands.  Learn more here.

Cover up.  Hair and beard restraints, disposable gloves, and proper chef apparel prevent foreign objects from ending up in food.  A properly clothed staff is key to keeping unwanted things out of the entrees you serve your customers.

Sanitization procedures.  Everything that touches food in your restaurant needs to be sanitized on a regular basis.  Food processors, mixers, slicers, countertops, utensils, and cookware are all good examples.  Smaller items like kitchen knives and fry pans can be sanitized using your commercial dishwasher.  Larger equipment like mixers and slicers need to be washed down with a sanitizer solution.  The same goes for surfaces where food is prepared.  Buying concentrated sanitizer for this task will save you a lot of money over pre-mixed sanitizer.

Receiving product.  When your supplier truck rolls up to the back door of your restaurant, you and your staff should be following a standard set of procedures for processing and storing product.  The temperature of cold stored product should be checked as it comes off the truck and a minimum time for getting it into your walk-in should be set.  These guidelines make sure product is arriving at a safe temperature and is stored properly without entering the danger zone over 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Employee health.  Employees that come in direct contact with food during its preparation should be sent home if they exhibit symptoms of illnesses that can be transmitted to customers, including vomiting and diarrhea.  The loss of that employee for that shift is minor compared to the problems your business will face if a customer is infected.

Use potable water.  The vast majority of kitchens have ready access to potable water through existing plumbing.  However, it’s important to have procedures and staff training in place that ensures water used for cooking, washing, or otherwise preparing food product and for ice making is free from pathogens and contamination.  Usually this means preventing the cross-contamination of water after it comes out of the tap.  In the case of ice making, ice machine lines and ice bins should be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent bacterial growth.

Control contaminants and toxic compounds.  Some of the things you use in your restaurant kitchen cannot come into contact with food, like sanitizers, equipment lubricants, pesticides, etc.  Make sure these contaminants are properly labeled and stored in a separate, dedicated place and that machines and surfaces that come into contact with food product are properly washed.

Control pests.  The reasons for controlling pests are obvious.  However, it’s easy to forget about a control program and tempting to save a little money by not calling the exterminator.  Make sure you regularly locate and eliminate pests with an effective program on a regular schedule.

Calibrate hot and cold holding equipment and temperature measuring devices.  Over time the temperature this equipment says it’s at becomes less and less accurate, potentially allowing food to slip into the danger zone between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.  Calibrate this equipment on a regular schedule to ensure temperature accuracy.

Depending on what your kitchen prepares and how it’s configured, additional safety procedures may be warranted.  Consult with your local health inspection official for advice on how to address unique situations you might encounter in your restaurant.

Enforcement is also an important concern.  The best laid guidelines in the world are useless if they aren’t followed properly.  HACCP procedures for monitoring employees create a great, multi-layered system for ensuring guidelines are followed.

Food safety is a constant work-in-progress.  Training employees and then effectively monitoring the implementation of prerequisite programs will create a solid base upon which your food safety program can rest, ensuring you are serving the best food to your customer day in and day out.

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