Have you ever thought about what happens when cucumbers are turned into pickles? Or what ingredients are added to cured meat to keep them safer for a longer amount of time?
Because these kinds of processing techniques need to be done correctly to prevent any foodborne illness, you must create a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan, or a HACCP plan, before using them at your establishment.
Depending on what kind of food preservation methods you use, your local regulatory authority, like your health department, will have different requirements. Check with them on what documentation and procedures you will need before you begin preserving food at your establishment.
After your HACCP plan has been approved, make sure to share it with your employees and teach them how to follow it.
Why HACCP plans are important
You may choose to preserve your own food at your facility for a variety of reasons, like if you prefer using your own house-made ingredients or if you want to sell food that you preserve on-site. Food manufacturing plants and suppliers should have HACCP plans and procedures already in place.
HACCP plans provide detailed instructions on how to properly preserve food. If not followed correctly, you could have a major foodborne illness outbreak. If you need help creating your plan, your health inspectors or other regulatory agency will be able to help you identify which steps could present hazards and how they should be controlled and monitored.
Types of food preservation
Usually, time/temperature control for safety (TCS) foods are stored cold at 41°F (5°C) or below or stored hot at 135°F (57°C) or above. They also typically last about a week.
Food preservation uses processes and techniques to eliminate or greatly slow down spoilage and reduce microorganisms to a safe enough level that they won’t make your customers sick. Types of food preservation methods that require a HACCP plan or variance include:
- Processing and pasteurizing juice
- Using reduced oxygen packaging (ROP) procedures on site
- Using food additives or ingredients, like vinegar, to preserve fruits or vegetables
- Smoking food to preserve it
- Curing meats or other food
In addition, if you plan to use bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods, like when making sushi, you may be required to make a HACCP plan and obtain a variance from your local regulatory authority.
The seven steps of HACCP
Food preservation must be done correctly in order to prevent foodborne illness — just like creating a HACCP plan. There are seven steps you need to follow when creating a plan.
To help explain each step, we’ll use house-made pepperoni as an example. Imagine that you’re creating a HACCP plan because you want to cure your own pepperoni.
- Perform a hazard analysis. This step will help you identify possible food hazards in your establishment. This could include the ingredients you use (meat and seasonings), equipment used (meat grinder), chemicals (cleaning chemicals that could come in contact with the meat), and staff (those who will be making the pepperoni).
- Determine Critical Control Points (CCPs). In this step, you’ll determine which hazards identified in the first step can be controlled. For example, you could say that the meat will be cooked to a certain temperature to ensure it is safe to eat.
- Set critical limits. As part of this step, you’ll set specific limits on the critical control points. For example, you might say you will cook the meat to 155°F (68°C). If you will be testing for bacteria, like Listeria, you should set limits for that as well.
- Establish a monitoring system. The monitoring step ensures that the critical limits are being met. For example, if a critical limit for making pepperoni is cooking it to 155°F (68°C), then the monitoring system would be using a thermometer to check the temperature and recording it in a temperature log.
- Establish corrective actions. Corrective actions are necessary when the critical limits are not met. For example, if the temperature requirement has not been met, you may need to cook it longer. In other cases, food may need to be discarded. Following the plan for corrective action is crucial in preventing foodborne illness.
- Establish verification procedures. This step allows you to see how well your HACCP plan is working. Verification procedures can include watching employees perform actions, like taking temperatures and filling out a temperature log. Make improvements to your plan and work with your regulatory authority to ensure your HACCP plan is the best it can be.
- Establish record-keeping procedures. Records for HACCP plans include the hazard analysis, the plan itself, and supporting documents for the critical limits. In this example, the supporting documents would likely be temperature logs. Store and maintain these records in an accessible location so your employees can refer to it as needed.
In addition to following these seven steps, you may be required to put certain labels on your food. For example, if you pasteurize juice at your facility, you will want to include the fact that it’s pasteurized on the label. Work with your local regulatory agency to ensure you have an accurate label that meets the required standards.
Preserving food in certain ways, like using vinegar in fruits and vegetables, curing meats, and pasteurizing juice needs to be done in specific ways to prevent foodborne illness. If you want to preserve your own food onsite at your facility, you’ll need to create and follow an approved HACCP plan.
For more information about HACCP plans or for other food safety tips, check out our food manager certification training.
— Janilyn Hutchings
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