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In my early days of Catamaran, an expat Executive Chef of Moven Pick Bangalore, Mr. Bernard Koing gave us a 5 minute appointment to discuss our products. Once we started, the discussion went on and on and the chef actually was discussing a whole lot of other things other than Fish. Finally, when we were closing and when the mention of our HACCP compliance was referred to, he asked me what a a critical control point meant (HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) I explained him the whole concept of HACCP to the best of my ability. The chef simply said, he is aware of all that I said, but his question still remains unanswered.

Even after multiple attempts I could not answer it to his satisfaction and he finally gave away the answer. Can you guess what it is?

In the meanwhile, HACCP often referred to as both H A C C P and as an acronym as something like “Hassup”, is a US standard for food processing. Originally designed for the purpose of ensuring safety of the food carried by astronauts of NASA and developed by Pillsbury, HACCP in the later time has gained wide currency and is by far the most accepted standard around the world for food processing. The EU has a little more stringent norms in terms of their acceptable levels of Antibiotics and other relevant biological activity indicators like Histimine, Ecolli etc.

I will try and explain this concept of HACCP in as lay man terms as possible. HACCP is based on 7 guiding principles which upon implementation will ensure that the food is free of Biological, Chemical and Physical contaminations (Technically speaking, the word free does not mean they are not there at all, it only means that they are at acceptable levels) and thereby ensuring safe food to the end user.

Lets understand what these contaminations are
  1. Physical contamination could be dirt particles, Pins, Metal items etc
  2. Chemical Contamination means let us say fish is actually treated with chlorinated water and the content of chlorine in the water is higher than what is acceptable. Similarly, the dishes are washed with detergent and then some amount of soap remains on the dish causing that to be transmitted to the food causing chemical contamination.
  3. Biological contamination refers to the enzymatic levels and presence of life in the form of bacteria or virus and an example is histamine levels, Ecolli levels in the food.
  4. Let us understand this with an example of Fish supply chain in the hotels. Hotels have this following typical process.
  5. Receiving
  6. Processing/Cleaning
  7. Storing
  8. Cooking
  9. Serving
The Seven Principles are as follows.
Conduct Hazard Analysis Perform an audit in the entire value chain process within your organization / processing unit as to where the food is likely to get contaminated in the form of Physical, Chemical, Biological properties.

So considering our example, the hotel, if it wants to implement HACCP, should conduct an audit to find out in the entire value chain from receiving to serving food to the customer as to where all there is a possibility of the food getting Physically, Chemically, Biologically contaminated.

Identify Critical Control Points
Critical Control Points are the process steps where preventive measures have to be taken. Else the food would be prone to one of the forms of contaminations.

Going to our example, at each of the process steps from receiving to serving, a control mechanism is setup to ensure that the contamination is prevented.

  1. The fish is checked for any dirt of metals.
  2. The date of processing and date of expiry are verified for each packet.
  3. Temperature of the product is checked, if there are thermal logs, it is checked for temperature in the last 24 hours.
  4. Samples are picked up for pathological tests.
  1. Any dark green patches of meat are checked.
  2. Smell of the meat is checked.
  1. The meat is frozen before kept in cold store.
  1. The food is cooked at adequate temperature.
  2. The food is checked for texture.
  1. Samples are collected for laboratory tests.
  2. Temperature before serving is checked.
Establish Critical Control Limits
For each of these control points/steps control limits or tolerance limits are set which are nothing but acceptable limits.

Lets revisit our example
  1. If the polythene cover used to pack fish is stapled then it is not acceptable.
  2. If the packet does not have a date of processing and expiry then it is not acceptable.
  3. The product temperature has to be between 2 to 3.4 degrees centigrade for chilled products.
  1. Green patches are not acceptable.
  1. If the product is chilled it has to be used the same day.
  2. Chilled product cannot be stored in the deep (This is the most common mistake committed by hotels, chilled product is stored in -18 freezer without blast freezing, absolutely non HACCP compliant process, second biggest mistake is storing the product with out any cardboard cover or protection, once again non HACCP compliant method. Read more about it in why frozen is fresh.)
  1. Every fish menu item is cooked at a temperature of 145 Degrees Centigrade.
  1. The Histamine and Ecoli levels are at acceptable levels of 50 PPM or less.
Monitor Critical Control Points
Ensure you track each of the control points as necessary to ensure that each of the control points are operating with in acceptable levels and that HACCP process is in vogue.

Setup Corrective Actions
Design what is the course of action which is corrective in nature to be adopted when a control point is out of the control limit, this is to ensure that the food remains non contaminated.

Going back to our example

  1. Fish packets are stapled - Corrective action is reject the consignment
  2. Fish packets do not have Date of processing - Corrective action is reject the consignment
  3. Temperature of the product is above 3.4 degrees centigrade and thermal log indicates fluctuations up to 10 degrees in the last 24 hours. Corrective action - Reject the consignment
  1. If the meat has foul smell - Corrective action - Discard the fillet
  1. Chilled fish is stored in 3 - 4 degrees centigrade and if it is left over after the 3rd day - Corrective action - The meat is discarded
  2. Ecoli Levels are above 50 PPM - Corrective Action - Cook the meat at 145 Degrees centigrade for 15 Seconds.
  1. The peak temperature of the food is 130 degrees - Corrective Action - Continue cooking until the food reaches 145 degrees centigrade
  1. Ecoli level is higher than 50 PPM - Corrective Action - Discard The Dish
Ensure HACCP System is Working
  1. Have a HACCP plan for the organization and each department.
  2. Ensure that relevant personnel are trained adequately
  3. Have a HACCP Brigade that does surprise checks and audits
  4. Third party certification audits
  5. All these activities with the ultimate goal to ensure that the HACCP is working overall at a desired level
Keep Records
Maintain records for all the above 6 steps

As a part of the HACCP plan apart from the principle driven activities, there are a lot of precautions that are taken to ensure the food is not contaminator. Some of them are:
  1. The food is not touched with naked hand, gloves are always used.
  2. The cleaning process is compliant with HACCP standard which includes usage of Hot water, detergent etc
  3. Employees are asked to wear proper gear before entering the production area which may include and not necessarily limited to covering the head, ears, mouth. Wearing gloves, Special foot wear, Apron etc
  4. Detailed cleaning process for each equipment is laid down to avoid food contamination.