It’s appropriate that Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) was developed by NASA to keep astronauts from coming down with foodborne illness in outer space because sometimes it really does seem like rocket science. But Mary Anne Hogue, vice president of food safety services for The Steritech Group, helped put it in layman’s terms in a presentation at the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers show.

In “From NASA to the Street: Making Sense Out of HACCP in Five Steps,” Hogue explained that the key to bringing HACCP, an attempt to regulate and standardize food safety procedures, into any foodservice establishment is to concentrate on building a barrier between pathogens and customers. She said it’s nearly impossible to prevent all instances of pathogens in foodservice but that the important thing is identifying and blocking those pathogens before they can make people sick. “There’s a pathogen in your system right now; it’s up to you to figure out how to control it,” she told the audience.

In order to establish that control, Hogue laid out five principles:

  • Hazard Analysis, which involves identifying possible hazards in an operation
  • Critical Control Points, which are stages in the operational process where hazards can be controlled
  • Establish Limits “Fail Safe” for Service, or setting standards that must be kept up to ensure food safety
  • Monitoring, which means ensuring that employees are carrying out the preceding principles
  • Corrective Action, ensuring there is a protocol to follow if foodborne illness does occur

    Hogue also spoke about some specific ways in which operators can protect themselves from liability, like establishing a strong vendor assurance program that holds supply chain parties responsible for anything that happens to products before they reach a restaurant. “You need to put a line on your food dock and say to broadline distributors, ‘I’m holding you responsible,'” she says.

    Engaging employees at all levels of foodsafety is another important step to implementing HACCP, she explained, recommending that managers explain to employees that they have a personal responsibility to ensure food safety in the establishment in which they work.

    She also emphasized the importance of using equipment, like blast chillers, to ensure food safety at critical points in the preparation cycle. Moreover, when such equipment is used, she says, employees must be trained to monitor and record changes in things like temperature at such critical points. “If you don,t write it down, it never happened,” she says.

    In the end, Hogue says, it’s important for restaurant operators to voluntarily implement HACCP into their facilities in order to protect their customers from harm and themselves from litigation. “Bottom line,” she says, “foodservice safety is not going away.”