How to improve your restaurants’ HACCP food safety systems

Learn how to improve HACCP Food Safety Systems in your restaurant with CMX's guide to what HACCP is, it's core principles, key problems and the best approach.

For more than three decades the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system has had a substantial impact on the Food and Beverage industry. But sweeping technological changes and social media prevalence now require changes in the execution of current HACCP processes. More specifically, restaurants (and other retail food establishments) are moving away from paper-based systems in favor of going digital.

Consider some common challenges faced by retail food businesses when it comes to manual food safety procedures:

  • Employees often spend a ton of useful time conducting assessments and collecting data (instead of serving customers or running the restaurant);
  • The completion of important checks is often unverifiable;
  • Data is often only accessible on-site (a huge challenge with multiple locations);
  • Data is often not enough even though much time was spent collecting it;
  • Data is often inaccurate and unreliable, and thus unusable;
  • Issues are often only detected when employees physically conduct a test;
  • Physical records take up useful space and can be very challenging to retrieve quickly and effectively.

All of these negatively impact your HACCP Food Safety Systems, and that severely compromises food safety. These issues are especially prevalent in non-digitized systems, i.e. traditional pen-and-paper methods.

But these issues can easily be fixed by digitizing your HACCP Food Safety Systems, which has many benefits: it removes all the well-known problems associated with pen-and-paper based methods (e.g., human error leading to bad data, excessive time consumption, ineffective validation and verification, improper or ineffective monitoring, etc.), and yields increased productivity, improved compliance, increased visibility and control, accurate data gathering, efficient monitoring, and improved record access and security. In this article, we discuss the ins and outs of HACCP and how its digitization has led to significant improvements in growth and productivity for a growing number of leading restaurant chains and other retail food establishments.

A better approach to HACCP

A growing number of restaurant chains are ditching the outdated pen and paper checklists for HACCP in favor of  IoT devices, automated Bluetooth sensors, and formidable work management and operational execution software.

In a word, they’ve gone DIGITAL.

Naturally, you may wonder whether it’s a worthwhile investment.  Forbes writes:

CEOs are in the business of managing the business to make a profit—and are not necessarily versed in the lingua franca of science-based solutions that microbiologists, chemists or food engineers propose. But investments in food safety systems, technologies, testing, and tools are just that—economic investments of either money, staff, or time that must be justified at the bottom line or to the company’s shareholders. 

So what’s the benefit of going DIGITAL?

Several tangible benefits justify the investment for the digital transformation of your HACCP System: 

1. Increases productivity

Frequent checks mean employees spend a lot of time conducting assessments and inputting data. Additionally, managers have to spend time reviewing both the paperwork and the logs.

By automating the process, you free up time for employees that could be better spent serving customers or running the restaurant. In addition, managers are now able to review logs and pull pertinent information far more efficiently.  

2. Ensures compliance

Lack of accountability remains to be one of the largest drawbacks of paper-based checklists. With this method, there is no way to verify whether the checks were actually completed if it was done properly and at the scheduled time, and by whom it was done.

Digitizing HACCP processes and Line Checks prevents “pencil whipping” since checks are time stamped. It also records who carried out the task, and when it was completed. This confirms that employees are complying with all the food safety procedures and checks you put in place and thus ensures that you are maintaining your food safety and quality standards.  

3. Increased visibility and control

With paper-based records, managers must be present to review and process the information. For brands that have hundreds, if not thousands of locations, such a model is far too challenging. With digital recording, managers and brands can access the records centrally through the cloud for any restaurant at any time. This grants them complete visibility and gives them the ability to make changes to their programs and ensure corrective actions are taken without having to physically visit a site.  

4. Better data

Even if HACCP procedures were performed as intended, paper-based systems only provided a few data points throughout the day. This gives managers a snapshot of what is going on but fails to paint an entire picture since there are gaps between one data point and the next. When you go digital with IOT Sensors, you have a continuous record, which amounts to thousands of data points that the system can use each day to perform the most accurate analysis.  

5. Alert you to potential issues

Digital HACCP can act as an “early warning system.” When automated monitoring sensors notice a potential problem, they can warn employees before they evolve into more serious food safety hazards. For example, digital temperature monitors provide real-time readings that continuously update and alert the staff should the temperatures go out of range.

6. Improved record access and security 

Paper-based records quickly get out of hand; they require tons of space, an effective filing system, and secure storage. Failure to do so can result in lost, damaged, or stolen files. By hosting all of your data in the cloud, you completely eliminate this potential pain point and make it easy to pull up records on demand.

Improving the HACCP processes in your restaurants with CMX1

Achieving Active Managerial Control, executing on your HACCP Plan, and ensuring food safety and quality is no easy task. Its significance cannot be understated though.

Failure to comply with HACCP processes could harm your customers and result in serious consequences for your brand. Consumer trust can erode due to a single food safety incident. Performing your Line Checks, temperature logs, and HACCP processes manually only increases the likelihood of such a failure eventually occurring.

Fortunately, there’s a better way. By adopting a  digital HACCP system like the CMX1 platform, you can better manage your food safety and quality. Such a system increases productivity, visibility, and helps foster Quality and Operational Excellence. All of which drive customer satisfaction and revenue.

Frequently asked questions

When Was HACCP Developed?

The HACCP approach was originally established through a collaboration between NASA, the Pillsbury company, and the U.S. Army Laboratories, to provide safe food for upcoming space expeditions. It was only in 1972, however, that a program was established to train others in “Food Safety through the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point System”. By 1993, CODEX issued the first set of official guidelines, and today, most countries adhere to the core HACCP principles as a means to improve traceability, avoid food safety hazards, and produce safe food.

What is the goal of HACCP?

The goal of HACCP is simple: it’s a systematic approach to the identification, evaluation, and control of food safety hazards. The system provides a uniform guideline for food production facilities and restaurants to ensure safe food storage and handling practices. To accomplish this, they need to adhere to the 7 core principles of HACCP.

What are the 7 Principles of HACCP?

In a nutshell, the  seven principles of HACCP are as follows:

  1.   conduct a hazard analysis
  2.   determine critical control points (CCPs)
  3.   establish critical limits
  4.   establish monitor procedures
  5.   establish corrective actions
  6.   establish verification procedures, and finally
  7.   establish record-keeping and documentation procedures.

Let’s look at each a little more in-depth:

1. Conduct a hazard analysis

Develop a list of food safety hazards (chemical, biological, physical) that are a significant enough part of the process to potentially cause illness or injury to your consumer if not effectively controlled.

For restaurants, this means creating a list of food safety hazards related to your menu. Include all ingredients used, as well as their origin. This also includes how the food is stored, prepared, and cooked (if applicable), and which equipment is used. This is where the  product specifications solution becomes handy. It allows you to create, control, manage and track specifications for raw materials, finished products, formulations, and ingredients—all on a single platform.

For your HACCP plan to be effective, it’s important to identify all potential food safety hazards. Overlooking one potential hazard could render the entire HACCP plan ineffective, even if you adhere to it diligently.

2. Determine the critical control points (CCPs)

These are points or steps throughout the food preparation process where contamination is likely to occur. While some processes form part of prerequisite programs (PRPs), critical control points are those where control can be applied in order to prevent, reduce, or eliminate a food safety hazard to an acceptable level.

Restaurants should pay attention to food safety hazards that could lead to contamination (whether chemical, biological, physical). For each item on your menu, go through the food preparation process, and identify points where food safety is likely to be compromised.

Here are examples of Critical Control Points to look at and questions you can ask to determine whether a food safety hazard could occur:

  • Receiving Food from A Distributor - Was the cold chain maintained during transportation (i.e., refrigerated foods are received at 41°F or below)? Are foods properly labeled (i.e., certification tags where appropriate, as well as date markings)? Suppliers should be able to provide you with information regarding sourcing and traceability. They should also have effective food safety programs and GMPs in place. These, however, are not CCPs but form part of the PRPs.
  • Food Preparation - This involves cooking foods to a certain temperature to ensure the safety thereof, and having separate areas for raw and cooked foods.
  • Food Holding Times - Cooked (or raw ready-to-eat) foods need to be kept at safe temperatures to prevent bacterial growth (i.e., keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold). Certain foods require specific time/temperature control after preparation (e.g., rice need to be cooled quickly to avoid the growth of Bacillus cereus).

3. Establish critical limits

The maximum or minimum value to which critical control points must be set to prevent, eliminate, or reduce a food safety hazard to an acceptable level.

This is especially important for restaurant staff in giving them specific instructions on how to keep food safe. For example, cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F to kill Salmonella.

4. Establish monitoring procedures

To ensure that the critical limits are adhered to, the CCPs need to be regularly monitored. These strategic and repetitive observations/measurements should be recorded and verified.

For example, restaurants should have established routines and processes for verifying temperatures for everything from cold-holding units to cooking temperatures for raw meat. This should also apply to items like the use of test strips to verify the mix of sanitization chemicals. Having a schedule and specifically assigned individuals removes ambiguity and increases accountability.

5. Establish corrective actions

Once a noncompliance or unacceptable hazard is identified, you must create and then record the corrective actions that are taken in response.

Training and instructing your restaurant employees on how to take corrective action when an issue is found is an essential aspect of maintaining your food safety system. It’s important to have corrective actions specified in advance so that employees know which actions to take and how to complete them. Instructions should be comprehensive and can include the following:

  •         What action should be taken once a deviation occurs;
  •         Who will be responsible for applying corrective actions;
  •         How and where will the corrective actions be documented

6. Establish verification procedures

These are activities that measure the efficacy of the HACCP plan.

For restaurants, it’s critical to establish checklists, verification, and operational routines for each daypart and shift throughout the week and to regularly verify whether your HACCP system is working. Verifying your HACCP system establishes a culture of “Operational and Quality Excellence” and reinforces expected behaviors. Also, having the management team perform routine self-assessments helps gauge overall compliance with regulatory bodies and brand standards.

7. Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures

A summary that overviews everything from the initial hazard analysis, the HACCP plan, the assignments, roles, and duties, to the support documentation confirming the procedures were fulfilled.  

Restaurants must have detailed records on hand for inevitable audits by state inspectors and 3rd party auditors, and reviews by above restaurant field managers. Keeping temperature logs, equipment maintenance logs, operational records, and completed corrective actions show a culture of compliance. It demonstrates that critical limits are in place and procedures are being followed to prevent food safety hazards, and thus prevent foodborne illnesses.