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Food safety through HACCP - The FAO approach

HACCP principles
Advantages of HACCP
HACCP and trade
The FAO HACCP programme

A.J. Whitehead and G. Orriss

Anthony Whitehead is a Senior Officer (Food Quality Liaison Group) for the Food Quality and Standards Service, Food and Nutrition Division, FAO. Greg Orriss is Director of the Health Protection Branch of Health Canada in Kelowna, British Columbia. He contributed to this article as part of an FAO consultancy.

People are entitled to expect that the food they eat is wholesome and safe for consumption, Foodborne disease is at best unpleasant; at worst it can be fatal. Consequences of foodborne illness include adverse effects on trade and tourism, loss of earnings and productivity, unemployment and litigation. Food spoilage is wasteful and costly and can adversely affect the economy and erode consumer confidence.

All countries need adequate food control programmes to ensure that national food supplies are safe, of good quality and available in adequate amounts at affordable prices to ensure an acceptable nutritional and health status for all population groups. Food control includes all activities to ensure the quality, safety and honest presentation of the food, from primary production, through processing and storage, to marketing and consumption, The term has been used to describe a total national effort involving an integrated approach between governments and all segments and sectors of the food industry, Food control is linked to improvement of the health of the population, the potential for a country's economic development and the reduction of spoilage and food losses.

The Codex Alimentarius General Principles of Food Hygiene (Codex Alimentarius Commission, 1995a) lays a firm foundation for ensuring food hygiene. This document highlights the key hygiene controls at each stage along the food chain from primary production through to the final consumer, and recommends a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach wherever possible to enhance food safety, However, food safety must be viewed as only one important aspect of overall food quality, and HACCP, as a mechanism to control food safety, is one component of overall food quality control programmes, The HACCP approach is internationally recognized as essential to ensuring the safety and suitability of food for human consumption, and it enhances the potential for international trade.

HACCP principles

The HACCP system as applied for food safety management uses the approach of controlling critical points in food handling to prevent food safety problems. It is a system for identifying specific hazards and preventive measures for their control, The system comprises seven principles:

· Principle 1. Identify the potential hazards associated with food production at all stages, from growth, processing, manufacture and distribution to the point of consumption. Assess the likelihood of occurrence of the hazards (risk assessment) and identify preventive measures for their control (risk management).

· Principle 2. Determine the points, procedures and operational steps that can be controlled to eliminate the hazards or minimize their likelihood of occurrence; these are the critical control points (CCPs), A "step" means any stage in food production and/or manufacture including receipt and/or production of raw materials, harvesting, transport, formulation, processing, storage, etc.

· Principle 3. Establish critical limits which must be met to ensure that the CCPs are under control.

· Principle 4. Establish a system to monitor control of CCPs by scheduled testing or observations.

· Principle 5. Establish the corrective action to be taken when monitoring indicates that a particular CCP is not under control.

· Principle 6. Establish procedures for verification which include supplementary tests and procedures to confirm that the HACCP system is working effectively.

· Principle 7. Establish documentation concerning all procedures and records appropriate to these principles and their application.

Recognizing the importance of HACCP to food control, the twentieth session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, held in Geneva, Switzerland from 28 June to 7 July 1993, adopted Guidelines for the Application of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) System (Codex Alimentarius Commission, 1995b), The commission was also informed that a draft revised General Principles of Food Hygiene would incorporate the HACCP approach,

Advantages of HACCP

The HACCP system can be applied throughout the food chain from the primary producer to the final consumer. Besides enhancing food safety, other benefits in applying HACCP include more effective use of resources and more timely response to food safety problems. In addition, the application of the HACCP system can aid inspection by food control regulatory authorities and promote international trade by increasing buyer confidence in food safety.

A HACCP plan is specific to a particular food and processing application. The HACCP system is capable of accommodating change, such as advances in equipment design, processing procedures or technological developments.

The successful application of HACCP requires the full commitment and involvement of management and the workforce. It also requires a team approach. The application of the HACCP system is compatible with the implementation of quality management systems, such as the International Organization for Standardization's ISO 9000 series, and is the system of choice in the management of food safety within such systems.

HACCP and trade

The Final Act of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), particularly the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the "SPS Agreement") and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, has significant implications for the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Specifically, Codex standards, guidelines and other recommendations have been identified as the baseline for consumer protection under the SPS Agreement. In this environment they take on unprecedented importance with respect to consumer protection and international food trade, As a result, the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (including the Guidelines for the Application of the HACCP System) has become the reference for international food safety requirements. Thus it is imperative that the Codex guidelines for the application of HACCP be unequivocal; otherwise conflicts on food safety grounds may arise.

While the improved level of food safety associated with implementation of HACCP and the leading role taken by the food industry are recognized, the application of HACCP as a public policy requires definition of the role of government in the HACCP process. Recent moves by some importing countries to require application of HACCP principles by exporting countries to food produced for export may result in significant trade barriers for countries unable to meet these requirements, The mandatory requirement to use HACCP and any subsequent barriers or other constraints to trade for developing countries need to be considered and identified, Application of HACCP to all segments of the food chain and the impact of this application on small and medium-sized food industries should also be addressed.

The FAO HACCP programme

The objectives of FAO's HACCP work include promoting good manufacturing practices (GMPs) and the HACCP system through the use of the Codex General Principles of Food Hygiene and other Codex codes of hygienic practice. FAO is working to enhance the role of science and risk analysis in the development of HACCP systems and to create a framework for a harmonized approach to the application of HACCP for determining equivalence of food safety control programmes.

There is worldwide interest in implementation of the HACCP system by the food industry and food control regulatory agencies. A common understanding about terminology and approaches for application will greatly enhance its adoption and will lead to a harmonized approach to food safety by countries all over the world. Many countries have integrated or are in the process of integrating the HACCP system into their regulatory mechanisms, In many countries, application of the HACCP system to imported foods may also become mandatory. As a result, there is a tremendous demand for training in the HACCP system, particularly in developing countries, as well as for the development and assembly of reference materials to support this training, It is a matter of urgency to provide the necessary clarification with regard to the application of the HACCP system.

Recognizing the importance of HACCP in food control, the importance of improving the safety of food in international trade and the need to address the issues identified above, FAO convened an Expert Technical Meeting in Vancouver, Canada from 12 to 16 December 1994 to discuss the use of HACCP principles in food control, The meeting noted that training in the application and implementation of the HACCP system was of utmost importance and recommended that FAO consider assuming the leadership role with respect to conducting high-quality and effective industry and government HACCP training. In their report, the experts also recommended that FAO should establish an inventory of available HACCP models and training reference materials and prepare core curricula for practical HACCP training courses, The training should be focused on developing the skills and methods necessary for training government and industry trainees in the prerequisites of the Codex General Principles of Food Hygiene and the principles and steps in implementing HACCP, Further, the core curricula should be modified to reflect cultural sensitivities and to address infrastructural problems in the specific countries.

In this context, and recognizing the need to standardize good manufacturing practice and HACCP training, FAO has embarked upon a plan to further collaboration and partnerships with regional and national counterparts, and where possible with other international organizations and the food industry, to review the needs of developing countries in implementing the HACCP system and to establish workable strategies. The plan includes the development of core curricula for the appropriate training of personnel at various levels in industry and government; the development of an HACCP instructor's handbook and technical reference materials; and the development of technical documents related to the application of risk assessment methods to HACCP and other food safety systems.

FAO is currently preparing a training package that harmonizes the approach to GMPs and the application of the HACCP system, A list of training materials and references is being compiled on the application of HACCP and GMPs to support training regarding the General Principles of Food Hygiene and the Guidelines for the Application of the HACCP System. FAO aims to provide an effective mechanism for delivering the appropriate core curricula and level of knowledge to selected segments of industry, to individuals involved to varying degrees with the preparation, monitoring, administration and verification of HACCP plans and to food control regulators, FAO is developing a programme to train the trainers who are in a position to train others and to apply the knowledge gained and hence to contribute to self-reliance, particularly in developing countries.

Training in Thailand

In keeping with the training recommendations from the Expert Technical Meeting, FAO convened a temporary technical working group which met in Rome from 13 to 17 February 1995 to plan a Training the Trainers Course in HACCP for Developing Countries. The temporary technical working group consisted of representatives from the Centre of Export Inspection and Certification of Agricultural Products (CEICAP) of the Thailand Department of Agriculture; the Thai food industry; and international experts in food sanitation and hygiene, HACCP and training techniques, The working group prepared a tentative agenda for a course called Training the Trainers in the Application of HACCP, to be held in Thailand.

The meeting participants agreed that the objectives of the training should be to promote a common approach to the application of HACCP based on the Codex guidelines and where possible to train trainers with sufficient skills in the theory and application of HACCP to train others. They sought to establish agreement of terminology and basic understanding of HACCP principles and to impart to the trainees those skills necessary for the application of HACCP to food safety in both the public and private sectors, Furthermore, they wished to standardize the programme of prerequisites to the successful application of HACCP based on the Codex General Principles of Food Hygiene and to share knowledge and practical experience.

Representatives of CEICAP and of the Thai food industry agreed to pilot-test the training programme once developed.

The training course, held from 31 July to 11 August 1995 in Petchburi, Thailand, provided training to 16 participants, The training also involved presentations from the participants during and at the conclusion of the course to demonstrate their assimilation of the technical and training material. It was concluded that the course was effective in achieving the objectives and that the course format including lectures, exercises and on-site visits resulted in an effective transfer of technical information and training knowledge to the participants. This was verified by the knowledge and abilities demonstrated by the participants during the individual presentations at the conclusion of the training course.


Codex Alimentarius Commission. 1995a. Recommended International Code of Practice - General Principles of Food Hygiene (CAC/RCP 1-1969, Rev. 2 (1985)). In Codex Alimentarius, Vol. 1 B, General requirements (food hygiene), p, 1 -20, Rome, FAO/WHO.

Codex Alimentarius Commission. 1995b. Guidelines for the Application of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) System (CAC/GL 18-1993). In Codex Alimentarius, Vol. 1 B, General requirements (food hygiene), p. 21-30, Rome, FAO/WHO.

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