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    Friday, 25 November 2016

    HACCP: Critical Control Points

    SortingExpert, via WikimediaCommons
     It’s clear that for the modern food processing plant, a fully functional HACCP plan is a must to ensure the prevention of potentially harmful food contamination. We’ve already given a breakdown of how to create this plan, and in this article we will take a closer look at one of the most, well, critical stages of the plan, determining critical control points (CCPs). We will cover:
    • The definition of a CCP
    • The relationship between a significant hazard and a CCP
    • How CCPs can change according to product formulation and processing lines
    • Using a decision tree to select a CCP

    So to begin, we should define a critical control point (CCP). A CCP is any step at which a control can be applied that is essential to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard, or reduce it to an acceptable level. For every significant hazard identified in your hazard analysis, there must be one or more CCPs to control the hazard. The CCPs are the point in the process where these control measures take place.

    Points can become CCPs whenever hazards can be prevented, eliminated, or reduced to acceptable levels. Here are some examples:


    Hazards can sometimes be prevented by control at the receiving step e.g. supplier declaration.
    Chemical hazards can be prevented at the formulation or ingredient-adding step.
    Pathogen growth can be prevented by cold storage, pH adjustment, or the addition of preservatives.


    Pathogens can be killed during cooking.
    Metal fragments can be detected and contaminated product removed.
    Parasites can be killed by freezing.


    Foreign objects can be minimised by manual sorting or automatic collectors.
    Biological and chemical hazards can be reduced by obtaining product from correct areas.

    The first two types of control measure, prevention and elimination, are not always achievable, and in those cases, reduction to below regulatory limits becomes the target of the HACCP plan. For example, if you are producing a product to be eaten raw or partially cooked, it may be impossible to completely eliminate pathogens, so you may only be able to ensure that they are reduced below acceptable levels. Despite this, there are also cases in which reduction is not acceptable, so it is always important to know the limits of your HACCP plan.

    CCPs vs. Control Points

    It is also important to note the difference between a normal control point and a CCP. Many points in your process flow diagram maybe be considered control points for quality standards. The CCPs in your HACCP plan, however, relate only to those that must be adhered to in order to deal with hazards that could be harmful to human safety. The point of defining CCPs is to give the plan focus: you know what must be targeted to ensure optimum safety and due diligence.

    You must avoid losing this focus by only assigning CCPs when absolutely necessary (i.e. where safety is at stake). A common mistake is to delineate too many CCPs and lose focus, spreading attention too thin. Also, there is no need to account for a single safety hazard with many CCPs unless absolutely necessary. Just deal with each hazard using one CCP at the most appropriate point in the process. For example, metal hazards can be controlled by ingredient sourcing, magnets, screens, and manual sorting, but only the vital stage, such as a metal detector, needs to be considered a CCP.

    Multiple CCPs and Hazards

    In keeping with trying to maintain the focus of your plan, remember that one CCP can be used to control multiple hazards. For example, refrigerated storage of fish may be used as a CCP to prevent both pathogen growth and histamine release. In the same vein, however, some hazards will require multiple CCPs to deal with. For example, pathogen control could apply to both the product cooking and formation stages if the thorough elimination of a hazard relies on product thickness during cooking.

    Product and Process Specificity

    CCPs are specific to both product and process. This means that CCPs identified for a product on one processing line may be different on another. This is because hazards and the best points for controlling them may change based on:
    • Plant layout
    • Formulation
    • Process flow
    • Equipment
    • Ingredient selection
    • Sanitation and support programs

    For this reason, though HACCP plans and models can be useful as guidelines or suggestions for ideas, each process is different and must be considered as such. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to certain hazards.

    CCP Decision Tree

    When deciding if a specific control point is important enough to be classified as a CCP, a helpful method is to follow a decision tree. Take this one from the FDA, for example:

    By following the tree for each control point, you can easily determine whether a CP becomes a CCP, and add them to your HACCP plan.

    Sam Franklin

    With a master’s in Literature, Sam inhales books and anything readable, spending his working hours reformulating the info he gathers into digestible articles. When not reading or writing, he likes to put his camera to work around the world, snapping street photography from Stockholm to Tokyo. Too much of this time spent in Japan teaching English has nurtured a weakness for sashimi, Japanese whisky, and robot cafés.
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