Friday, December 14, 2007


I've spent a good bit of time talking about recipes. I'd like to take a moment now to deviate somewhat from that discussion to give some background information on something called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, or HACCP (pronounced "hassup").

Back in the 60's, when NASA was getting ready to send people up into outer space, they realized that they had a problem on their hands. If astronauts got sick while in the air, their ability to receive medical attention would be severely limited. The obvious solution of course, was to do whatever they could to prevent the astronauts from getting sick in the first place. One of the most crucial elements of this was exacting a level of control over the food that was sent up with them that would eliminate the chance of food poisoning.

Pillsbury was contracted to design, manufacture and provide the first space meals. HACCP was developed in order to keep food preparation well-within safe limits. It has proven to be very effective, and has since been adopted into other concerns outside of food, such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

HACCP is based upon seven principles:

Principle 1: Conduct a hazard analysis
Procedures must be carefully inspected to discover at which points an unsafe practice may be introduced into the process. In terms of recipes, one may look at factors such as raw meat or eggs. If there is some item that may cause unsafe conditions to occur at any point, it should be noted.

Principle 2: Identify critical control points
A critical control point (CCP) is any step in the process when a control can be applied to limit, and hopefully eliminate unsafe actions. For instance, meat and poultry being cooked to a certain temperature to prevent salmonella, e. coli and other food borne illnesses.

Principle 3: Establish critical limits for each critical control point
This is the minimum and/or maximum limit to which a hazard must be controlled in order to ensure that it is at an acceptable level of safety. For example, poultry and ground meat should be cooked to at least 165F to kill off any pathogens that may be lurking within.

Principle 4: Establish critical control point monitoring requirements
We need to determine how to monitor the controls that have been identified to this point. Will a thermometer be required? Or is there some other mechanism that needs to be in place. In terms of meat and poultry, an accurate thermometer should be used to ensure that the inner meat has reached the appropriate level.

Principle 5: Establish corrective actions
If the above steps have been followed properly, then we shouldn't need to perform any corrective actions. But they do need to be in place, so that when something does go wrong, we have something to fall back to. If a pot of soup has dropped below 140F, then it needs to be removed from service until it has been properly heated to the correct temperature. If that soup has spent more than 4 hours (cumulatively, not at a time) under 140F, then it needs to be removed from service and discarded. If the time at which it has remained under 140F cannot be established, then it needs to be removed from service and discarded.

Principle 6: Establish record keeping procedures
This principle actually serves two purposes. If you've been able to keep proper records, then there will be no question as to how long that soup has been sitting out at under 140F. It's another layer of control that allows you to know, from start to finish, what the status (both safe and unsafe) of your product is at. If something goes wrong, this principle also provides you with proof (which may be helpful and/or necessary for legal reasons) that you either did something correctly or incorrectly.

Principle 7: Establish procedures for ensuring that the HACCP system is working as intended
It's all well and good to have a system in place. But if you have no way of knowing whether it's actually doing what you want it to do, then it's largely useless. Once you have your plan in place, you need another plan to make sure that the first one will work... before you even implement it. In fact, some organizations will not approve your plan without having this benchmark already in place. You may also find as you develop these additional procedures that there are holes in your HACCP plan. These procedures will let you know for sure one way or another.

Why have I made a point to explain HACCP? Many organizations are legally required to abide by these rules, and have their own HACCP plan in place. In fact, meat packers, egg farms and the like fall into this category. The corner bakery may not have the resources to implement and enforce their own HACCP system, but the hotel bakery probably will. And the corner bakery probably should, as soon as they're able. Recipe software that is expected to be used commercially needs to have features in place to accommodate such operations if it is ever to be seriously considered for use.

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