Hazard Analysis Explained 


What is a hazard analysis?

Hazard analysis is a systematic process where the HACCP team collect and evaluate information to determine which hazards present a significant risk to the consumer. Only significant hazards should be included in the HACCP plan. Process flow diagrams form the basis of the hazards analysis. Product descriptions can provide additional information on hazards associated with a particular product.


Why is a thorough hazard analysis important?

Hazard analysis is a legal requirement and fundamental to the overall success in implementing the preceding principles of HACCP. Failure to conduct a proper hazard analysis could put consumers at risk of illness or injury. A thorough and correct hazard analysis is important in demonstrating the safe production of food to external auditors and if necessary a due diligence defence in court.


What is a food safety hazard?

A hazard is anything with the potential to cause harm. Elimination or reduction to an acceptable level of a hazard is critical in producing safe food for the consumer. There are four classifications when characterising a food safety hazard: biological, physical, chemical and allergenic. These hazard classifications are initially identified in the terms of reference and scope of the HACCP study.


Biological hazards

Biological hazards are mainly pathogenic bacteria and viruses, but can also include parasites. They can cause illness through infection or intoxication. Understanding the characteristics for each microorganism is important in identifying the risk to the consumer and deciding the most effective control measure. Important characteristics include source, food vehicles, requirements for growth, mechanisms for survival (e.g. spore former), infective dose and toxins produced.  


Physical hazards

A physical hazard is any extraneous matter that can cause injury or death through cuts, dental damage or choking. These can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic contamination is any extraneous matter originally part of the food, such as bones, egg shell and fruit stones. Extrinsic contamination is anything not naturally part of the food, such as steel shot in game and dirt. The five sources of physical hazards can include people, pests, premises, products and packaging. People are the main source of physical contamination as hair is the most reported contaminant found in food.


Chemical hazards

A chemical hazard occurs when a chemical present in food is at a level harmful to humans. It can occur naturally, accidently or even deliberately. Harmful chemicals may be present in raw materials, introduced via contamination or created during processing. The most common chemical hazards in the food industry include: mycotoxins, marine and natural toxins, cleaning chemicals, antibiotics, pesticides, food additives and acrylamide. Chemical contamination may also be a deliberate act for financial gain.


Allergens can be classified as a chemical hazard, but the HACCP team may decide for ease to put them in designated category. Any food can cause an allergic response, but 90% of reactions are by caused peanut, nuts, shellfish (molluscs and crustaceans), soy, gluten, fish, milk and eggs. Hazards can occur through presence or introduction of allergenic ingredient into a raw material or during production and when a product is mislabelled. The most common undeclared allergens in products produced in a manufacturing environment are milk and gluten (e.g. flour). This is mainly due to large amounts of these allergens present in the environment and the ease of raw materials in powder can travel through the air to contaminate products and equipment.  


What is an acceptable level of risk?

It is not always possible to eliminate a food safety hazard. Therefore the HACCP team must determine an acceptable level that does not pose a risk to the consumers. This level can be determined by a regulatory requirement, scientific study, customer specification, or intended use of the product. These acceptable levels must be validated, directly to the hazards and justifications recorded. But sometimes it is not possible to determine an acceptable level. This is the case for allergenic contamination. There is currently no regulated thresholds for undeclared allergens in food. This may change in the future as the Food Standards Agency is currently working on establishing thresholds for common food allergens.


How to describe a hazard

Providing enough detail in the hazard description is important in identifying the nature of the hazard under investigation. The description must include the manifestation, source and cause. Characterising the manifestation of hazard will help identify the source and cause. There are four main hazard manifestations the HACCP team may consider: presence, cross contamination, growth and survival. Presence is usually associated with a hazard already in the raw material or product from a supplier. Cross contamination highlights the introduction of a hazard at a processing or handling step due to people, equipment, environmental factors or other materials. Growth is associated with the multiplication of microorganisms and toxin formation. Survival may indicate the presence of microorganisms and toxins due to a failure in a process step designed to eliminate or reduce the hazard.

Describing the source and conditions in which a hazard occurs will help the HACCP team identify any failures in the operation and environment and the subsequent need for modifications in current control measures. The most common conditions arising in a food safety hazard include: poor temperature control (e.g. cooking, cooling and storage) and personal hygiene (e.g. inadequate handwashing between tasks and ill food handlers).


How to calculate a risk rating for a hazard

The risk analysis of food safety hazards can be either quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative risk analysis is complex and mainly conducted in very detailed studies on a national or international level. Qualitative risk analysis is the preferred method and involves the HACCP team making a sound judgement based on the available information.  The significance of a hazard is a combination of severity and risk and presented in a risk rating matrix. A significant hazard can be considered as one likely to occur and cause harm. The severity and likelihood of risk can simply be rated as high, medium or low. These ratings should be characterised and agreed within the HACCP team. The hazard analysis should also record a justification for whether a hazard is significant or not. These can be simple statements

Significance of a hazard is determined by evaluating likelihood of occurrence and severity of the subsequent effect. Severity will require careful consideration and categorisation (high, medium and low) of various factors. A high severity will usual consider if an illness or injury is life threatening or results in a chronic illness. In contrast a low severity of impact is short in duration and does not result in death or chronic illness. The population at risk will also have impact on the severity, including size and susceptibility of consumers to foodborne illness or injury.

The likelihood of hazard occurrence is complex and requires consideration of many different factors. Knowledge of specific food safety hazards occurring in products produced in the food premises is important. This information may be based on local incidents, laboratory tests, trend analysis of consumer complaints, food safety alerts, industry guidance and peer-reviewed scientific studies. The evaluation may or may not consider the effectiveness of pre-requisite programmes in reducing the likelihood of a hazard occurring. 


What is a control measure?

Hazards are controlled by effective control measures. They can be defined as any ‘action and activity’ required to ‘prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce to an acceptable level’ (Codex 2009). Common control measures include: metal detection, filtration, sieving, high and low temperatures, time, acidification and disinfection. There are many factors to consider when selecting a control measure. The control must relate to the hazard source and its manifestation (e.g. presence, multiplication, contamination and survival). Validation will be required to provide evidence to demonstrate the control measure is capable of controlling the hazard. Finally, the HACCP team must consider the feasibility for monitoring the control measure to show the hazard is under control at all times.


What is a hazard analysis justification statement?

The last column to complete in hazard analysis table is the justification for the significance for the hazard. This is simple statement for a decision made by the HACCP team for why the hazard is significant or not. This information is important to demonstrate a thorough analysis has been made. Justifications can include information on control measures, hazard characterisation, consumer practices and at risk groups.   


Find out more about pre-requisite programmes and the 12 steps of implementing and maintaining HACCP. Enrol onto an accredited course in HACCP at levels 2, 3 or 4. We run open courses in Milton Keynes, Corby and London (East Acton).Alternatively, we can run an onsite course at your premises if you have two or more candidates. This is a very cost effective option.  Contact us now for further information.


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