Critical Appraisal of the Integrity of a HACCP

Abstract
Food safety is of primary importance in any food business. In this report, a review of the food processing in the Cheese-4-All company reveals important failures. The company received customer complaints that metals were present in the cheese and caterers were complaining of broken seals in the cheese blocks. On analysis, only one machine performs the cutting and sealing of the cheese blocks. The metal present in the cheese came from the cheese cutter. While a metal detector is placed at the end of the assembly line, it failed to detect the metal in the cheese. Further, members of the staff failed to check for broken seals prior to delivery. It is recommended that safety checks should be conducted and incidents recorded. The metal detector should be investigated if it is sensitive in detecting metals and whether it is calibrated correctly. An investigation should also be made to determine if the detector is in the right position to make timely detection and rejection of cheese. A bin for the cheese rejects should also be in place to contain those that have embedded metals. Members of the staff should receive proper training on how to check for broken seals from packing to delivery. It is recommended that the safety culture in the workplace should be evaluated to determine if employees have adopted the culture of safety in their work. Strategies to improve food safety include placing the metal detector in the right position in the assembly line and calibrating it correctly and improving the safety culture of the staff members.
Introduction

Awareness of food safety, threats to food supply and increased consumption of packaged and processed food have driven the need to ensure that all food processing met quality standards (Yiannas, 2008). Food retailers have the responsibility to ensure that their food products are safe to eat and free from contamination (Wallace et al., 2011). Safeguarding the health of the consumers is of utmost important in the food industry. Improving food safety does not only focus on testing of products or ensuring that all standards in food processing are met. It also deals with investigating the behaviour of the employees and how this behaviour affects food safety. Yiannas (2008) argues that that there should be an integration of behavioural and food sciences in order to manage risks associated with food safety. Merger of these two fields would result in a systems-based approach in food safety management.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA, 2013) in the UK has stressed the importance of food safety in the food business. Creation of a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) ensures that food safety requirements in the UK are met. This report aims to critically appraise the HACCP plan currently in place at Cheese-4-All. This company supplies vacuum-packed cheddar cheese blocks in sizes of 12g to 400g to small retailers. It also supplies bags of grated cheese to catering industries. This time, the products are contained in modified atmosphere packaging with potato starch. Currently it employs 30 staff with level 2 food hygiene training. Shelf life testing of the products confirmed that grated cheese and cheese blocks had a shelf life of 3 months. Pest control and cleaning regimen were in place. However, the latter is not documented. The structure of the production premises is also deemed as within standard. However, complaints of broken seals and metals present in the cheese reached the owners of the company. An analysis of the food processing will be done and recommendations on how to improve the HACCP system will be made in this report. An evidence based improvement strategy to achieve compliance will be given in the latter part of this report.
Critique of Cheese-4-All HACCP Plan
Lawley et al. (2012) explain that a HACCP is essential in maintaining the safety of individual food products. The main aim of this plan is to ensure that each stage in the food production process is safe. The main objective of this report is to identify the hazard and create controls that would prevent the occurrence of this hazard. The main issues of the Cheese-4-All company are traced to the customers’ complaint of the presence of a metal wire on a block of cheese and returned food products from caterers due to broken seals of the bags.
In the first issue, the metal wire represents a physical hazard for consumers. A physical hazard is described as any foreign material present in dairy products that could cause injury or illness to the consumer (Marriott and Gravani, 2006). Mortimore and Wallace (2013) emphasise that a physical hazard results from lack of control of a process or a piece of equipment in the production chain. A number of factors have been identified to contribute to the presence of a physical hazard. Amongst these, poorly maintained equipment and the employees’ inattention to the details of the food production process are the most important factors that contribute to the physical hazard (Wallace et al., 2011). Meanwhile, the broken seals of the bags represent a biological hazard. This type of hazard results from exposure of food to pathogens (Smith and Hui, 2008).
A closer investigation of the company’s issues reveals that the cutting and sealing of the vacuum packs of the cheese blocks are done by only one machine. The machine has a metal cheese wire used to cut the cheese. At the same time, this machine also automatically vacuum seals the cheese blocks. A metal detector, which serves as a control, is found at the end of the production line. This equipment could have detected any embedded metal in the cheese. At this point, poor attention to details could have contributed to the failure of the staff to detect the metal in the cheese. Instead of allowing the cheese blocks to pass through the metal detector before removing and labelling them, some members of the staff might fail to recheck whether the blocks have passed through the metal detectors. Similarly, an opportunity to check the integrity of the vacuum seals of the cheese block is also presented during the labelling. However, the staff failed to document whether all cheese blocks are safely sealed. On the other hand, the staff manually places grated cheese in plastic bags together with potato starch while the modified atmosphere packaging machine seals the packs.
Recommendations for Improvement
In this report, the issue of the presence of metal fragments in the block of cheese and broken seals of cheese packs will be addressed.
Metal Fragments in the Block of Cheese
In-line metal detectors are present in the production line. This is check point is crucial and is met by the company. However, it is recommended that these in-line metal detectors should be fitted with automatic rejection systems (Smith and Hui, 2008). In the company’s case, there was only one metal detector at the end of the assembly line. It was also not fitted with an automatic rejection system. The British Retail Consortium (2013) reiterates that metal detection protects the customers and should be part of any food protection system. However, there are cases where metal detection does not provide the consumers with significant added protection. In this case, the British Retail Consortium (2013) adds that exceptions should be made only when there is indeed no need for metal detection of the product. Hence, it is still vital that companies should make justifications why metal detection is not needed.
The need of metal detection in a food company is highlighted when customers complain of metal in their food products. Consequences of this failure range from loss of credibility and loss of customers and bad publicity (Wareing, 2010). In worst scenario, metal present in the product might cause injury to the customer and result to prosecution (Academic Press, 2013). There are various possible causes of metal detector failure. The Academic Press (2013) explains that the metal detector might be experiencing mechanical failure or is not properly calibrated. The wrong pieces of metals are used during sensitivity check or the company used the incorrect metal detector. The succeeding table lists down the rest of possible causes of metal detector failure:
Table 1. Causes of Metal Detector Failure
Possible Causes of Metal Detector Failure
Metal detector is placed in the wrong place in the assembly line
Faulty rejection mechanism or there is no synchronization with the rejection system and the detector
There is no control of the rejects
Checks are not done regularly for the metal detector. In cases where checks are done, these are also performed incorrectly
In cases where checks of metal detector reveal some failures, these are not recorded or corrective actions are not taken.
Staff members of the organisation are not trained to perform metal detector checks.
While staff members receive training on performing metal detector checks, the effectiveness of these trainings are not verified in actual practice.
Workplace culture issues also play a role in influencing staff members not to take responsibility in performing necessary checks.
Source: Academic Press (2013, p. 336)

Broken Seals of Cheese Packs
The British Retail Consortium (2013) emphasised that food safety should be a priority amongst those in the food business. On analysis of the Cheese-4-All company, caterers complained of broken seals. Issues are often identified only when customers began complaining about the safety of the food that they order (Bougherara and Combris, 2009). This represents some breaches in safety procedures in the company. For instance, safety checks should be conducted once cheese blocks or grated cheese are sealed, before they are taken to or taken out of chillers. During the labelling process, it is also important that the staff conduct a check whether the seals are still in place or if there are broken seals in the cheese packs.
Improvement Strategies
Lawley et al. (2012) explain that many of the food safety legislation that are now in force in countries in Europe, including the UK, are formed as a result of collaboration between food authorities in the different countries. Representatives of the European Commissions are responsible for creating food safety legislations that are also used as template of food authorities in different countries (Lawley et al., 2012). For example, the European Commission has set out EC Regulation No. 852/2004 that set standards for hygiene on foodstuffs. In addition, the 2006 Food Hygiene Regulations also provide standards for food safety. Using information from these regulations, it is recommended that strategies should be in place to ensure the absence of metals in the cheese blocks and to prevent broken seals of the packs in the Cheese-4-All company.
First, metal detectors should be checked every hour with test pieces (Robertson, 2013). Results should be recorded to assess the sensitivity of the metal detector. It is recommended that safety incidents should be recorded to ensure that staff learn from the experience and prevent the occurrence of similar incidents in the future (Arvanitoyannis, 2012). For example, the analysis reveals that only one machine is involved in cutting the cheese with metal cheese wire. It is also the same machine involved in vacuum packing of the cheese. It is suggested that the machine should be periodically checked to ensure that it is working properly. Second, qualified staff should perform calibration of the metal detector and ensure that it is in the proper place in the assembly line (Academic Press, 2013). Third, lockable receptacles should be in place to ensure that rejects are accommodated (Academic Press, 2013).
Fourth, training staff to conduct safety checks of the food packs after sealing of the cheese, during refrigeration and before delivery. This is necessary to protect consumers from food poisoning (Montville and Matthews, 2008). Finally, it is suggested that the safety culture of the workplace should be investigated to determine the perceptions and current practice of the workers on food safety. Mortimore and Wallace (2013) argue that the safety culture of the workplace is a crucial determinant in whether safety regulations are implemented and institutionalised. In many cases, the lack of a safety culture leads to failure in the system.
Conclusion
In conclusion, this report shows that safety checks should be regularly done to prevent safety incidents such as presence of metals in food or having broken food seals. Consequences of these incidents include loss of customers and possible litigations from consumers who are harmed from ingested metals. Broken food seals present a health hazard since it could cause food contamination. In turn, this might lead to poisoning of the food consumers. An analysis of the Cheese-4-All Company reveals that safety checks are breached during food processing. A metal detector is present in the end of the assembly line but failed to detect the metal present in one of the cheese products. Possible causes of this failure are discussed in the report. On the other hand, the broken seal also indicates failure on the part of the staff to thoroughly check the packaging of the cheese. Finally, this report recommends performing regular checks of the machine used in cutting and sealing the cheese; ensuring that metal detector is working and placed in the proper position; and regularly performing checks on whether food seals are in place. It is also suggested that the work culture should be investigated to determine if safety is a priority in the workplace. This would help the company change the culture in the workplace and ensure that a culture of safety is practised.
References
Academic Press (2013) Encyclopedia of Food Safety, Washington, D.C.: Academic Press.
Arvanitoyannis, I. (2012) Modified atmosphere and active packaging technologies, London: CRC Press.
Bougherara, D. & Combris, P. (2009) ‘Eco-labelled food products: what are consumers paying for?’, European Review of Agricultural Economics, 36(3), pp. 321-341.
British Retail Consortium (2013) Global standard for food safety- guideline for fresh produce, London: The Stationery Office.
Food Standards Agency (FSA) (2013) Safer food, better business [Online]. Available from: http://www.food.gov.uk/business-industry/caterers/sfbb/#.UswHhvbNevQ (Accessed: 6th January, 2013).
Lawley, R., Curtis, L. & Davis, J. (2012) The Food Safety Hazard Guidebook, London: Royal Society of Chemistry.
Marriott, N. & Gravani, R. (2006) Principles of food sanitation, London: Springer.
Montville, T. & Matthews, K. (2008) Food Microbiology: An Introduction.
Mortimore, S. & Wallace, C. (2013) HACCP: A Practical Approach, 3rd ed., Preston, UK: Springer.
Robertson, G. (2013) Food packaging: Principles and practice, 3rd ed., Sound Parkway NW: Taylor & Francis Group.
Smith, J. & Hui, Y. (2008) Food processing: Principles and applications, London: John Wiley & Sons.
Wallace, C., Sperber, W. & Mortimore, S. (2011) Food Safety for the 21st Century: Managing HACCP and Food Safety throughout the global supply chain, London: John Wiley & Sons.
Wareing, P. (2010) HACCP: A toolkit for implementation, London: Royal Society of Chemistry.
Yiannas, F. (2008) Food safety culture: Creating a behavior-based food safety management system, Arkansas, USA: Springer.

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