Published on 04/01/96

New Process-Control System Making Food Safer

It began as a way to prevent upset stomach in space. Now it's making your food safer.

The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point System puts total quality management guidelines to work on your dinner.

"HACCPS is designed to set controls into place that will eliminate, prevent, control or reduce food safety hazards in processing," said Estes Reynolds.

Reynolds is a food scientist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. He coordinates the Extension Outreach Programs of the UGA Food Processing Research and Development Lab.

"Pillsbury first devised this system for NASA to ensure that space-travel food was safe," he said.

Now HACCPS is bringing the most sweeping food inspection changes in 30 years.

Current systems require inspectors to use sight, smell and physical checks to see how well processors prevent food hazards and control quality.

HACCPS takes it a step further.

"Safety is built into the program to ensure that the hazards don't occur," Reynolds said. "This lowers the overall level of problems."

The system includes temperature controls to prove meat was cooked hot enough to kill bacteria. It has checks to show that all food surfaces are cleaned and sanitized.

Some new regulations can cost shoppers more at the store. But Reynolds feels this program will save them money in the end.

"It will probably cost the consumer much less because they will get ready-to-eat food free of pathogenic microorganisms," he said.

HACCPS works best, he said, when all workers are trained from the ground up and the process controls documented at each critical control point.

The Food and Drug Administration already requires HACCPS for all inspected fish products. The new FDA food code proposes it for all FDA processing plants.

"The new USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service megaregulations call for the implementation of the HACCPS concept for the meat and poultry industry," Reynolds said.

"This is the most significant regulatory change for the meat and poultry industry since the Wholesome Meat and Poultry Act was passed in 1967," he said.

When these processors use HACCPS, they will have documented controls for chemical, physical and biological food safety hazards.

"Now you are preventing food safety problems rather than detecting them, as with the old system," Reynolds said. "This puts the controls into place to prevent the problems."

Food processors nationwide are starting to use HACCPS. UGA food scientists are helping teach them how.

The food scientists have conducted three three-day workshops this year on using HACCPS. The next is May 9-11 in Atlanta.

The American Association of Meat Processors, National Association of Meat Purveyors and American Meat Science Association also sponsor the trainings.

"These workshops involve more than 200 major, medium and small meat and poultry processors," Reynolds said.

"This same system is now being used in the Serve Safe Program offered for certification by the National Restaurant Association," he said. "And Extension agents are teaching it throughout the state."

The deadline to register for the Atlanta workshop is May 1. The fee is $495. The International HACCPS Alliance will certify everyone completing the workshop.

To register, call UGA Food Science at (706) 542-2574. Or call any of the sponsors.

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.