The artisanal fisherman, fishing for a few hours and returning to sell his catch on the beach while the fish is still alive or very fresh, does not need a complicated quality assurance system. His customers know very well the quality of the fish, and most often the fish are caught, sold and consumed within the same day. However, no food production, processing or distribution company can be self-sustained in the medium- or long-term, unless the issues of quality are properly recognized and addressed and an appropriate quality system is put into operation in the processing establishment. The need for effective quality assurance systems is further underlined by the fact that global demand for fish and fishery products is continuously growing while production level is approaching its maximum with limited possibilities for future increase. The need for improved utilization of present harvest including a reduction of fish wasted due to spoilage is therefore a strong incentive to introduce an effective quality assurance system. Further benefits are increasing efficiency, increasing employee satisfaction and lower costs to the processing industry.
Traditionally, fish processors have regarded quality assurance as the responsibility of the regulatory governmental agency, and the means used by these agencies have been the formulation of food laws and regulations, inspection of facilities and processes and final product testing. The processors' own efforts have in many cases been based entirely on final product testing. Such a system is costly, ineffective, provides no guarantee of quality but merely a false sense of security.
At this point, a distinction needs to be drawn between Quality Assurance and Quality Control. Unfortunately, these two terms have been used indiscriminately and the difference between them has become blurred. According to International Standards (ISO 8402), Quality Assurance (QA) is "all those planned and systematic actions necessary to provide adequate confidence that a product or service will satisfy given requirements for quality". In other words, QA is a strategic management function which establishes policies, adapts programmes to meet established goals, and provides confidence that these measures are being effectively applied.
Quality Assurance is the modern term for describing the control, evaluation and audit of a food processing system. The primary function is to provide confidence for both management and the ultimate customer that the company is supplying products with the desired quality which has been specified in trade agreements between the producer and the customer. Only by having a planned QA- programme can a firm continue to succeed in supplying the customer with the desired products.
A large part of a quality assurance programme is built around Quality Control (QC). QC is "the operational techniques and activities that are used to fulfil requirements for quality" (ISO 8402), i.e., a tactical function which carries out the programmes established by the QA. Thus quality control is quite often equated with "inspection" or measurements within a quality assurance programme. Thus QC means to regulate to some standard, most often associated with the processing line, i.e., specific processes and operations. QC is the tool for the production worker, to help him operate the line in accordance with the predetermined parameters for any given quality level.
In contrast to the principles in traditional quality programmes relying heavily on control of end- products, a preventative strategy based on a thorough study of prevailing conditions is much more likely to provide a better guarantee of quality, and even at a reduced cost. Such a strategy was first introduced by microbiologists more than 20 years ago to increase safety of food products and is named the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) System. The principles of the HACCP system can very easily be used also in the control of other aspects of quality.
The principles of the HACCP system are now being introduced in food production in many parts of the world. One reason for this development is that a number of national food legislations today are placing full responsibility for food quality on the producer (e.g., EEC Council Directive no. 91/493/EEC) and the use of the HACCP system is required (EEC 1993, 1994).
The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system
The main elements of the HACCP system are:
For detailed information on introduction and application of the HACCP system, Huss (1994) should be consulted.
The great advantage of the HACCP system is that it constitutes a scientific and systematic, structural, rational, multi-disciplined, adaptable and cost-effective approach of preventive quality assurance. Properly applied, there is no other system or method which can provide the same degree of safety and assurance of quality, and the daily running cost of a HACCP system is small compared with a large sampling programme.
By using the HACCP concept in food processing it is possible to assure and - as all actions and measurements are recorded - to document assurance of a quality standard as specified in the product specification.
Application of the HACCP system for fresh or frozen fish production
A starting point in design and implementation of any quality programme is to achieve a complete and correct definition and description of the product. Further, it must be ensured that each and every quality attribute is included and is written such that any ambiguity is avoided. Thus the critical limits for defects such as presence of bones, pieces of skin and membranes on skinless fillets, maximum permitted short weights, etc., must be clearly stated. When this task is completed, and the processes within the operation have been considered, it is possible to identify the hazards to be controlled. A list of possible hazards and Critical Control Points in production and processing of fresh and frozen boneless fillets is given in Table 9.1.
In most presentations it is recommended that hazards are limited to safety hazards and decomposition (spoilage). However, in the present presentation commercial quality (defects) have also been included as hazards.
When all hazards, defects and Critical Control Points (CCP) have been identified, an appropriate monitoring and checking system must be established at each CCP. This includes:
Table 9.1 Hazards and Critical Control Points (CCP) in production and processing of fresh and frozen boneless fish fillets
|Processing flow||Hazard||Preventive Measure||
Degree of control
|LIVE FISH||Contamination (chemicals, enteric pathogens) biotoxins||Avoid fishing in contaminated areas and areas where biotoxins are prevalent||CCP-2|
|CATCH HANDLING||Growth of bacteria
Gaping in fillets
|Short handling time
Avoid rough handling
|CHILLING||Growth of bacteria||Low temperature||CCP-1|
|ARRIVAL OF RAW MATERIAL AT FACTORY||Substandard quality entering processing||Ensure reliable source (HACCP-plan onboard or
list of approved suppliers)
|CHILLING||Growth of bacteria (deterioration)||Ensure low temperature||CCP-1|
Pieces of skin, bones and membranes left on fillet
Visible parasites left on fillet
Proper setting of machinery
Instructions of personnel
Ensure light intensity on candling table
Frequent change of personnel
|Short weights/over weights
Deterioration during (fresh/frozen) storage
|Ensure accuracy of scales
Ensure adequate packaging material and method (e.g., vacuum)
|All processing steps||Growth of bacteria
Contamination (enteric bacteria)
|Short processing time
Factory hygiene/sanitation water quality
|CHILLING/FREEZING -STORAGE||Deterioration||Ensure correct (low) temperature||CCP-1|
A precise and detailed description of all CCPs is not possible as the individual and local situation may vary. However, some general points are considered as follows:
LIVE FISH - before being caught. The hazards are presence of biotoxins and contamination with chemicals and/or enteric pathogens:
CATCH HANDLING - hazards are growth of bacteria (causing histamine formation and/or decomposition), discoloration and gaping in fillets:
CHILLING - the hazard is growth of bacteria:
ARRIVAL OF RAW MATERIAL AT FACTORY - the hazard is risk of substandard quality entering processing:
CHILLING - the hazard is growth of bacteria (deterioration):
PROCESSING Filleting, skinning/ trimming - the hazards are pieces of skin, bones and membranes left on fillet:
Candling - the hazard is visible parasites left on fillet:
Weighing - the hazards are short weight or over-weight:
Packaging - the hazard is spoilage in frozen storage if packaging (packaging material, vacuum) is inadequate:
All processing steps - the hazards are 1) growth of bacteria and 2) (gross) contamination by enteric pathogens:
CHILLING /FREEZING - the hazard is deterioration:
In order to be effective, the HACCP system needs to be applied from origin of food (catch) to consumption. In the case of fresh fish, the situation is most often that the fish change owner at the time of landing. Here, the new owner (the processor) must ensure that the fish are supplied from a reliable source (fisherman) who also applies the HACCP principles. If this is possible, the processor has the situation under control and needs only occasionally to verify the quality on arrival to the factory by checking quality (sensory evaluation) and temperature of fish on arrival. In this case it is not a critical situation and this step can be designated a Control Point (CP) only.
The situation is very different if the processor needs to buy fish from a number of unknown fishermen (auction system). This will require constant checking of fish quality on arrival to the factory in order to ensure compliance with all the requirements of the product. In this case, it is therefore a critical Control Point, and since there is still a risk of substandard quality entering the processing line, it is a CCP-2.
Most on-line control (continuous control of temperatures, quality of work, sensory quality of product) should be the responsibility of the processing manager.