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Most food safety regulatory schemes require food producers, distributors and operators to establish written safety control plans consistent with hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) principles. Yet, paper-based HACCP systems can be cumbersome to implement and maintain and complicate the challenges of identifying potential food safety concerns. Advanced HACCP systems using digital technologies offer food facilities management a more efficient and effective way of collecting essential food safety data and provide more timely information into hygiene issues that could result in unsafe food.
In this article, we’ll discuss the challenges of paper-based HACCP systems as well as the potential benefits of digital HACCP applications. We’ll also discuss how TÜV SÜD’s state-of-the-art e-HACCP solution can support more effective hygiene management in food facilities.
Originally developed in the late 1950s to help ensure food safety for the U.S. manned space program, HACCP offers a systematic approach to the identification, evaluation and control of food safety hazards. It involves the detailed analysis and control of biological, chemical and physical hazards throughout the entire food processing and consumption cycle, from raw material procurement and handling, through manufacturing and distribution, and ending with the consumption of the finished product.
In practice, HACCP systems are developed and implemented by the application of the following seven principles:
HACCP systems have been designed for use in all segments of the food industry, from growing, harvesting, processing, manufacturing, distributing and merchandising food products, to preparing foods for consumption. HACCP principles have been successfully applied in food processing plants, retail food stores and food service operations. Food safety preventative control plans based on HACCP principles are legally required by regulatory agencies in the European Union (EU), the United States and most other countries around the world.
Nearly all HACCP systems in use today involve the collection and retention of food safety data using paper forms and checklists. This low-tech method of data collection requires little training to implement and offers a number of advantages such as portability and ease of use. At the same time, however, processing and analysing food safety data collected on paper is generally an inefficient and time-consuming process and does not readily support the level of detailed analysis appropriate for assessing the effectiveness of hygiene measures in large food facilities or in complex food processing operations.
HACCP systems that rely on paper forms can also be expensive to maintain. Obviously, paper and ink are required to print the necessary HACCP forms and checklists. And HACCP records must be archived for a period of up to five years since HACCP records are thoroughly reviewed during periodic audits of hygiene management systems mandated under most food safety certification schemes. Maintaining large numbers of paper records requires storage space, which is often rarely available, especially in retail food establishments.
Finally, depending on the frequency of updates, information in paper-based HACCP systems can become quickly outdated. And paper-based systems are potentially more susceptible to manipulation and other fraudulent activities. Paper forms that identify or record non-conformance can easily be changed or “corrected,” or simply misplaced or misfiled, making it difficult to identify hygiene issues that could affect food safety.
Fortunately, a new generation of HACCP systems that leverage digital technologies is transforming the way we monitor the effectiveness of hygiene management programs. Today, cloud-based HACCP platforms and software apps for smart phones, tablets and other handheld devices are providing food facilities with greater flexibility in implementing and monitoring effective hygiene practices that can reduce the risk of food contamination.
Digital HACCP solutions offer a number of important benefits and advantages over traditional, paper-based HACCP systems. These benefits include:
When successfully implemented, digital HACCP systems can also help raise awareness of effective hygiene practices across the board. Employees who are actively involved in the collection of data gain a greater understanding of the connection between their actions and the impact on food safety, thereby supporting continuous improvement efforts. Using information generated by the HACCP system, managers are better equipped to identify the root causes of continuing problems and to implement the changes necessary to address them. The result is a more efficient and effective hygiene management system that minimises the risks of contamination and helps prevent the production of unsafe foods.
TÜV SÜD is pleased to be a leader in efforts to bring HACCP practices into the 21st century with the introduction of its new e-HACCP offering. Founded on a cloud-based HACCP platform developed by German start-up flowtify, TÜV SÜD's e-HACCP program offers a complete digital solution for the collection, reporting and storage of HACCP data. The flowtify on-line platform offers a suite of data analytics and reporting tools to help food facility management evaluate the effectiveness of their hygiene programs. And the flowtify app for handheld devices facilitates the electronic collection of data, eliminating the cost and risks associated with paper-based HACCP systems.
Data collected through TÜV SÜD’s flowtify software is compliant with the requirements of EU Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 for HACCP systems, thereby supporting regulatory compliance efforts in the EU and in other major jurisdictions.
TÜV SÜD e-HACCP offering provides direct access to the flowtify on-line platform, assistance in installing and configuring the flowtify app on handheld devices, and complete training in the use of the platform and the app. Additional services available include online monitoring of HACCP data by TÜV SÜD HACCP professionals, and consultation to address issues that could comprise the integrity of a facility’s hygiene management program.
Find out more about TÜV SÜD’s e-HACCP program as well as our other food safety advisory services here or get in touch with us.