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Knowledge Base » Health and Safety » How to Write a HACCP Plan

How to Write a HACCP Plan

Last updated on 20th December 2023

There are chemical, biological, physical and allergenic hazards that put our food at risk along the entire food supply chain and during production processes. These food safety hazards can cause harm to consumers, such as foodborne illnesses, injuries and allergic reactions. According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), around 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness occur annually in the UK, up from the 2009 estimate of approximately one million.

People may have minor, short-lived ill-health effects from exposure to food safety hazards. However, some may have more severe illnesses, especially vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly, children and those with compromised immune systems. Unfortunately, there have been cases of people being made seriously ill and even dying from consuming unsafe food. Researchers estimate that in the UK, 180 deaths occur annually due to foodborne diseases.

HACCP is a system used by food businesses to reduce the risk of food safety hazards and harm to consumers. The concept originated in the 1960s when NASA and other collaborators looked at safe food for space missions. Over the years, HACCP has been developed and refined and has become a globally accepted system for controlling food safety hazards.

An essential part of a HACCP system is a HACCP plan. Without proper planning, a HACCP system is unlikely to work, which can increase the risk of food safety hazards contaminating food. If people are made ill or worse, it can have serious consequences for food businesses. In this article, you will look at what HACCP and HACCP plans are and their benefits. You will also cover how to write a HACCP plan and why a review is necessary.

What is HACCP?

HACCP is an acronym which stands for:

  • Hazard
  • Analysis &
  • Critical
  • Control
  • Point

HACCP is an internationally recognised system for preventing and managing food safety hazards, such as:

  • Biological, e.g. bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. Salmonella, Campylobacter and Norovirus are some of the most common and can cause foodborne illnesses, including food poisoning.
  • Chemical, e.g. hazardous substances, naturally occurring toxins, preservatives and excess chemicals. They can cause poisoning, intoxication, other health effects and injuries.
  • Physical, e.g. naturally occurring (i.e. fruit stones or fish bones) or unnatural (i.e. plastic, hair, stones and glass) foreign materials and objects. They can injure the mouth and teeth and may even result in choking.
  • Allergenic, e.g. one of the 14 recognised food allergens. These can result in severe and dangerous reactions, such as anaphylaxis, in some people.

HACCP identifies the food safety hazards that could enter food production processes and details how to manage them to prevent consumer illness and injury. It is a system that can be applied throughout the whole supply chain, i.e. from farm to fork, and can be used by all food businesses, whether large or small. However, smaller operations tend to have less complex systems.

The Codex Alimentarius, or “Food Code”, is the international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. HACCP is a crucial part of Codex.

What is a HACCP plan?

The Codex Alimentarius (CXC 1-1969 General Principles of Food Hygiene) defines a HACCP plan as:

“Documentation or set of documents, prepared in accordance with the principles of HACCP to ensure control of significant hazards in the food business.”

A HACCP plan should not be confused with a HACCP system, which is “the development of a HACCP plan and the implementation of the procedures in accordance with that plan (Codex Alimentarius)”.

What are the benefits of HACCP and a HACCP plan?

There are many benefits, such as:

  • It is a cost-effective system to put in place.
  • It helps food businesses identify, manage and control food safety hazards that could contaminate food.
  • It helps determine the most critical process points where food could become unsafe.
  • It keeps food safety at the top of the agenda, as HACCP plans are live documents that must be monitored, verified and reviewed.
  • It prevents food businesses from harming consumers through food poisoning, injuries and allergic reactions.
  • It prevents costly product withdrawals, recalls and stock destruction, which can also impact a food business’s reputation.
  • It allows for increased staff teamwork, efficiency and productivity.
  • It ensures food businesses are compliant with HACCP and the law.
  • It stops food businesses from penalties, such as enforcement notices, fines and imprisonment, and compensation claims.
  • It provides evidence for due diligence if legal action is taken against a food business.
  • It ensures food safety and quality standards are high, as expected by consumers.
  • It gives consumers increased confidence that their food is safe and that the business cares about their health and safety, which can attract more customers.
  • It saves a food business money.
The benefits of a haccp plan

Is a HACCP plan mandatory?

For food businesses to comply with the law, they must put in place, implement and maintain a permanent procedure or procedures based on the HACCP principles. This legal requirement came from the European Union, EU Regulation (EC) 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs Article 5, and has been retained in UK law since Brexit.

Food businesses do not need a full food safety management system. However, they must legally have food safety management procedures based on HACCP principles. They should ensure their system/procedures are appropriate and proportionate to the business’s nature, risks and size. Some may have simple systems covered by good hygiene practices alone. There may be some businesses that need to have more procedures, but their processes are still simple, e.g.:

Other food businesses may need more complex systems, such as:

  • MyHACCP – an FSA tool aimed towards small food manufacturers.
  • ISO 9001 & ISO 22000 – international standards for quality and food safety management.

There may be other management systems specific to a food business’s operations.

(EC) 852/2004 states that the HACCP requirements should take account of the principles contained in the Codex Alimentarius. As HACCP plans are part of these principles in Codex, food businesses must develop and implement them.

If an environmental health officer inspects food premises, they usually want to see evidence of records, including a HACCP plan. If a food business cannot provide the correct documentation to demonstrate due diligence, it could face penalties.

How to write a HACCP plan

How a food business writes its HACCP plan will depend on its size, nature and food safety risks. Before developing and implementing their plan, food businesses must ensure they have all the necessary prerequisites.

These are basic hygiene measures essential for food safety and are also known as good hygiene practices (GHPs) or good manufacturing practices (GMPs). They underpin an effective HACCP system if properly applied.

Some examples of prerequisites include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • The food premises.
  • Supplier approval.
  • Cleaning and disinfection.
  • Personal hygiene of workers.
  • Product specifications.
  • Pest control.
  • Staff training.
  • Waste management.
  • Equipment calibration.
  • Labelling and traceability.
  • Preventive maintenance.

The FSA has guidance on the general requirements to be considered for each prerequisite on its website here.

Small, low-risk businesses may control food safety hazards through good hygiene practices (GHPs) alone. However, if this is not the case for others, they will need to address their food safety hazards in a HACCP plan, which is the next step.

According to Codex, twelve tasks go into developing a HACCP plan. These tasks are divided into two main steps:

  • Preliminary tasks – preparing for applying and implementing the seven HACCP principles.
  • Applying the HACCP principles – once the preliminary tasks are complete, the seven HACCP principles can be applied and implemented.

Preliminary tasks

Before a food business looks at the seven HACCP principles, it should carry out five preliminary tasks, which include the following:

1. Assembling a HACCP team

The first step involves choosing a HACCP team. The HACCP team should be multidisciplinary, meaning that members should be from various departments within the business. For example, in manufacturing, this may be employees from production, maintenance, hygiene/cleaning, technical, quality control, engineering, etc. The team should choose a HACCP team leader to steer the group.

The HACCP team will be responsible for the development, management and implementation of the HACCP plan and system.

This section of the HACCP plan should include the following:

  • The names and signatures of the HACCP team members.
  • Their positions within the business, i.e. role and job title.
  • Their training, experience and background.
  • Why this individual is in the HACCP team.
  • The name of the HACCP team leader.

2. Describing the product

The HACCP team will need to prepare a full description of each food product or group of food products. They should also start identifying hazards and thinking about where they could occur.

This section of the HACCP plan should include the following (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Specification information, i.e. ingredients and recipe/formulation.
  • Food properties, e.g. physical and chemical.
  • Processes, e.g. frying, boiling, drying, etc.
  • Packaging.
  • Storage and distribution conditions, e.g. ambient, chilled or frozen.
  • Shelf life.
  • Labelling information, i.e. how consumers should store, handle and use the product.

The product aspects that food businesses will need to include will be specific to their circumstances.

3. Identifying the product’s intended use and consumers

The third step should consider the intended use of the finished product and potential consumers.

This section of the HACCP plan should include the following:

  • How the product is intended to be used and whether the food will need further processing before consumption, e.g. is it ready to eat or does it need cooking?
  • The potential consumers of the product, including any vulnerable groups, e.g. elderly, children, allergy sufferers, pregnant women or immunocompromised individuals.

4. Constructing a flow diagram

The HACCP team should then describe the production process by constructing a flow diagram. The HACCP team leader typically completes the flow diagram.

This section of the HACCP plan should include a flow chart/diagram showing all process steps, from start to finish, e.g. raw ingredient delivery to serving cooked food.

The flow chart can be in any format as long as the team includes all process steps for the product. There are two types:

  • Linear – looks at the whole process for each product, e.g. from raw materials to the finished product. The process flows in a simple line.
  • Modular – looks at parts of the process in separation, e.g. activities are separated into modules.

5. On-site confirmation of the flow diagram

The final preliminary step involves the HACCP team verifying the flow diagram is correct and reflects all of the steps in the process. It is advisable to have employees from outside the HACCP team help, as they may identify missed process steps or hazards.

This section of the HACCP plan should include the following:

  • Confirmation that the flow diagram is correct.
  • The date the flow diagram was confirmed correct.
  • Confirmation that previous copies of flow diagrams have been kept (this is a requirement).
  • The name and position of the person who confirmed the flow diagram was correct.
  • An updated copy of the flow diagram signed by participants.
Implementing a HACCP plan.

Click here to access our free HACCP plan template.

Applying the HACCP principles

Once the preliminary steps of the HACCP plan are complete, the next stage involves applying the seven principles of HACCP, which are:

1. Identifying hazards by conducting a hazard analysis

The HACCP team should look at the potential biological, chemical, physical and allergenic hazards expected to occur throughout each process step. They should assess the hazards and specify control measures to prevent or reduce the risk.

This section of the HACCP plan should include the following:

  • All process steps.
  • The food safety hazards (e.g. biological, chemical, physical or allergenic) and the causes.
  • The significant hazards.
  • A risk assessment of each hazard, i.e. the likelihood and severity (low, medium or high could be used).
  • The control measures for each hazard.

2. Determining the critical control points (CCPs)

The next step is for the HACCP team to decide which process steps need strict controls to prevent or eliminate a significant food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level. For example, to reduce the risk of food poisoning, raw chicken must be cooked thoroughly. Cooking would be a CCP. The team can use a decision tree to help them to determine CCPs, but it is not mandatory.

This section of the HACCP plan should identify which process steps are CCPs.

3. Establishing critical limits

The HACCP team now needs to establish critical limits and decide what would be acceptable and unacceptable values, i.e. what are the limits for safe and unsafe food? For example, chicken needs cooking at a certain temperature for a specific time to be safe to eat.
This section of the HACCP plan should detail the critical limits for each process step.

4. Establishing a monitoring system

The next step involves looking at how the control measures will be observed or measured and the hazards controlled at CCPs. According to the FSA, “the purpose of monitoring is to confirm that the critical limits are being continuously achieved and to detect any loss of control to enable effective corrective action to be taken”. For example, monitoring may include taking temperatures.

This section of the HACCP plan should include the following:

  • The monitoring procedures for each CCP, i.e. what will be monitored and how.
  • The frequency of monitoring.
  • The name of the person or role responsible for monitoring.

5. Establishing a corrective action plan

The HACCP team should decide what corrective actions are required if monitoring identifies a loss of control at CCPs. For example, if a refrigerator is over 8°C.

This section of the HACCP plan should include the following:

  • The corrective action procedures needed to restore control.
  • The name of the person or role responsible for carrying out corrective actions.

6. Establishing validation, verification and review procedures

This step requires the HACCP team to determine whether the HACCP system is working effectively so that the product is safe. It includes verifying that checks are complete.

This section of the HACCP plan should include the following:

  • The verification procedures required, i.e. what will be verified and how.
  • The frequency of verification.

7. Establishing record-keeping procedures

The HACCP team need to decide how to keep the HACCP documentation and records. Their decision should be relative to the nature and size of the business.

This section of the HACCP plan should include the following:

  • What information will be recorded.
  • Where and how the records will be stored.
  • The name of the person or role responsible for the records.
  • How long records will be retained.
  • Who needs frequent access to the records.

The above is a guide, and food businesses may need to include more in their HACCP plan than is shown in this section. The HACCP team must include all principles in the HACCP plan and should apply them in order, from one to seven. They should also validate the plan before it is first implemented to confirm it is accurate and can control significant food safety hazards.

Why not use our free HACCP plan template, which food businesses can use and modify to help them create a plan specific to their operations? HACCP plans are unique to each food business. Therefore, it is hard to provide a HACCP plan example that covers different situations. The FSA’s MyHACCP Guidance has further information on what to include in a HACCP plan.

Reviewing a HACCP plan

When should a HACCP plan be reviewed?

A HACCP plan should be regularly monitored and reviewed once developed and implemented, as per the requirements of the HACCP principles. The review should also include validation checks of the plan by the HACCP team or an external expert to confirm it is working.

For the HACCP plan and system to be effective, it should be up to date and reflect current practices. If it does not, there is a risk of food hazards not being identified and controlled, potentially causing harm to consumers.

The frequency in which a HACCP plan should be reviewed will depend on the following:

  • If there are any changes, e.g. processes, production, raw materials, ingredients, buildings, layout or equipment.
  • If new hazards are identified.
  • If any HACCP team members change.
  • If customer complaints are received.
  • If there have been product withdrawals, recalls, or food safety incidents, such as food poisoning.
  • If there are any legislation changes.

Reviewing the HACCP plan will ensure no significant changes could affect food safety. The HACCP team should conduct an annual review, as a minimum. They should also schedule these reviews so that they don’t get missed.

The HACCP team should document all reviews of the HACCP system and plan, even if there are no changes. It demonstrates the business’s commitment to food safety and is also important for due diligence.

Summary

The statistics you looked at earlier highlight the importance of HACCP. People can be made seriously ill and even die from eating unsafe food contaminated with food safety hazards. HACCP, when properly applied, can prevent and manage these hazards and keep consumers safe.

By law, food businesses must put in place, implement and maintain a permanent procedure or procedures based on the HACCP principles. A HACCP plan is essential for those businesses that cannot control their food safety risks through good hygiene practices alone. It may seem complex, but it is simple once the team have familiarised themselves with the steps.

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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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