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HACCP Principle 2 - Critical Control Points and Processes

Articles » HACCP Principle 2 - Critical Control Points and Processes

By Gregory Scott McGuire

Perishable Food Keep Refrigerated
A critical control point is a specific place where food can become contaminated.  After conducting the Hazard Analysis in Step 1, and identifying the what, where, when, why, and how, you should have a good idea of what your CCPs should be.  However, not all potential contamination points should be labeled a Critical Control Point.  Critical control points are exactly that: absolutely essential to ensuring food safety in your restaurant.

Other points of potential contamination should absolutely be addressed without using the HACCP system.  This is a key distinction when using HACCP: this program is designed for the control of critical contamination points in the food preparation and storage process, and should be used in conjunction with a robust food safety program, not in place of a food safety program.

Unless you are brand new to the food service industry, you have probably already created a list of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for applying proper food safety in your restaurant.  New operators should work with their local Board of Health to develop their SOPs before opening the doors.  These SOPs are called Prerequisite Programs in HACCP.  This distinction is important because as you identify risks and hazards in your restaurant, you are going to find points that should be addressed, but are not absolutely essential to achieving food safety for food safety.  These less critical points should be addressed with a Prerequisite Program, with definitive steps for minimizing risks and hazards.  The critical points in food preparation and storage that have to be done right every time to prevent contamination should be labeled a CCP and folded into your HACCP program.

So how do you decide which points are a CCP and which can be handled by a Prerequisite Program?  A good strategy is to analyze the food preparation process for each item on your menu.  There are a few exceptions, but in general most menu items can be divided into three groups (please keep in mind that the CCPs listed below are the most common examples only; actual CCPs may vary depending on the situation):

Process 1:  No cook step (example: receive - store - prepare - hold - serve).  This food is served cold and is never cooked.  That means this food never goes through a "kill step" before it is served to customers, meaning the process of cooking the food, which kills most biological hazards, never occurs.

Some examples of Process 1 foods: oysters, salads, fresh vegetables, sushi, ceviche, shashimi.

The CCPs for Process 1 are:

Receiving temp and certification tag.  These foods must arrive below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.  Many types of food in this category, especially shellfish, must arrive with a tag certifying its freshness, and the tag must be retained as proof.

Cold holding.  While the product is stored or after it has been prepared and is waiting to be served, it must remain below the 41 degree threshold to limit bacterial growth.

Date marking.  Even if these foods are stored at the proper temperature, as time passes the risk of contamination grows.  A system must be in place to dispose of product that has sat unused too long.

Freezing.  Some types of food in this category, especially sushi, ceviche, and shashimi, require freezing to kill potential parasites.

It's important to note that several other risks and hazards apply to Process 1 foods, like proper employee hygiene, properly sanitized food preparation equipment and utensils, etc.  Those more general factors should be addressed in the SOPs of your Prerequisite Program.  The above CCPs are specific to these Process 1 foods and therefore require that you set specific Critical Limits for each risk factor (see Step 3 for more information).

Process 2:  Same day service (example: receive - store - prepare - cook - hold - serve).  This process involves cooking food before it is served, which means it takes one trip through the danger zone (see Step 3 for more information), and potential biological hazards are exposed to a kill step before the food is served.

Some examples: hamburgers, steak, various fish species.

The CCP's for Process 2 are:

Cooking.  Depending on the type of food, it must be cooked to a specific temperature for a specified amount of time.  For example, hamburger should be cooked at 155 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds, while chicken should be cooked at 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.  See Step 3: Critical Limits for more information.

Hot holding or using time.  After this food is cooked, it should be held hot until served or served in a specified amount of time before disposal to prevent contamination.

Please note that some types of seafood require additional CCP's like cold holding and receiving certification because of the risk of the buildup of bacteria-related toxins that are not removed by the cooking "kill step."  Consult with your local Board of Health for more information.

Process 3:  Complex food preparation (example: receive - store - prepare - cook - cool - reheat - hot hold - serve).  These foods pass through the danger zone (see Step 3 for more information) more than once before they are served to the customer and therefore must have their temperature strictly monitored in order to prevent contamination.  Even though these foods pass through a cooking "kill step" more than once, the danger of "spore forming bacteria" (bacteria that leave behind spores that can survive the kill step and start reproducing again) presents a particular danger in this process because so much time passes between the time the food is first cooked and the time it is served to the customer.

Process 3 foods fall into two categories: foods that are mass produced in preparation for the next day's business and foods that are cooked using Process 2 but are never served and thus end up back in cold holding.

The CCP's for Process 3 are:

Cooking.  This CCP is identical to the Process 2 CCP above.  See step 3 for more information on Critical Limits.

After this food has been cooked and hot held, it must be cooled within a given timeframe to prevent bacteria from reproducing.  See step 3 for more information.

Hot and cold holding or using time.  Once cooked, these foods must maintain a certain temperature until cooled, and once cooled, they must maintain a certain temperature until they are reheated.

Date marking.  Even if these foods are stored at the proper temperature, as time passes the risk of contamination grows.  A system must be in place to dispose of product that has sat unused too long.

Reheating for hot holding.  The second time foods are heated, they need to be reheated to the proper temperature to ensure bacteria has been effectively eliminated.

Again, certain types of seafood may require additional CCPs due to the risk of bacteria-related toxin buildup.  Consult with your local Board of Health for more information.

Group the items on your menu according to the process they fit into above.  Once you have your menu items grouped, you can set definitive standards for time and temperature at every CCP not already covered by your Prerequisite Programs.

Gregory Scott McGuire is a regular contributor to The Back Burner Blog, a resource of restaurant news and trends written by the employees of Tundra Specialties, a company specializing in restaurant equipment, supplies, and equipment parts