Bacterial contamination in the dairy industry can have major implications for operators. It can result in product re-work, wastage or recall – the cost of which can run into millions of pounds once litigation, insurance pay-outs and reputational damage are taken into account.
A recent incident involving salmonella contamination, at a major dairy company, saw 12 million boxes of powdered baby milk withdrawn from supermarkets in 83 countries.
To reduce incidents of product contamination, dairy producers in Europe are required to practice hygiene legislation (EU 852/2004) based around the principles of the Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP) framework.
This internationally-recognized framework is used to identify and control areas of the process where contamination of the final process can be a hazard and aims to protect consumer health.
The seven principles of the HACCP framework – explained
1. Identification of potential hazards
This requires the team responsible for implementing the HACCP framework to develop a list of hazards which are deemed likely to cause illness, injury and/or spoilage if not effectively controlled. Pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms would be identified in this way, as well as chemical and physical hazards. In milk packaging areas of dairy plants, the atmosphere can contain more than 250 cfu / m3 viable bacterial cells – a significant source of microbial hazard.
2. Establish critical control points
Critical control points (CCPs) are points at which control can be applied to prevent or eliminate a safety hazard. In the dairy industry, CCPs could include the reception of ingredients, storage of ingredients, addition of ingredients and the sanitization of equipment.
And while it can often be overlooked by dairy operators, the sterile filtration of gases which come into direct contact with the product or packaging should also be highlighted as a CCP.
3. Establish critical limits
A critical limit is the maximum or minimum value for the control measure at a CCP to prevent, eliminate, or reduce a hazard to an acceptable level. These limits – which separate acceptability (safe) from unacceptability (potentially unsafe) – can include time, temperature and pH, and are often drawn from regulatory standards and guidelines. They should be measurable, observable and able to be monitored in real time.
4. Measures to control these hazards
What is being done to control hazards? Identifying control measures – the actions being taken to eliminate, prevent or reduce hazards to an acceptable level – is a key part in preventing contamination. For example, the action of sterilizing gas to achieve food grade compressed air sterility, which is needed to create a sterile environment when packaging a dairy product, is a control measure.
5. Monitoring the controls
In accordance with a HAACP plan, a dairy plant must be able to confirm that CCP points are operating within their defined critical limits. Monitoring must be able to detect a trend towards loss of control so that the process can be brought back under control before it deviates from a critical limit, and detect if a loss of control does occur and provide results rapidly enough to enable corrective action to be taken.
Filter integrity testing is an example of a monitoring system: sterilizing grade gas filters used in aseptic processing should be testing regularly to ensure that they are capable of delivering ongoing sterility. Parker Bioscience Filtration’s Valairdata 3 system uses an aerosol challenge, fully correlated to aerosolized bacterial and viral challenges, to produce a reliable and accurate method for detecting integrity in gas filters. This can be performed on-site within seconds.
6. Corrective action
As part of the HACCP plan, the team must agree in advance the corrective actions to take if monitoring detects a loss of control at a CCP. Immediate corrective actions could include stopping the process or quarantining the product. Further corrective actions can be carried out if a trend towards loss of control is identified. The team must also plan what action to take with regard to products which may have been stored or despatched after the loss of control may have occurred (rather than discovered) – this may include quarantine or disposal.
Documentary evidence of due diligence when applied to product safety is crucial – especially in the unfortunate event of a food safety incident.
This should include documents which demonstrate that the principles of HACCP have been correctly applied in line with EU 852/2004. Examples of these include CCP determination, Critical Limit determination, CCP monitoring records and corrective action procedures.
This post was contributed by Ian Curran, market development manager, Parker Bioscience Filtration, United Kingdom.
Parker Bioscience Filtration offers filtration solutions to protect the quality and taste of beverage products. By working with our application experts, manufacturers can develop a tailored solution to ensure their beverage is free from contamination, full of flavour and visibly clear.