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Knowledge Base » Food Hygiene » What is HACCP?

What is HACCP?

Last updated on 27th March 2023

When we consume our food and drink, we expect it to be safe and free from anything that can potentially harm us. There are many different hazards that can enter our food and drink, which can cause illness, injury and even fatal allergic reactions.

According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), approximately 2.4 million cases of food-borne illness occur every year in the UK, which has more than doubled since 2009. In addition to food-borne illness, it is estimated that more than two million people in the UK are living with a diagnosed food allergy (NARF). This highlights the importance of controlling food safety hazards throughout the food chain.

HACCP was introduced to prevent food safety hazards from entering our food and drink. Let’s look at HACCP in more detail and what food businesses need to do to comply.

What does HACCP stand for?

HACCP is an acronym, which stands for Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point. It is an internationally recognised system for preventing and managing food safety hazards. It looks at the different hazards that could enter food production processes and how these can be controlled and managed to prevent illness and injury to customers. It is a system that can be used throughout the whole supply chain, i.e. from farm to fork.

HACCP acronym meaning

Why is HACCP used?

There are many hazards that can enter the foods that we eat. These hazards have the potential to cause injury and illness.

HACCP identifies the things that could go wrong in food processes and puts a plan in place to prevent unsafe food from reaching consumers. It focuses on preventing food safety hazards throughout the entire supply chain, e.g. from raw ingredients to finished products. If hazards are identified and controlled early in the process, this will prevent harm to consumers.

HACCP is used, as it is a system that works.

Why and when was HACCP formed?

HACCP was developed in the USA in the 1960s. The concept was born from research into food safety associated with the first attended space missions. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Pillsbury Company and the US Army Laboratories collaborated on this, as food safety was identified as a significant risk to space flights. If astronauts fell ill in space, this would have put their lives and the mission at risk.

After the successful space food safety project, and after several high-profile food safety incidents in the USA, a training programme was set up for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors. The programme was named Food Safety through the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point System. It was the first time the term HACCP was used.

HACCP was adopted for food safety in the USA in the 1970s. Its use then spread across the USA and Europe in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the World Health Organization (WHO) advocated the HACCP system in response to rising food poisoning cases globally. The first HACCP guidelines were also issued by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

When did HACCP become law in the UK?

The European Union (EU) introduced Council Directive 93/43/EEC in the 1990s, making HACCP a legal requirement for EU member states, including the United Kingdom (UK). The Directive was repealed by EU Regulation (EC) 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs, which came into force on 1st January 2006. As it was an EU regulation, this was directly applicable to the UK.

EU Regulation (EC) 852/2004 Article 5 relates to HACCP, which states:

“Food business operators shall put in place, implement and maintain a permanent procedure or procedures based on the HACCP principles”.

For this reason, this EU regulation is also known as the HACCP law or HACCP regulation.

What happens now that the UK has left the EU?

HACCP is a system that is recognised internationally. Even though the UK has now officially left the EU, HACCP will still apply to food businesses.

There are currently no details about the changes from the EU 852/2004 Regulation to a UK regulation. However, food safety and hygiene regulations for each of the different countries within the UK cover the enforcement of hygiene and the HACCP principles.

They are:

  • The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013.
  • The Food Hygiene (Scotland) Regulations 2006 (as amended).
  • The Food Hygiene (Wales) Regulations 2006.
  • The Food Hygiene Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006.

These regulations, along with the Food Safety Act 1990 (Great Britain) and Food Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, will continue to apply.

What is a HACCP hazard?

A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) defines a food hazard as:

“Something that could make food unsafe or unfit to eat”.

HACCP will apply to all food safety hazards. There are four different types which can cause food contamination, and these are as follows:

Biological – These hazards occur when microorganisms contaminate our food, e.g.:

  • Bacteria, e.g. salmonella and campylobacter.
  • Fungi, e.g. yeasts and moulds.
  • Viruses, e.g. norovirus.
  • Parasites, e.g. worms and protozoa.

These microorganisms can cause food-borne illness, including food poisoning. You can learn more about food poisoning in our knowledge base.

Chemical – These hazards can be naturally occurring, or they can be human-made. They are sometimes added intentionally for taste and preservation purposes, e.g. sodium nitrates. Some chemicals can also be added unintentionally, which can contaminate the food we eat, e.g. hazardous substances, toxins and excess chemicals used in food processing. Sometimes allergenic hazards are included in the chemical category.

Physical – These hazards are foreign materials and objects that can enter the food we eat. They can injure the mouth, teeth and may even result in choking, e.g.:

  • Naturally occurring physical hazards, e.g. fruit pips and stones, bones in meat and fish and shells from nuts.
  • Unnatural hazards, e.g. stones and pebbles, human hair, fingernails (including false fingernails), plastic, glass and wood.

Allergenic – These hazards are caused by food allergens, which can result in severe and dangerous reactions in some people. There are 14 recognised allergens. You can learn about allergens and the law.

Food manufactures reviewing HACCP plan.

What is a HACCP plan?

A HACCP plan is defined in Codex as:

“A document prepared in accordance with the principles of HACCP to ensure control of hazards which are significant for food safety in the segment of the food chain under consideration”.

According to Codex, there are 12 tasks involved in developing a HACCP plan.

These tasks are split into two main steps:

  • Preliminary tasks – Preparing for the application and implementation of the seven HACCP principles.
  • Applying the HACCP principles – Once the preliminary tasks have been completed, the seven HACCP principles can be applied and implemented.

Food businesses can choose between two different types of HACCP plan:

  • A linear plan, which looks at the whole process for each product, e.g. from raw materials to the finished product. The process flows in a simple line.
  • A modular plan, which looks at parts of the process in separation, e.g. activities are separated into modules each with a separate plan.

What is a HACCP system?

A HACCP system is the result of the implementation of the HACCP plan. In large and more complex organisations, their HACCP systems are likely to be part of their formal food safety management systems.

For a HACCP system to work, there needs to be a commitment from management within the business. It also requires the cooperation of everyone involved in the preparation and handling of food.

What are the HACCP prerequisites?

Before a HACCP system can be implemented, food businesses must have prerequisites in place. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines these as:

“Practices and conditions needed prior to and during the implementation of HACCP and which are essential for food safety”.

Prerequisites, or prerequisite programmes (PRPs), are general basic hygiene measures that all food businesses must have in place. They act as a foundation for effective food safety management procedures based on the HACCP principles. Without prerequisites, a HACCP system cannot be implemented successfully.

Some examples of prerequisites are:

  • Supplier approvals.
  • Cross-contamination and cross-contact.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Personal hygiene.
  • Staff training.

Prerequisites are also known as good hygiene practices (GHPs) or good manufacturing practices (GMP).

HACCP Critical Control Point

What are the preliminary tasks of a HACCP plan?

The preliminary tasks are the initial stages of a HACCP plan, which involves the following:

1. Assembling a HACCP team.
2. Describing the product.
3. Identifying the product’s intended use.
4. Constructing a flow diagram.
5. Confirmation of the flow diagram.

These tasks are also known as preliminary steps, which are documented in Codex. It is an information-gathering exercise, which is important and necessary for the development of the HACCP plan.

What are the HACCP principles?

For food businesses to comply with the law, they must have food safety procedures or a system based on the principles of HACCP.

There are seven HACCP principles, which are:

1. Identifying hazards by conducting a hazard analysis.
2. Determining the critical control points (CCPs).
3. Establishing critical limits.
4. Establishing a monitoring system.
5. Establishing a corrective action plan.
6. Establishing validation, verification and review procedures.
7. Establishing record-keeping procedures.

All of these principles must be included and should be applied in order; from one to seven.

To control food safety hazards successfully, these principles must be implemented, monitored and reviewed.

What is a HACCP critical control point?

A critical control point (CCP) is a step at which control can be applied and is essential to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level. An example of a CCP would be thermal processing, such as cooking and re-heating.

The second HACCP principle requires food businesses to determine the critical control points (CCPs). The CCPs can be determined by using a decision tree.

What is a HACCP decision tree?

A decision tree is used to determine whether hazards require critical control points (CCPs). It is not mandatory to use decision trees in HACCP. However, they are a useful tool that can assist the HACCP team.

A decision tree is typically in the form of a flow chart that indicates whether a hazard requires a CCP or not. It requires answers to several yes/no questions to determine whether a step is critical to food safety.

What is a HACCP critical limit?

A critical limit is established for each critical control point (CCP), which is the third HACCP principle. It is the maximum and/or minimum value to which a biological, chemical or physical parameter must be controlled at a CCP.

This is to prevent, eliminate or reduce a food safety hazard. For example, cooking a chicken would be the CCP. To ensure that it is safe to eat, it would require a specified time and temperature to kill bacteria such as salmonella.

Fried chicken in frying pan.

Who uses HACCP?

All food businesses must have a food safety management system, which is based on the principles of HACCP. Therefore, HACCP will be used by all types of food businesses, such as manufacturers, retailers and caterers. HACCP can also be used for other products, such as animal feeds and cosmetics.

HACCP is used by businesses globally, as it is an internationally recognised and accepted system for controlling food safety hazards.

What are the advantages of HACCP?

A well-developed and fully implemented HACCP system has many advantages, such as:

  • It identifies, prioritises and controls food safety hazards to ensure that food is safe to consume; thereby preventing illness and injury to customers.
  • It ensures that businesses are compliant with food safety laws. It can also provide evidence of due diligence in the event of legal action.
  • It prevents the costs associated with customer complaints, the recall of products and the destruction of stock.
  • It gives customers confidence that food is safe and is fit for consumption. It can also improve the hygiene rating of a food establishment.

Is HACCP mandatory?

HACCP became law in the UK, as a result of an EU Regulation (EC) 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs. Having a food safety management system that is based on the principles of HACCP is a legal requirement. Even though the UK has now left the EU, food businesses should continue to follow HACCP, as it is an internationally recognised system. The UK laws on food safety and hygiene will also still apply, and these include HACCP.

Are there alternative systems?

Having a system based on the HACCP principles doesn’t mean that a small retailer or caterer with simple food processes will require a full-blown complex HACCP system.

Some low-risk small businesses may even control food safety risks with good hygiene practices (prerequisites) alone. There is a degree of flexibility when applying the HACCP principles.

There are simpler food safety management systems available for smaller and medium-sized food businesses to use, which can help them with HACCP, for example:

Some food businesses may even choose to use ISO standards to help develop their food safety management system, e.g. ISO 9001:2015 quality management and ISO 22000:2018 food safety management.

The size of a business’s food safety management system and the detail required will depend on the nature of the food business, the level of risk, its size and the complexity of its processes.

How often should HACCP be reviewed?

The HACCP system should be reviewed to ensure that it reflects current practices and is up to date. Reviewing is included in the sixth HACCP principle, and it is vital in ensuring that food safety hazards are being effectively controlled.

An annual review should be carried out as a minimum, and it is recommended that routine reviews are scheduled. A review will also be required if there are any changes to products, hazards, ingredients, suppliers, equipment or processes. If there are any incidents, recalls or complaints, these should also trigger a review.

Reviews must be documented, even if there are no changes to the HACCP plan. If there are changes, these must be validated and recorded.

Restaurant manager and his staff reviewing their HACCP plan

How long should HACCP records be kept?

Record-keeping is the seventh HACCP principle, and it is an essential part of a HACCP system; otherwise, how would food businesses demonstrate that the plan is being followed and working effectively at all stages of the process?

If there is an unfortunate food safety incident or legal action, a food business will also need records to provide evidence of due diligence. Showing that you have applied and implemented all of the HACCP principles correctly will prove that you did everything to ensure your food was safe.

The documentation and records required will depend on the nature of the business, its size, its processes and risks. It must be adequate and detailed enough to ensure traceability and to demonstrate that control measures are working.

There is no legal requirement to keep records for a set period. Therefore, businesses will need to decide on the most appropriate retention time.

Who needs HACCP certification?

All food businesses must ensure that their staff have had some level of HACCP training, particularly for those who have specific HACCP responsibilities, such as those on the HACCP team.

Demonstrating and providing evidence that employees have had food safety and HACCP training is a vital part of due diligence.

What HACCP level should I complete?

Our HACCP Level 2 course is aimed at anyone who works in the food and drink industry so that they can understand what HACCP is and what their responsibilities are.

Our HACCP Level 3 course is for those who are responsible for planning and implementing HACCP in food businesses. It is aimed at business owners, managers, supervisors and those who are part of the HACCP team.

Where can I get a HACCP certificate?

We can offer the HACCP Level 2 course and the HACCP Level 3. Once you have successfully completed the course and the quiz, you will gain your HACCP certificate, and the certificate will last for two years.

Do HACCP certificates expire?

HACCP certificates do not expire, and there is no legal requirement to refresh them at a set period. However, to ensure that staff training is kept up to date, it is recommended you refresh your certificate every two years. Also, with the UK leaving the EU, there are likely to be some changes to legislation. Therefore, course materials will be updated to reflect this, so refresher training is recommended.


HACCP prevented astronauts from getting sick in space and, very quickly, its benefits began to receive global recognition. Since its inception, HACCP has improved food safety and hygiene globally by focussing on controlling the hazards that can enter the food chain. That is why it has been incorporated into laws around the world.

Even with HACCP, there are still cases of food-borne illness, injury and allergic reactions as a result of unsafe food being consumed. That is why it is of vital importance that the principles of HACCP are properly implemented, followed and monitored. Everyone who works in a food business, from farm to fork, has a responsibility to ensure that the food being produced and processed is safe for consumers.

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About the author

Michelle Putter

Michelle Putter

Michelle graduated with an MSc in wildlife biology and conservation in 2012, but her career has taken quite a different turn to the one expected. She started in health and safety in 2009 and has worked in several industries such as electrical engineering, aviation and manufacturing. She has been working with CPD Online College since 2018 and became NEBOSH Diploma qualified in 2020. In her spare time, Michelle's passions are wildlife and her garden. She has volunteered for many conservation organisations and particularly enjoys biological recording. Michelle also likes hiking, jogging and cycling.

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