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Formulating an effective HACCP plan can be time consuming, but it is ultimately worth the effort for the peace of mind that you are producing products that are free of contaminants and safe to eat.

At Verner Wheelock we offer a number of HACCP training courses at varying levels to guide you through the various challenges you will face. However there are a few simple rules you should always follow, no matter what size or type your manufacturing facility might be.

1. Make sure you have suitable prerequisites in place

HACCP Plan Cleanliness

Before you can even consider developing and implementing a HACCP plan, you need to ensure that you have effective prerequisites in place. That means pest control, cleaning programmes, waste control, operator training, employee personal hygiene and the use of PPC as well as other considerations such as programmes of preventative maintenance.

Regular calibration is also essential if your HACCP plan is to succeed. Many critical control points rely on the accuracy of meters, gauges, thermometers, pH meters, scales, metal detectors, timing devices and pressure gauges; and because tolerances are often minute, even a slight inaccuracy can compromise the safety of food being produced.

2. HACCP is about safety not quality

One of the first things to remember about HACCP is that it concerns the safety of food, not the quality. A product may not look pretty or be made with the highest quality ingredients, but that doesn’t matter within a HACCP plan.

Critical control points ccp

The most effective HACCP plans take a holistic view and identify any possible hazards – microbial, chemical or physical –then determine which of those constitute Critical Control Points (CCPs). A CCP is defined as a step at which control can be applied and is essential to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level. For example, heating to a defined temperature for a defined amount of time.

3. Make your HACCP plans as simple as possible

As they say in marketing, you should always aim to KISS – Keep It Short and Simple. The same goes for your HACCP plan. The more complex it is, the more difficult it will be to control. Therefore, you should try to limit the number of control points to those that are genuinely critical.

For instance, there’s no need to spend time monitoring for potential bacteria at an earlier stage in the process if a final heating stage will kill all pathogens within a product. It’s the final heating stage that counts.

4. Keep your HACCP plans current

It’s really imperative that HACCP plans are kept up-to-date. Any change made that is a deviation from the norm, even if it appears to be insignificant, needs to be noted and a risk assessment should also be undertaken. The plan should be a working document that reflects any updates or amendments.

Even something as apparently simple as a product line change or a recipe reformulation can affect the safety of food if the correct controls aren’t in place for that particular product. Good examples include reducing the level of sugar in a product. Removing sugar might mean that your existing heating conditions are not severe enough to destroy some pathogens.

With the pressure on to provide foods with reduced sugar, fat, salt and additives this type of occurrence is a real threat. so it pays to be vigilant.

5. Use separate HACCP plans for each product line

Finally, there is no simple ‘one size fits all’ HACCP plan that you can buy off the shelf. Each company is different and each product line within that company is different and they have different recipes and different equipment.

It’s therefore important that separate plans are formulated for each line by a dedicated HACCP team. You wouldn’t buy a set of dentures unless they had been designed specifically for you, so you need to make sure that the HACCP plan you formulate is a perfect fit too.

Why not check out our training calendar for details of our forthcoming HACCP courses?

Here is a breakdown of the HACCP courses we offer





Coffee Week

The economic recession certainly doesn’t appear to have affected Britain’s coffee shops, which are continuing to expand at a rate of knots. From small independent cafes to the big names like Starbucks, Costa, Pret a Manger and Cafe Nero, they’re breeding like rabbits! It seems we Brits can’t get enough espressos, lattes, macchiatos, cappuccinos, americanos  or even the plain old instant stuff out of a jar. So it’s no surprise that, according to statistics, the UK coffee sector has grown by 6% in the past 12 months alone, representing an estimated sales value of £5.4 billion.

What better time, then, to capitalise on this craving for caffeine and draw attention to the plight of the hardworking people harvesting the beans? Whilst we think nothing of turning on the tap and sticking the kettle on for a brew, almost half the population of Tanzania (46%) don’t have access to a clean source of water. In the past year approximately 20,000 children from the area died because the water they drank was unsafe and they were living in insanitary conditions.

This week (18 – 24 October 2021) is UK Coffee Week (www.ukcoffeeweek.com ).  Dubbed “The Nation’s biggest celebration of coffee” it is being supported by thousands of companies, not just the well-known coffee chains, but also smaller cafes, canteens and workplaces. The aim of the campaign is to raise money for Project Waterfall, a charitable initiative delivering clean water projects in African coffee-producing countries, such as Tanzania. Customers at participating outlets selling coffee are being encouraged to add a voluntary 5 pence to the cost of their purchase – the equivalent of providing clean water to one person for a single day. Workplaces providing coffee are asking employees to make a donation every time they have a cuppa.

It’s great cause, so let’s support it! If we can afford upwards of £2 for a coffee, we can certainly afford an extra five pence.

Campylobacter, E-coli and salmonella – everybody’s heard of them and knows that they’re the bacteria responsible for many food poisoning outbreaks. Staphylococcus aureus is not one that readily trips off the tongue and yet it’s actually classed as a superbug.

If this unpleasant critter gets into your bloodstream you’ll be seriously ill and could even die. As with all serious infections, there are different strains. The most virulent strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria is one we’ve all heard of: MRSA. This stands for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. MRSA is particularly difficult to treat because it’s resistant to many antibiotics.

It’s also really quite easy to contaminate food with Staphylococcus aureus. It occurs naturally on the skin and in the nose of around one-third of all human beings. It can live quite happily on the skin, but if it is allowed to transfer to food, it’s a very different story. That’s why anybody working within the food industry needs to be aware of its presence and how contamination can be prevented.

Which foods are most likely to be contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus?

pilons de pouletThere are certain types of food that are more susceptible to Staphylococcus aureus contamination than others. These are typically high protein products. Cooked poultry, seafood and egg products can either be handled during preparation or stored at the wrong temperature before consumption. Foods made by hand contact which don’t require any additional cooking are also at risk.

Other examples include cream-filled bakery products. They’re handled whilst the cream in inserted. Another interesting fact about Staphylococcus aureus is that it’s less likely to be found on raw products where several other organisms are present. Because bakery products tend to have a higher sugar content, this inhibits the growth of other organisms, allowing Staphylococcus aureus bacteria to thrive.

Warm temperatures help Staphylococcus aureus to multiply rapidly, so for this reason dry pasta has also been the source of some outbreaks. Additionally, the extrusion equipment used to produce the pasta is difficult to clean creating an ideal environment for the bug.

How to control Staphylococcus aureus

The primary control measures to inhibit the presence and growth potential of Staphylococcus are time and temperature. (You can find out all about this on our Level 3 Food Safety course). However once the bacteria has entered the food and begun to multiply it is practically impossible to eliminate, even by heating to temperatures of over 121°C for several minutes.

Washing Hands with SoapProduct formulation can also guard against growth of the bacteria. However, since the primary source is staff, personal hygiene is incredibly important in any prevention programme.

How you can help prevent Staphylococcus aureus toxins from forming in food

  • Wash hands and under fingernails vigorously with soap and water before handling and preparing food.
  • Do not prepare food if you have a nose or eye infection.
  • Do not prepare or serve food for others if you have wounds or skin infections on your hands or wrists – this is how Staphylococcus aureus can enter the bloodstream
  • Keep kitchens and food-serving areas clean and sanitised.
  • If food is prepared more than two hours before serving, keep hot foods hot (over 60° C) and cold foods cold (5°C or under).
  • Store cooked food in a wide, shallow container and refrigerate as soon as possible

Typical symptoms and onset period

The average time for someone to experience food poisoning symptoms after consumption of food containing the Staphylococcus aureus toxin is 2 to 4 hours, although it can be as soon as 30 minutes or up to 7 hours. In normal cases it takes 48 hours to recover. Common symptoms transmitted via food are nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea.

As ever, effective preventative measures are essential to ensure that your products remain safe for people to enjoy. Here is more information on our range of food safety courses.

HACCP obesity crisis

The chance of being seriously affected by Covid-19 increases with obesity or being overweight, according to experts. Studies have shown that 36% of adults in England are currently defined as overweight, whereas 28% were classified as obese.

Body fat contains high levels of an enzyme called ACE2 to which the coronavirus can attach itself, giving it access to cells. This can have a direct impact on blood, immunity, inflammation and especially respiratory function.

Obesity prevention measures
To raise awareness of these issues and attempt to tackle obesity, the Government this week announced a crackdown. This involves providing calorie information on menus for restaurants with over 250 staff. It also includes a proposed ban on bulk buy offers on fizzy drinks and foods with a high fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) content. Television advertisements for ‘junk food’ are to be banned before 9pm to discourage children from wanting highly calorific products

This initiative to reduce consumption of sugar, fat and salt is nothing new. We have been told that obesity costs the NHS in excess of £4.2 billion. Steps have already been taken by food manufacturers to reduce fat, salt and sugar in their products. For example, Pladis has previously reduced sugar by 9% and salt by 5% in its McVities Digestive biscuit. This was achieved over a period of time to ensure that there was no compromise on taste or texture.

Product reformulations
The reformulation of products is not something that can be achieved overnight. As well as the palatability factor, there is also the aspect of food safety to consider. Sodium (salt) and sugar are both food preservatives. They help to reduce the growth of pathogens and spoilage bacteria by reducing the water activity in foods. This is turn extends the shelf life of the products.

Fat in foods has a huge impact on flavour, so reducing the fat in, say, a yogurt, means that in order to make it as tasty, you need to substitute something else. This is often sugar or a sugar substitute.

Reduced sugar, fat or salt – increased food safety risk?
Of course, swapping out ingredients in the recipe for a popular product means that you will need to assess the food safety risks. Will the substituted ingredient perform as well to inhibit the growth of bacteria? What are the new critical control points and critical limits to ensure that the product is safe? How will the shelf life of the newly-formulated product be affected?

It’s worth remembering that the largest ever outbreak of food-borne Clostridium Botulinum in the UK, was caused by reducing the sugar content in a product. The hazelnut puree used in several brands of hazelnut yogurt had reduced sugar by substituting with saccharin. However, it had been under processed, allowing the bacterium to grow within the product.

HACCP knowledge is essential
It is imperative that HACCP plans are reviewed whenever any change takes place. This could be changes to ingredients, changes of equipment, or changes to process. Reviewing HACCP plans means that any potential food safety risk can be identified, and the appropriate preventive action taken.

Any product reformulation requires a new HACCP plan to be produced. Make sure that the relevant people in your company are trained in how to produce, verify and validate a HACCP plan. Or if it’s at least 3 years since your staff took their HACCP qualifications, a one-day HACCP Refresher course will keep them up-to-date.

Sam's Scottish Highland Challenge

Our amazing work colleague and friend, Sam Day, completed her 5-day Scottish Highlands Challenge last weekend. To say we are blown away by what she has achieved is an understatement! She has beaten breast cancer and raised £4200 for the CoppaFeel charity.

A MASSIVE THANK YOU to everyone who has supported Sam by donating money or gifts, or both. She raised over £1500 of her total by holding a Family Fun Day at a local football club HQ and was overwhelmed by how many people came along.

We thought you might like to hear all about the trek, so who better to tell you than Sam herself:

My Scottish Highlands Challenge

“My CoppaFeel! Scottish Highlands Challenge – Trying to put into words what the past week has been like is hard, as no words do it justice! It was awesome, amazing, inspiring, joyful, tough, heart-warming, breath-taking and more all rolled into one!I left the comfort of my home and the security blanket of my family behind and set off on an adventure which would push me completely out of my comfort zone, not knowing what to expect or how the week would go. But, I have come home a week later with 25 incredible ladies in my life, memories that will last a lifetime and a self-belief that I can do anything I set my mind to!

The campsite was breathtakingly remote and soon became our ‘home’ – however I did miss my bed and there were grass cuttings everywhere! Each trek had its own challenges but the feeling when we got to the top was immense ( I was high on life and fresh air) and we smashed each one of them together.

The Charity Challenge Trek Leaders (Ian, Duncan, Tania and Andy) were incredible, they guided us up the paths (and off course sometimes) with encouragement and belief. We could not have done it without them and they soon became a huge part of Team Gemma! The CoppaFeel ladies (Ellie, Nat & Gi) were incredibly supportive and it was an honour to meet them. I will always be thankful for this opportunity and what they do to raise awareness of BC in young people is inspiring!

Team Gemma

We were all split into teams and I was in a team led by a lovely lady called Gemma. This is where I find it hard to explain. The bond we have, the connections we’ve made, only we know what the past week has truly been like and the journey we have been on. Each one of us had our own personal reason for signing up to the trek and our own personal goals but we did it as a team, helping each other, supporting one another. We shared stories, we laughed, we sang (A LOT), we cheered, we whooped, we squatted together for a wild wee and we celebrated!

“One of the Best Experiences of my Life”

I can honestly say this has been one of the best experiences of my life and I will be forever thankful to CoppaFeel for picking me and letting me be part of something so unique. And also knowing we have collectively raised over £330,000 in donations is incredible! Thank you to everyone who donated and helped me raise over 4k! And thank you all for your support and for following my journey. Sam xx

Natasha's Law pre-packed for direct sale food

Many people will remember the unfortunate story of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse; the teenager who died following an allergic reaction to a sandwich containing sesame. The sandwich was pre-packed but did not contain an ingredients label or allergy messaging. This type of labelling was not mandatory at the time but, following her death, her parents strived to get the law changed, so that others with food allergies have confidence in the foods they buy and do not suffer the same fate.

As a result of their campaigning, The UK Food Information Amendment 2019 (or Natasha’s Law, as it is commonly known) comes into force on 1st October 2021. This means that all food that is pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS) will have to carry labelling stating the name of the product and a full ingredients list with allergens highlighted.

New Natasha’s Law online course

To help businesses understand the requirements of the new law and to whom it applies, we are launching an online Natasha’s Law course in September. This will cover the following:

  • What is Natasha’s Law?
  • Background information about allergens
  • Labelling controls for the 14 allergens recognised by law
  • The different ways food can be packaged and presented to the consumer
  • Definition of Pre-packed for Direct Sale Food
  • Using the Pre-packed for Direct Sale decision tree
  • The requirements for businesses to comply with the new legislation

The course is video-based and is presented by an experienced food allergens trainer with many years’ food industry experience. It features a blend of video, interactive assessments and fact-checking throughout to ensure the retention of information. There are no entry requirements, but a basic knowledge of food safety would be beneficial.

Who will the new law apply to?

Our Natasha’s Law course will appeal to bakers and confectioners, farm shop staff, butchers, cafes, sandwich shops, stallholders, charity event organisers, mobile caterers, small retailers and any other businesses packaging and selling food from the same premises. We will be notifying all our customers once the course has launched, but in the meantime if you would like to register your interest, please contact Claire Lennon on 01756 700802 or email claire.lennon@vwa.co.uk