As you begin to document your HACCP plan, you should keep in mind that you don’t need to have a separate plan for every product. You may write a single plan for a group of products as long as they are similar enough. For example, if you are making sausage with different flavors then you could have just one HACCP plan for all sausages. A different HACCP plan will only be needed if the flavor addition and process introduce new hazards that are not addressed in the general plan.
The first few steps in documenting your HACCP is really an information-gathering process to prepare you for the major task of analyzing your hazards. Hazard analysis is the first principle of HACCP and is critical in creating a functioning HACCP program that addresses all potential hazards. I will address hazard analysis in another post. There are four essential information-gathering steps that you will need to take before conducting hazard analysis. First, you will need to describe the product, secondly, you must create an ingredient list, thirdly, you must create a process flow diagram and fourthly, you must verify the flow diagram.
Describe the Product
The product description activity will help you to better understand what the product is, its nature, how it will be used, and potential associated hazards. It is like your introduction to the product. It goes without saying that before you start creating a HACCP plan for the product, you should get acquainted with what it is you are dealing with. The product description can be documented using the product description form. It is a simple form that gives a general summary of the product. The form should essentially answer the following questions:
- What name will the customer call the product? e.g. vanilla ice cream; strawberry yogurt; frozen chicken thighs
- What is the nature of the product? In other words, what type of food safety characteristic does it have that would help to lower food safety risks? E.g. water activity (aw), pH, brix, salt concentration, presence of preservative, how it is processed (canned, vacuum packed, dehydrated etc.). State “no protective characteristics” if no food safety protective characteristic exists
- How will the product be packaged? e.g. Half-liter glass jars with crown cap. Labels are self-adhesive and applied prior to filling. Code date is printed via coding equipment after capping.
- How will the product be used? e.g. Ready-to-eat, heat-and-serve, prepare and bake, reconstitute
- What is the shelf life? i.e. How long will the product last when kept in a stated storage condition?
- Where will the product be sold? e.g. retail, wholesale, directly to public, restaurants, institutions (hotels/hospitals/senior living homes), for further processing
- Are there any special label instructions/information for safe use? e.g. “Contains soy” (or other allergen), “keep refrigerated”, “refrigerate after opening”, state cooking temperature, state best before date, include irradiation symbol
- Are there any special storage, handling and distribution control required? e.g. “distributed in refrigerated trucks”
Create an Ingredient List
Now list all the ingredients and packaging materials to be used in the process. Itemizing these will help you to spot all the associated biological, chemical and physical hazards that may enter the plant as a result of these materials. In addition to this list, you may also consider developing a separate list that contains all the potential ingredients and chemical substances that may find its way into the food. These may include various pesticides, cleaners, sanitizers and processing aid. This will help the HACCP team to see the bigger picture in assessing potential hazards that could be encountered.
Create a Flow Diagram
Now that you have described your product and developed your ingredient list, it’s time to create a flow diagram of the process. How you process the food will have a direct impact on the hazards that are introduced and those that can grow. Therefore, you should be familiar with each step in your operation, and the associated hazards. The flow diagram should be a simple outline of the steps in the operation. Do not include engineering drawings. A summary of the process steps with connecting arrows will work just fine. Several tools including Word and Excel will help you to get this done.
Verify the Flow Diagram
OK, you have a flow diagram! There is one more step. You must verify that the flow diagram represents what is being done. The draft of the flow diagram may be completed in a single meeting with the HACCP team, but if members of the team are out of touch with what is really happening on the ground, the flow will be inaccurate and cannot be used as a basis to develop the HACCP plan. Therefore, you must go on the ground to observe each step and verify that what you have on paper is what is really happening.
You may need to adjust the flow based on your observations. Otherwise, you may have to make changes to poor process practices that are not consistent with the company’s procedures and expectations. Once you are done with these HACCP first-steps, you are ready to take on the HACCP analysis challenge which in my estimation is the toughest part of the HACCP plan.