Managing a Food Distribution Center
Using HACCP Principles
As we move towards the 21st century, it is essential that all possible measures be taken to store and distribute food safely. The FDA has recognized that complying with the basic Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) regulations is not sufficient as food can still become contaminated and consumers can become ill and sometimes die. In 1994, 9,000 people died from eating food that was contaminated during preparation or storage.
Dr. Kessler, FDA Commissioner, on August 4, 1994, said: "We need to prevent foodborne illnesses, not just react to them. This system [HACCP]-though it is simple and based on common sense-signals one of the broadest food safety policy shifts in the last 50 years."
We must be proactive rather than reactive.
It is, therefore, necessary to follow the principles of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) and ensure that the food does not become hazardous to human health. In order to achieve hazard-free product, it is necessary to have in place a HACCP program that prevents, eliminates or controls hazards. As these hazards can be physical, chemical or microbiological in nature, the operation of a distribution center has to consider all these categories.
All of these hazards can be prevented, eliminated or controlled by having food safety programs in place and by having employees educated to recognize hazards.
Physical hazards can get into exposed product by poor storage practices, so in areas where product is exposed-repack and salvage areas and produce storage areas-it is essential to prevent items dropping into the product. In areas where the product is not exposed, it is essential to keep the product covered properly.
Chemical hazards can result from commingling, improper pesticide usage, improper use or storage of cleaning chemicals, etc. Employees need training in how to prevent chemical contamination of the food products.
Microbiological hazards can already be in the food at low levels, and by not storing the food at the correct temperatures, they can grow to dangerous levels. It is important to keep potentially hazardous foods cold unless they are stored in hermetically sealed containers (i.e. cans).
Microbiological hazards can also get into ready-to-eat foods by improper storage practices that result in cross-contamination from a raw food to a ready-to-eat food.
Poor employee health can, if the food is exposed, lead to contaminated food if the employee has a communicable disease (i.e., salmonella typhi, shigella, hepatitis A, etc.).
In order to operate a food distribution center using HACCP principles, it is necessary to be trained in HACCP and to have HACCP programs in place. These programs need to be monitored regularly and verified that they are working by use of an outside group (i.e., corporate quality assurance, consultant, etc.). ASI Food Safety Consultants can help you be prepared for the Twenty-First Century by educating your employees and helping you put HACCP programs in place.
This can be achieved by seminars, (in-house or off-site), by following the following ASI guidelines for storing and distributing food safely and by regular, semiannual inspections to ensure compliance.
The benefits of operating a food-safe warehouse are:
- Current forecast & marketing reports.
- Timely food safety alerts to keep you informed.
- Safe and wholesome food.
- No food discarded.
- No potential law suits.
- Competitive advantages.
R.C. Strong, Ph.D.