Implementing HACCP: A Guide for Food Businesses

Implementing HACCP

As a food business owner or manager, implementing an effective HACCP plan is critical to ensuring the safety of your products and compliance with regulations. HACCP, which stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, is a systematic approach to food safety that focuses on prevention. By identifying potential hazards and establishing procedures to control them, you can reduce the risk of contamination and foodborne illness. The FDA and USDA require HACCP plans for most food operations, and many states and countries have adopted HACCP as the foundation of their food codes and inspection programs.

What Is HACCP and Why Is It Important?

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points or HACCP is a systematic approach to identify, assess, and control hazards that could pose a threat to food safety. HACCP is a fundamental requirement of any SQF, BRC, FDA, USDA food safety plan. HACCP is the foundation of most, if not all food safety plans for food manufacturers, food processors, meat and poultry producers and processors, seafood, food storage and distribution, dairy and other food industries.

The HACCP system provides the framework for monitoring the total food system, from harvesting to consumption, to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. The system is designed to identify and control potential problems before they occur. In its Model Food Code, the Food and Drug Administration has recommended the HACCP system “because it is a system of preventive controls that is the most effective and efficient way to assure that food products are safe ” (1999 FDA Model Food Code) .

The application of HACCP is based on technical and scientific principles that assure safe food. Currently, the food industry, including foodservice, supports the use of HACCP and its principles as the best system currently available to reduce and prevent foodborne illness.

HACCP was first developed and used by the Pillsbury Company in the late 1950’s to provide safe food for America’s space program. Federal and state regulatory agencies have adopted the HACCP approach. Beginning in January of 1998, all seafood processors who ship their product across state lines were required to have HACCP plans in place. Also in 1998, USDA began to require that meat and poultry processing plants have HACCP plans in place.

Many state and local food regulatory agencies base their inspections on HACCP principles and may, in certain instances, require HACCP plans for specific food items. Food safety educators now use the principles of HACCP as the basis for their educational programs. The first step in creating a HACCP plan is to assemble a HACCP team. The team must have someone who is HACCP trained and certified.

The 7 Principles of HACCP

To implement an effective HACCP plan, you must understand the 7 principles that serve as the foundation.

Principle 1: Conduct a hazard analysis.

Identify potential hazards that could occur in your process and facility. Biological, chemical or physical hazards must be evaluated. Review inputs, processing steps, distribution, and intended use to determine significant hazards.

Principle 2: Determine the critical control points (CCPs).

These are points in a food production process where control can be applied and a food safety hazard can be prevented, eliminated, or reduced to an acceptable level. CCPs must have control measures to prevent, eliminate or reduce the hazard.

Principle 3: Establish critical limits.

Critical limits must be specified and validated for each CCP. They represent criteria that must be met to ensure control of hazards. Critical limits could include measurements of temperature, time, moisture level, pH, and sensory parameters such as visual appearance and texture.

Principle 4: Establish monitoring procedures.

Monitoring procedures must be able to detect loss of control at the CCP. They should be continuous, or at appropriate frequencies, to monitor the critical limits. The individuals responsible must be properly trained to perform the monitoring procedures.

Principle 5: Establish corrective actions.

These actions must be taken when monitoring indicates a loss of control at a CCP. They should ensure that the CCP is brought under control and food safety hazards are reduced to an acceptable level. Products affected must also be handled appropriately.

Principle 6: Establish verification procedures.

Verification procedures must confirm that the HACCP system is working effectively. Methods may include audits, calibration, product testing and review of records. Verification should be conducted by someone other than the monitor.

Principle 7: Establish record-keeping procedures.

Records must provide documentation that the HACCP system is working properly. They can include CCP monitoring records, critical limit deviations and corrective actions, verification procedures performed, modifications made, and justification for modifications. Records must be easily accessible and retained for an appropriate time.

Assembling Your HACCP Team

To develop an effective HACCP plan, you must first assemble a multidisciplinary HACCP team. The team should include individuals from all areas of your operation, including:

  • Management: A manager should lead the team to demonstrate management support and commitment. The manager should also have the authority to implement changes recommended by the team.
  • Production: Representatives from each production area should be included, as they have intimate knowledge of the processes and procedures in their area.
  • Sanitation: Including sanitation personnel will help identify potential areas of contamination.
  • Maintenance: Maintenance staff should be included to evaluate equipment and facility design.
  • Quality Assurance: A member of the quality assurance team should be on the HACCP team to incorporate existing quality programs into the HACCP plan.
  • Purchasing: The purchasing department should be represented to address raw material specifications and supplier control.

In addition to including representatives from each relevant area of your operation, at least one member of the HACCP team must be properly trained in HACCP principles. HACCP training and certification is available through various organizations to provide team members with the knowledge and skills required to develop an effective HACCP plan.

Once the team has been established, the next step is to develop the preliminary tasks necessary to create your HACCP plan. The team will need to describe the food and its distribution, identify the intended use and consumers of the food, and construct flow diagrams to outline the process from raw materials to final distribution. The HACCP team is responsible for overseeing each stage of plan development to create a comprehensive program that effectively identifies and controls hazards to ensure food safety.

Conducting a Hazard Analysis

Conducting a hazard analysis is a critical first step in developing a HACCP plan. A hazard analysis identifies potential biological, chemical, and physical hazards that could contaminate food products. It also determines if a hazard requires a critical control point (CCP) to prevent, eliminate or reduce it to an acceptable level.

To conduct a hazard analysis, the HACCP team should:

  1. List each step in the food preparation process, from receiving raw materials to serving the finished product. This includes packaging, storage, and distribution.
  2. Identify potential hazards at each step. Hazards may be biological (e.g. pathogens), chemical (e.g. sanitizers), or physical (e.g. metal fragments). Consider the likelihood and severity of each hazard.
  3. Determine if the hazard can be prevented, eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level. If so, it does not require a CCP. If not, it requires a CCP to control the hazard.
  4. Establish critical limits for each CCP. Critical limits are the boundaries that must be met to ensure hazards are controlled. They should be based on factors like temperature, time, moisture level, pH, and available chlorine.
  5. Develop monitoring procedures to ensure critical limits are met. This includes determining what will be monitored, how it will be monitored, frequency of monitoring, and who will perform the monitoring. Monitoring logs or checklists should be created.
  6. Establish corrective actions to take if critical limits are not met. This includes determining what actions will be taken, who is responsible for taking action, and how to prevent recurrence of the issue.
  7. Develop verification procedures to confirm the HACCP plan is working as intended. This includes reviewing records, calibrating equipment, and testing end products. Verification should be performed regularly by someone other than the monitor.
  8. Keep records of all monitoring, corrective actions, and verification. Records provide evidence that the HACCP plan is properly implemented and maintained. They should be kept on file for a minimum of 2 years.

Following these steps will allow your team to systematically analyze hazards, determine CCPs, and establish controls to ensure food safety. The end result is an effective HACCP plan tailored to your operation’s specific needs.

Identifying Critical Control Points

Identifying critical control points (CCPs) is a key step in developing a HACCP plan. CCPs are points in a food production process where loss of control may result in an unacceptable health risk. At each CCP, control measures are put in place to prevent, eliminate, or reduce the identified food safety hazard to an acceptable level.

To determine if a step is a CCP, you must conduct a hazard analysis to identify potential hazards. Then ask a series of questions to evaluate whether the step is a CCP:

  1. Does a hazard exist at this step that needs control? If no hazard exists, then this step is not a CCP.
  2. Does control need to be applied at this step to ensure food safety? If not, this step is not a CCP.
  3. Is control at this step necessary to prevent, eliminate or reduce the hazard to an acceptable level? If not, this step is not a CCP.
  4. Will monitoring procedures determine if the hazard is under control at this step? If not, this step is not a CCP.
  5. Are corrective actions available if limits are exceeded? If not, this step is not a CCP.
  6. Is record keeping able to document monitoring and corrective actions? If not, this step is not a CCP.
  7. Is this the final step at which control is necessary? If not, this step is not a CCP.

Once CCPs have been identified, critical limits must be established to determine whether a CCP remains in control. Specific monitoring procedures are then put in place to measure critical limits. Corrective actions must also be developed in case critical limits are exceeded. All of these components—CCPs, critical limits, monitoring, and corrective actions—make up the HACCP plan to ensure maximum food safety.

Ongoing validation and verification help determine if the HACCP plan is working effectively. Validation confirms that the HACCP plan is scientifically and technically sound, while verification uses audits, testing, and record reviews to confirm the plan is being properly implemented and is controlling hazards as intended. By diligently following HACCP principles, food businesses can achieve a high degree of food safety assurance.

Establishing Critical Limits

To implement an effective HACCP plan, you must establish critical limits for each critical control point. Critical limits are the maximum and/or minimum values to which a biological, chemical or physical parameter must be controlled to prevent, eliminate or reduce the occurrence of a food safety hazard to an acceptable level.

Each critical control point will have one or more critical limits that must be met to ensure control of the identified hazard. For example, if cooking is the critical control point for eliminating pathogens in beef patties, the critical limits could be an internal patty temperature of 155°F for at least 15 seconds. If chilling is the critical control point for controlling pathogen growth, the critical limits could be to chill beef patties to 40°F within 4 hours of cooking.

When establishing critical limits, consider:

-Regulatory requirements: Refer to federal, state and local food safety regulations to determine if there are prescribed critical limits for your product or process. These critical limits must be met.

-Scientific guidelines: Consult resources like FDA Food Code, USDA FSIS regulations or guidance from food safety experts to identify appropriate critical limits based on the best scientific knowledge.

-Your process capability: Select critical limits that are achievable based on your equipment capabilities, staff skills and other factors to ensure consistent control is feasible. It may require investment in additional resources or training to meet some critical limits.

-Safety margin: Choose critical limits that have some built-in safety margin or buffer to account for normal variations in your process. This helps ensure limits are not exceeded.

-Monitoring capability: Establish critical limits that can be properly monitored during operations to immediately determine if there is a loss of control at a critical control point. Limits must be measurable and verifiable.

Critical limits must be clearly specified and available to all who need to apply and monitor them. Document the critical limits in your HACCP plan along with the rationale for how each limit was determined based on the factors outlined above. Be sure to review critical limits at least annually and update as needed to reflect any changes that could impact your ability to control food safety hazards.

Creating Monitoring Procedures

To implement an effective HACCP plan, robust monitoring procedures must be developed and implemented. As part of your hazard analysis, you will have identified critical control points (CCPs) – points in a process where control can be applied and a food safety hazard can be prevented, eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level. For each CCP, you must establish critical limits – the maximum and/or minimum values to which a biological, chemical or physical parameter must be controlled to prevent, eliminate or reduce the occurrence of a food safety hazard to an acceptable level.

To ensure these critical limits are met, monitoring procedures must be developed. These include:

  • Specifying the frequency of monitoring at each CCP. This will depend on the nature of the CCP but should be often enough to ensure the critical limit is maintained. For example, frequent temperature checks for cooking and cooling processes.
  • Identifying who will perform the monitoring. This should be someone trained in proper monitoring procedures.
  • Establishing and documenting the monitoring method – for example, visual checks, measurements or testing. The method should accurately assess whether the critical limit has been met.
  • Determining the records that will be used to document the monitoring results. These records should show that critical limits have been met and corrective actions taken when limits were not met. Records should be dated and signed by the person responsible for monitoring.

By developing and implementing robust monitoring procedures at each CCP, you can verify that critical limits are being met and take action quickly when they are not. This is key to ensuring control over food safety hazards in your HACCP plan. Be sure to review and test your monitoring procedures, assess whether they are effective, and make changes as needed to strengthen your food safety system.

In summary, monitoring procedures that are properly designed, implemented and maintained are fundamental to an effective HACCP plan and overall food safety management system. By frequently checking that critical limits at CCPs are being met, and taking swift action if they are not, you can continue providing safe food to your customers and comply with regulatory requirements.

Designing Corrective Actions

Corrective actions are procedures put in place to correct any deviations from critical limits that may occur. As part of your HACCP plan, you must determine what corrective actions will be taken if a critical control point is out of compliance.

Determine Corrective Actions in Advance

For each critical control point, specify what corrective actions will be taken if critical limits are not met. This could include:

  • Adjusting the process to bring it back into control.
  • Recalling ingredients or final product.
  • Modifying equipment or facilities.
  • Revising training procedures.
  • Other appropriate actions.

Whatever actions are determined, they should be detailed in writing in your HACCP plan under the corrective action column for that control point. Workers must be properly trained on corrective action procedures.

Take Immediate Action

If monitoring shows that a critical limit has been exceeded, corrective action must be taken immediately. This means:

  • Stopping the affected operations.
  • Identifying and controlling any unsafe product that may have been produced.
  • Correcting the cause of the deviation.
  • Verifying that the critical control point is once again under control.
  • Taking any necessary preventative measures to ensure the problem does not recur.

Record Corrective Actions

All corrective actions taken must be fully documented in your HACCP records. Records should include:

  • The date and time the deviation was detected.
  • The details of the deviation, including how long it lasted.
  • The corrective actions taken, including times actions were begun and completed.
  • The results of any product testing or disposition.
  • The signature of the appropriate HACCP team member.

Documentation of corrective actions provides written proof that your HACCP system is functioning properly to both prevent and correct unsafe practices or conditions in your operation. Records must be maintained according to the requirements set out in your HACCP plan.

Following the corrective action procedures you have predetermined will help ensure compliance with critical limits and allow you to quickly take control if deviations occur. Be sure corrective action records are complete, providing transparent documentation of actions taken in response to any loss of control.

HACCP Training and Certification FAQs

To implement an effective HACCP plan, proper training and certification are essential. Several options are available for individuals and companies to fulfill these requirements.

Accredited Online HACCP Courses

Online HACCP training courses provide a convenient way for professionals to learn HACCP principles and become certified. Reputable courses are accredited by the International HACCP Alliance and meet the training standards of the FDA, USDA FSIS, and GFSI. These comprehensive courses teach how to develop HACCP plans, strengthen food safety systems, and properly apply HACCP. They prepare managers, supervisors, operators, and anyone responsible for food safety to implement HACCP.

Certification for Individuals and Corporations

HACCP certification is available for both individuals and companies. Individual certification confirms one’s knowledge and competence in HACCP principles. Corporate certification, also known as facility certification, demonstrates a company’s ability to effectively apply HACCP. To achieve certification, individuals and facilities must complete accredited HACCP training and pass an exam. Certification must be renewed periodically through continuing education to maintain valid and up-to-date knowledge.

Benefits of Proper Training and Certification

There are significant benefits to investing in accredited HACCP training and certification:

  • Meet regulatory requirements. Proper HACCP training and certification help ensure compliance with mandatory regulations and guidelines set by the FDA, USDA, and GFSI.
  • Safer food production. Effective HACCP implementation, driven by adequate training, helps identify and control hazards to reduce food safety risks. This results in safer food for consumers.
  • Improved operational efficiency. Well-designed HACCP plans streamline food safety efforts and minimize product loss. This can improve productivity and reduce costs.
  • Competitive advantage. HACCP certification signifies a commitment to food safety and quality. This can increase customer and consumer confidence and help businesses stand out.
  • Employee development. HACCP training expands employees’ knowledge and skills in food safety practices. This investment in human capital benefits both individuals and organizations.

In summary, accredited online HACCP courses and certification provide the necessary tools and credentials to properly implement and manage an effective HACCP food safety system. The rewards of this investment include compliance, operational efficiency, competitive advantage, and employee growth. For any food business, these benefits outweigh the costs.


In conclusion, implementing an effective HACCP plan is critical to ensuring the safety of your food products and compliance with regulatory requirements. HACCP provides a systematic approach to identifying and controlling hazards to prevent foodborne illness, allowing you to take a proactive stance on food safety. While developing and maintaining an HACCP plan does require time and resources, the benefits to your business and customers far outweigh the costs. By completing HACCP training and certification, you and your team will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to establish and manage an efficient HACCP system. With diligent monitoring and verification, HACCP can help make food safety an integral part of your company culture and build consumer trust in your brand. Overall, HACCP is essential to responsible food production and well worth the investment for safeguarding public health.