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The most common critical control points for food businesses
As a food handling business, you are responsible for many things, including the emotional experience of a delicious ...
As a food handling business, you are responsible for many things, including the emotional experience of a delicious meal, attracting customers with a versatile menu, and ensuring the safety of the food that is handled in your establishment.
To run a safe and successful food business, all food safety requirements must be met. The first step to ensuring food safety is straightforward: you must conduct a hazard analysis. This process consists of two stages: hazard identification and hazard evaluation.
The first stage focuses on creating a list of potential hazards associated with each step of the food handling process (ordering food, receiving food, storing food, etc.). The second stage takes your list of potential hazards and evaluates each hazard based on its severity and likely occurrence.
Upon completion of the hazard analysis, any hazards associated with each step of the food handling process need to be listed, along with the measure(s) required to control them.
What are control measures?
A control measure is an action or an activity that can prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce its impact or likelihood of occurrence to an acceptable level. In other words, a control measure is any action, step, task, process, or procedure intended to address a food safety hazard. The term control measure is used because not all hazards can be prevented, but all of them can be effectively controlled.
The first step to understanding critical control points in food preparation is knowing that control measures are categorized according to their nature, relationship to the process, and the level of risk to the consumer should the measure fail.
Examples of control measures include:
• Control Points (CP)
• Critical Control Points (CCP)
• Prerequisite Programs (PRP)
• Operational Prerequisite Programs (oPRP)
• Quality Control Points (QCP)
If you want to figure out which control measures are appropriate to identify hazards in your food business, you should evaluate the risk levels using a decision tree or a risk matrix.
How to identify hazards?
When handling food, you need to think through and describe which control measures can be applied for each hazard. Many preventive control measures are put in place to avoid food contamination from the production environment (for example, staff, pests, water supply, etc.), but other measures aim to reduce or eliminate hazards directly linked to specific production processes. (These can lead to the establishment of CCPs or operational PRPs – more about these later.)
This is why it is helpful to use a risk matrix or a decision tree to identify the risk level of each step of the process.
To create a matrix, list each step of the process (ordering from suppliers, food delivery, storage, food production, cleaning procedures, etc.) and note down all possible hazards of each step. For example, if food ordering is one step in your process, then a possible hazard of this step might be an unreliable supplier (you do not know whether the ingredients have been transported correctly, whether the freezer temperatures are cold enough, whether they have supplied high-quality ingredients, etc.). Then, go through your entire matrix and evaluate the possible hazards of each step separately based on their severity and likelihood of occurring. Some steps can contain a single hazard, while some steps can have a handful.
When conducting a hazard evaluation, consider the likelihood of exposure and the severity of the potential consequences if the hazard is not properly controlled. Severity is the seriousness of the consequences of exposure to the hazard (for example, the magnitude and duration of illness or injury and the consequences). You can use the following to evaluate the likely occurrence of a hazard:
- your experience,
- epidemiological data,
- information in the technical literature.
If you choose to use a decision tree to determine the risks of each step in the process of food handling, bear in mind that more than one step in a process can be involved to control a hazard, and more than one hazard may be controlled by a specific control measure.
As a rule of thumb, you need to determine which steps apply to your business and where the hazards could potentially come from. Once you have identified all the hazards and their risk levels, you must ensure that you put controls in place for each one of them. You can easily keep records in the FoodDocs system, set up your monitoring tasks and keep an eye on the records in the Activity log.
What is a critical control point?
A critical control point is a step where control can be applied. It is essential to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level. When determining your CCPs, you must address all potential hazards that are reasonably likely to cause illness or injury if left uncontrolled.
Critical Control Point examples can include:
- thermal processing,
- testing ingredients for chemical residues,
- product formulation control,
- testing product for metal contaminants.
You need to carefully develop and document all your critical control points because accurately identified CCPs are fundamental to controlling food safety hazards. Establishing CCPs is also one of the 7 HACCP principles, and you always need to establish the critical control points for food safety when compiling your HACCP plan.
What are the main critical control points?
As you know by now, there are no generic CCP templates that fit all food businesses. Only you can decide what the potential hazards for your restaurant, burger truck or café are.
Different restaurants that prepare similar foods can identify different hazards and therefore have different CCPs. This can depend on the facility's layout, equipment, ingredients used, processes employed, etc. If you are unsure whether a certain step should count as a CCP, put it on the list. It is better to monitor more things than not.
Here are some common critical control points that may apply to your establishment:
#1 Cold storage. Cold storage can be a CCP for different reasons. For example, if you offer raw meat to your customers, cold storage immediately becomes a CCP. Likewise, refrigerating precooked foods to prevent hazardous microorganisms from multiplying, can be another.
#2 Thermal processing. Any specific heat process that is designed to destroy a specific microbiological pathogen at a specific time and temperature can often become a CCP.
#3 Hot storage / displaying hot food ready for sale. When your food is pre-cooked and sold hot, it needs to be kept at 140 F or above to prevent bacteria from multiplying while the food is on display or stored. (The food needs to be at 140 F or above right through and not only on the surface.) This is a very common CCP for hotels, school cafeterias and hot dog stands, among others.
#4 Cooling / preparing cooked (hot) food for storage. Food that has been cooked can be left out at room temperature until it cools down enough to be put into the fridge. The cooling must happen as fast as possible and different countries have different standards when it comes to the temperatures the food must reach within the first 2-4 hours.
The actual CCPs will depend on your ingredients, suppliers, actual physical location, the country you are operating in, and many other factors. Conducting a hazard analysis and identifying critical control points used to be a time-consuming task. Luckily, those days are over. Digital food safety management systems like FoodDocs allow you to determine your CCPs in every process, smoothly and quickly.
What is the difference between control point, critical control point, prerequisite program and operational prerequisite program?
To sort out any possible confusion surrounding the terms, let’s look into four main terms that you will come across when determining control measures and critical control points for food safety.
Control Point (CP): Any step at which biological, chemical, or physical factors can be controlled.
Critical Control Point (CCP): One of the key HACCP principles, a CCP refers to the step at which control can be applied and is essential to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level. (If the hazard can be reduced or eliminated in another upcoming process, a control point is not critical.)
Prerequisite program (PRP): Necessary basic conditions and activities that are needed to maintain a hygienic environment throughout the food chain. You can control low and moderate risk levels by putting robust PRPs in place.
Operational prerequisite program (oPRP): Intermediate measures and activities used to control high levels of identified risks. (Employing OPRPs depends on food standards and varies from country to country.)
Common prerequisite programs may include:
- Construction and lay-out of buildings,
- Layout of premises,
- Air, water, and energy supplies
- Receiving goods and storage
- Production equipment
- Measures for the prevention of cross-contamination
- Pest control
- Traceability and recall
- Staff hygiene
- Cleaning and sanitizing
Examples of prerequisite programs for HACCP can also include quality assurance procedures, labeling, standard operating procedures, and recipes.
PRPs are usually general to the process and not focused on any particular step in the process. For example, cleaning and sanitizing are activities that can apply to all steps, rooms and items.
As a food handling business, you are responsible for many things, and critical control points are one of them. It is these little steps - from purchasing ingredients to plating the food - that help reduce the risk of food hazards – and keep your customers returning to their favourite point of deliciousness.