Process Management System for Pathogen Control in Meat Industry

Meat and meat products are important vehicle in the transfer of foodborne hazards as they are moist and rich in nutrients. Products contaminated with biological hazards poses most serious safety issues resulting in immediate consumer health problems and recalls from the marketplace. The microbiological quality and safety of meat products is compromised by system failures or abuses during food animal production, product processing and distribution, and preparation for consumption, as well as by consumption habits. Outbreaks resulting from the consumption of contaminated meat and meat-based products have made the regulatory bodies more stringent and led to the implementation of the hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) process management system for pathogen control in meat products.

  1. Pre – Requisite Programs and HACCP

The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system is a scientific approach to quality control. It is designed to prevent problems by making sure that controls are applied at any point in a food production system where hazardous or critical situations could occur. As a pathogen control management system, HACCP is based on the concept of establishing and managing controls following a complete hazard analysis. For improved effectiveness, the concept of HACCP should be applied throughout the food chain. Proper hazard identification, selection of effective controls and detection of a deviation as it occurs are the basis for the success of HACCP in hazard control through prevention. Inclusion of steps to be taken when deviations occur assures quick and effective re-establishment of process control, and proper disposal of potentially hazardous product. For proper implementation and success of HACCP there is a need for commitment by top management, while effectiveness is based on proper employee education and training through appropriate standard operating procedures (SOP), i.e., job instructions. Governments, trade groups and the industry universally have accepted the HACCP principles. Benefits of proper HACCP implementation include enhanced food safety assurance, better use of resources, timely response to problems and compliance with regulations, customer specifications and consumer demands HACCP is based on seven principles: hazard analysis; critical control points (CCP); critical limits (CL); monitoring procedures; corrective actions; verification procedures; and record-keeping/documentation procedures.

Further, HACCP needs to be established and implemented on a solid foundation of Pre- requisite Programs, which may also be known as “control points.” These are defined as universal steps or procedures applied to control the environmental and operational conditions in a food establishment to produce safe food. Common Pre-requisite Programs in meat industry include: Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) or Good Production Practices (GPP); Good Manufacturing Practices(GMP); and Good Hygiene Practices (GHP). Important prerequisites deal with:

  1. Facility premises and land history, including location and structure (design, construction, maintenance and working environment such as lighting, temperature, humidity, etc.);
  2. Equipment and instrument design and standards, including maintenance and calibration services.
  3. Foreign material control.
  4. Control of utilities like water, ice, and air quality
  5. Cleaning and sanitation programs and SSOP, including sanitary services, disposal of waste materials and provision of electricity, water refrigeration and steam.
  6. Personnel training in hygiene principles and task accomplishment.
  7. Specifications for raw materials, including live animals, food ingredients, chemicals, and packaging; product traceability and recall plans; documentation and maintenance of records; etc.
  8. Additional Pre-requisite include purchasing requirements; supplier selection, certification and approval; product specifications; product storage and transportation; rework control; receiving, storing and controlling ingredients; pest control; allergen control; chemical control; personnel facilities; product identification, labeling, tracing and recall; and record and document control.

  1. HACCP Implementation through Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

Proper and effective implementation and management of food safety assurance processes needs adequate and proper implementation of validated and verified HACCP plans. This can be accomplished through development and implementation of SOPs or job instructions. SOPs include procedures for each step in a process, procedures describing how each GMP and GHP is to be carried out, and procedures to be followed at each CCP. In other words, SOPs describe in detail, how each activity is done. A complete SOP should address the following: describe the task to be accomplished; who is responsible for the job; when and how frequently the task is performed; the importance of the task; the steps involved in accomplishing the task; and provide guidance as to what should be done if a deviation or other problem develops. SOPs should be written in a way that is understandable to workers and should be used for personnel training to maintain consistency in HACCP implementation.

  1. Validation of Critical Control Points (CCP) and Control Limits (CL)

Validation is a necessary component of HACCP, which may be considered as a form of verification. It is used to ensure that the CLs at each CCP of a HACCP plan are achieved or achieve their targets. Simply, HACCP plans and CCPs and CLs are validated to determine whether they are working as intended for the prevention, elimination, or reduction of food safety hazards. Validation may be based on scientific literature and/or historical data, regulatory requirements, or sometimes it may be necessary to evaluate CCPs as implemented within a processing operation to determine efficacy of an intervention through a validation study involving microbial challenge testing. Initial validation should be repeated when changes in processing occur or problems arise as determined by monitoring and verification.

  1. Monitoring of Critical Control Points and Control Limits (CLS)

Regulatory bodies require that each monitoring step and its frequency be detailed in the HACCP plan. Monitoring the process step or intervention criteria and effectiveness ensure that the process is under control at each CCP. These activities consist of observations or measurements taken to assess whether a CCP is within the established critical limit parameters. Monitoring, continuously or frequently, must be sufficient to ensure the CCP is within the targeted range.

  1. Verification of HACCP

HACCP verification principle is defined as activities, other than monitoring, that determine the validity of the HACCP plan and that the system is operating according to the plan. Designing proper verification procedures, as well as hazard analysis, and identification of CCPs and CLs, are HACCP principles that require complete knowledge of the process as well as the hazards and their characteristics within each process. While validation covers the scientific and technical quality elements of the HACCP plan, verification covers procedures that determine compliance with the HACCP plan. As listed in the United States HACCP regulation, verification procedures include: calibration of process monitoring equipment; direct observations of monitoring activities and corrective actions; and review of records generated and maintained within HACCP. Additional procedures used for verification in the United States and the European Union involve determination of bacterial counts, such as Enterobacteriaceae or E. coli counts, as indicators of process hygiene. Verification should be designed to randomly determine that a meat processing plant is producing carcasses or meat within set microbiological criteria.

  1. Microbial Testing

Microbial testing is an essential part of an effective program of monitoring pathogen presence in foods, and can be used to:

  1. Detect pathogens in high-risk foods.
  2. Verify effectiveness of process control measures.
  3. Collect baseline information for evaluation of sanitation programs and trend analysis in raw materials.
  4. Validate the effectiveness of pathogen interventions.
  5. Identify where and when modifications to control measures are needed.

In general, the safety of meat products can be maintained and continuously improved if they are produced in facilities and with equipment that are intelligently designed for adequate cleaning and sanitation; follow good manufacturing and good hygiene practices and other prerequisite programs; apply processes by trained employees following necessary standard operating procedures; are managed by an intelligently designed HACCP plan in a company environment of food safety culture.

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