Food safety principles

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 Food safety principles

Hygiene is critical to food safety (Source: Australian Chicken Meat Fed.)

The consumption of adequate safe and nutritious food is critical to our health and well-being. Keeping our food safe requires an understanding of food safety principles. There are a number of contaminants (or hazards) that could appear in our food and contamination may occur at any stage during the production, processing, storage and preparation of our food. Good food safety practices throughout the food production chain from “farm to fork” will minimise the chance of contamination of our food and also minimise, or even eliminate, the impact of contamination that has already occurred.

Food safety hazards

The hazards that could contaminate our food fall into three categories:

  • Physical Hazards – These include contaminants such as pieces of glass or metal. They have the potential to cause physical injury if consumed. Once the contaminant is present in the foodstuff the risk can only be eliminated if the contaminant is noticed and removed.
  • Chemical Hazards – These include contaminants such as toxic chemicals, unsafe levels of cleaning and sanitising chemicals or toxins that may be produced following contamination with certain organisms, such as bacteria or fungi. In some cases, killing or inactivating the organism may not destroy existing toxin.
  • Biological Hazards – These include organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Generally these contaminants will only cause a health problem if they are alive and able to infect the consumer when ingested.

Quarantine sign at entrance to poultry farm (Source: Australian Chicken Meat Fed.)

An understanding of these potential food safety hazards reveals the inter-relationship between biosecurity, animal health and food safety. In order to minimise the risk of contamination of poultry eggs and meat for consumption it is important to minimise the risk of contaminants reaching our commercial poultry flocks. Good farm management and hygiene practices and effective biosecurity procedures are critical to achieve this goal. These practices will minimise the chance of contamination and will optimise bird health, which allows the birds’ own immune system to be another safeguard to prevent potential contamination.

Food safety programs and HACCP

Most food supply businesses use food safety programs to protect the safety of their products. These programs are generally based on a system called HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point). The HACCP system was initially developed for NASA by the Pillsbury Company in order to supply safe food for astronauts. The HACCP system involves identifying things that can go wrong in the food production operation (i.e. hazards), putting in place steps which will prevent them happening, monitoring those steps to ensure they are working and documenting the entire process. HACCP principles can be applied to any stage of the production, processing, storage and preparation of food.

HACCP is a step-by-step system. In all, there are 12 steps required to develop and implement a HACCP plan:

To develop a HACCP plan:

1. Form a HACCP Team and define the scope of the HACCP plan. The team must provide expertise in food safety risks and risk management as well as the day-to-day operations of the business.

2. Describe the products produced by the business and identify the intended customer.

3. Construct a detailed flow chart of the production process, and then verify it.

4. List all the potential food safety hazards associated with each stage of the production process, conduct a hazard analysis to determine the likelihood (relates to the probability of the occurrence of a hazard e.g. the probability that it will occur every time or one chance in a million) and potential severity (relates to the magnitude of a hazard i.e. how many people will get sick or what will be the liability costs) of all hazards and consider any control measures.

Each hazard is rated using a system that suits your products. This may be a simple system such as “low-high” rating. As a general rule, hazards that involve low likelihood and low severity, and are easily controlled, are usually not included in a HACCP plan. An “overall” risk rating is therefore given to assist in determining what hazards to include.

  Severity   Likelihood   Overall Risk Rating
Low Low Low
High Low High
Low High High
High High High

All hazards that receive a high overall risk rating must be controlled in the HACCP plan.

5. Determine the Critical Control Points (CCP). These are points at which the hazard must be controlled to prevent a food safety risk in the final product. There will also be steps in the process where control is desirable but not critical – these are known as control points (CPs).

6. Establish critical limits for each CCP. This is the measurement which determines whether or not the hazard is being effectively controlled.

7. Establish a monitoring system for each CCP.

8. Establish corrective action plans for any deviation outside of the critical limits for a CCP.

To implement or put a HACCP plan into place:

9. Establish documentation and record keeping. The HACCP plan should be documented and all staff should have available the information they require to perform their duties in accordance with the HACCP plan. This will often mean documenting work instructions for each job that staff do. Good record keeping is a critical component of an effective HACCP plan as it ensures that the business manager can determine whether the plan is achieving its goals or if there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

10. Establish verification procedures. This may include some form of additional testing to verify that the control measures in the HACCP plan are having the desired effect on the final products.

11. Train staff for HACCP implementation.

12. Maintain and improve the HACCP plan. HACCP plans must be updated for any changes to the operations of a business or to rectify any problem identified through the monitoring or verification procedures.

(Steps based on the Australian Egg Corporation Limited’s Egg Corp Assured training program)

Food safety regulation for the commercial poultry egg and meat industries

The safety of all food produced and sold commercially in Australia is regulated by the State and Territory governments. The mechanisms and procedures by which this regulation is managed may differ in each State or Territory. Information on food safety requirements for food industries in each State and Territory can be found at:

Australian Capital Territory Government, Department of Health web site

NSW Food Authority web site

Northern Territory Government, Department of Health and Community Services web site

Safe Food Queensland web site

Government of South Australia, Department of Health web site

Government of Tasmania, Department of Health and Human Services

State Government of Victoria, Department of Human Services web site

Government of Western Australia, Department of Health web site

In general, regulation is based on a requirement for commercial food businesses to have in place a food safety program that ensures adherence to the national Food Standards Code. This Code was developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and is enforced by the State and Territory Governments.

The Code can be downloaded or purchased from the Food Standards Australia New Zealand web site

Food safety programs in the commercial poultry egg and meat industries

The poultry egg industry

The Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL) has established Egg Corp Assured (ECA), a national egg quality assurance program that is based on HACCP principles and is designed to help commercial egg producers develop an approved quality assurance program for their business and be recognised for doing so.

The Egg Corp Assured quality assurance program addresses issues including food safety, biosecurity, animal welfare, egg labelling and environmental sustainability. These programs must be audited by a registered third party auditor.

Consumers can look to ECA as a mark of a quality product produced under strict guidelines.

Only egg businesses that have had their quality assurance program audited against Egg Corp Assured standards by an accredited ECA auditor are entitled to apply for the ECA trade mark.

The poultry meat industry

At the farm

Sound husbandry practices in growing, collecting, transporting and handling birds reduces the risks of food safety hazards in poultry meat products. Australia’s poultry meat industry aims for best practice, constantly researching to develop new techniques that will enhance both bird health and welfare and food safety for consumers.

During processing

At processing, good food handling practices are supported by systems which ensure consistency and high standards. These include:

• Quality assurance programs, notably HACCP.

• Vendor quality assurance programs audit for strict compliance with the stringent quality assurance programs of a number of major customers.

All quality assurance programs are supported by third party auditors to ensure that standards remain consistently high and any problems are identified and addressed quickly. It is not unusual for a processor to be audited 15 times in a year by various bodies. These programs provide a high degree of assurance that food is produced, processed, packaged, stored and transported in accordance with strict food safety requirements.

Food safety at home (Source: Aust. Chicken Meat Fed.)

Food safety at home

In Australia, government regulation and the use of food safety programs by food supply businesses have ensured a high standard of safety in the foods we produce and import. However, inappropriate storage and handling and inadequate cooking of food products after purchase may result in food safety risks for consumers.

For helpful tips on food safety at home for eggs go to Australian Egg Corporation Limited and for chicken go to Australian Chicken Meat Federation.

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