In the past couple of blog entries, we’ve covered CGMPs or Current food Good Manufacturing Practices. These are procedures and standards set forth by the FDA to help assure safe, quality, consumable food.
In this article, we’ll be covering the different types of hazards that can occur in food processing, and also the controls that can be put in place to reduce the risk of those hazards. Many CGMPs exist to control these hazards, so naturally CGMPs can be used to support a HACCP plan.
So what constitutes a hazard? There are basically three types: biological, physical and chemical.
Let’s start with biological hazards. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has determined four levels of biohazards starting with Level One which includes bacteria and other microorganisms that can transmit from one person to another via contact or through the air like E. Coli. Each level is more hazardous than the previous, leading to Level Four which includes the most severe strains such as Ebola virus and Marburg virus.
Physical hazards are perhaps the easiest to understand. These include any extraneous objects or foreign matter that could cause illness or injury to a person consuming a food product. Bone chips, injection needles, wood fragments, pieces of packaging, insects or filth are just several of the items possible. Sources of contamination can be from raw materials, improper production procedures or badly maintained facilities. Harken back to our blog article that referenced Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and how it revealed the filth and unsafe practices of the meat packing industry in the early 1900s, and one could understand how such a list may have first been developed. CGMPs and other food safety regulations have advanced today’s food processing practices; however, it is important to be mindful of how even the most minor change might introduce an opportunity for new physical hazards.
Finally, there are chemical hazards. Some of these, unfortunately, are unavoidable such as pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones and antibiotics, additives and processing aids, and lubricants. Sometimes, improper storage or usage of chemicals like cleaning compounds contributes to contamination of food. Allergens fall into the chemical hazard category, too. The top eight known food allergens reported by the FDA are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. Thus, the FDA has established tolerance levels to keep chemical hazards in food at a minimum.
So how does a food processor control hazards? A good basic step is to develop a written food safety plan built around the CGMPs outlined by the FDA. These guidelines were created to assist processors in recognizing and controlling hazards. Processors can take due diligence a step further by building a HACCP plan. The first principle of HACCP is conducting a hazard analysis. Following HACCP principles is a thorough and systematic method of approaching quality control. HACCP planning guides processors in identifying and evaluating hazards and critical control points, and establishing a program to monitor, correct, verify and track any potential safety or quality hazards in the food production process. CGMPs can be used on their own or in conjunction with HACCP principles to keep hazards in check.
As the song goes, “we’re only human,” which is exactly why hazards can happen and controls are considered necessary to help minimize the risks of breaches in food safety. Through our experiences with various food producers over the years, we understand food safety is a subject that’s not taken lightly. At the minimum, any company producing food should have someone on staff who understands what constitutes a hazard that requires some effort to control. We continue to want to learn more about how different food producers are minimizing their risks. How does your company control hazards? What’s worked and what hasn’t? We’d appreciate hearing from you. Tell us your thoughts. And for more information on hazards and controls, check out our white paper Understanding GMPs.