HACCP plans – 5 easy rules to be effective

Follow these 5 simple rules for effective HACCP plans

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.

haccp abbreviation on puzzles5. 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

LEVEL 2 HACCP TRAINING COURSE (BASIC)

LEVEL 3 HACCP TRAINING COURSE (INTERMEDIATE)

LEVEL 4 HACCP TRAINING COURSE (ADVANCED)

HACCP REFRESHER TRAINING COURSE

Verner Wheelock Excellence Award Winners revealed!

Verner Wheelock Excellence Award Winners

The Verner Wheelock Excellence Awards

We might have been in lockdown and in and out of tiers last year, but the pandemic didn’t prevent us from delivering their training courses to the food industry or providing ethical audit services. It certainly didn’t stop us from presenting our annual Excellence Awards last week.

The Verner Wheelock Excellence Awards were introduced in 2015 to coincide with our 25th anniversary and comprise six categories. These are: HACCP Student of the Year, Auditing Student of the Year, Food Safety Student of the Year, Individual Excellence, Company Excellence and Ethical Excellence.

And the winners are…

  • HACCP Student of the Year 2020
    Sarah Eames, Group Technical Manager at World Wise Foods
  • Food Safety Student of the Year 2020
    Michelle Teape, Technical Compliance Auditor at Müller Milk & Ingredients
  • Auditing Student of the Year 2020
    Sue Nock, Technical Systems Manager at Saputo Dairies UK
  • Individual Excellence
    Helen Harris, Training Co-ordinator at Pladis Global
  • Company Excellence
    Pilgrim’s UK
  • Ethical Excellence
    Berry Gardens

Normally, the Awards are presented in person at the recipients’ premises, but this year they took place virtually via a Zoom conference call.

“This year has certainly been different,” said MD, Alison Wheelock, “but we were determined to continue to provide our customers with the training and audits they need and to recognise outstanding delegates and customers through our Excellence Awards.”

Awards criteria

The HACCP, Auditing and Food Safety awards are given to delegates who have shown a genuine interest, understanding and flair for their subject. They have engaged and interacted well with the course trainer and other delegates and demonstrated excellent knowledge through impressive examination results.

VWA HACCP Award Winner

“Verner Wheelock and our trainer, Julie, did a fantastic job”

Sarah Eames, World Wise Foods

Sarah Eames, recipient of the HACCP award said, “It was a lovely surprise to hear that I’d won the HACCP student of the year award!  When we scheduled the training course last April, I wasn’t too sure how well it would work – we were all remote (including two of my team based in Bangkok!) and we had both level 3 HACCP and level 4 HACCP students in the same classes.  Verner Wheelock and our trainer Julie did a fantastic job of tailoring the course appropriately and we all thoroughly enjoyed having some time together as a team whilst completing some of our training needs.  Thank you!”

Sue Nock attended a Verner Wheelock FDQ Lead Auditor course last year. As part of the course, the delegates perform a mock audit of Verner Wheelock’s Quality Management System (QMS). The entire course and audit was delivered remotely and Sue’s natural auditing style really impressed the Verner Wheelock team. She said, “I was absolutely thrilled and surprised to be awarded Auditing Student of the year.  It was a privilege to be nominated and to be recognised for the hard work.  I found the delivery of the course to be inclusive, interesting and thoroughly enjoyable especially in the current climate.”

An exception to the rule

All previous Individual Excellence award winners have been course delegates. However, this year the decision was made to present the award to Helen Harris, Training Co-ordinator at Pladis UK’s Ashby de la Zouch site, who had been outstanding in her efficiency throughout the year.

Helen said, “I am truly honoured to have won this award. I have been in this role nearly four years and have been working with Verner Wheelock during that time. I have always found the Verner Wheelock team extremely professional, helpful, accommodating and a truly lovely, friendly bunch of people to work with.

I have to organise training for approximately 80 people from 11 different sites, so co-ordinating this many people can prove challenging, but between myself and the Verner Wheelock team we have always seemed to manage it.  2020 was obviously a different year for everyone and Verner Wheelock stepped up to the mark once again and helped me arrange remote training for team members that needed it.” 

Michelle Teape of Müller Milk & Ingredients was thrilled to receive her Food Safety Award.The skills I have are testament to the development I have received within Müller, and the encouragement I have received from colleagues on a daily basis,” she said. “I would like to especially thank the Müller Milk & Ingredients technical team for supporting my progression and the excellent training given by Verner Wheelock.”

Ethical Excellence

Andy York, Responsible Sourcing Manager of Pilgrim’s UK, the largest pig farming business in the UK, summed up the feelings of many on news of his Company Award, saying, “Thank you so much, it’s so nice to have some positive news for a change!” Pilgrim’s are an ethical auditing client of Verner Wheelock who are committed to ensuring that audits take place and the continuous improvement of environments and workplaces for their workers.

Lizzy Nuttall VWA Award Winner

“It’s lovely to receive news like this, in all this misery”

Lizzy Nuttall, Berry Gardens

Lizzy Nuttall of Berry Gardens, another of Verner Wheelock’s ethical audit customers, echoed his sentiments. “It’s lovely to receive news like this, in all this misery,” said Lizzy.

Berry Gardens, the UK’s leading berry and stone fruit production and marketing group, has won this year’s Ethical Excellence Award. Lizzy said, “This award demonstrates the work that has gone into improving our management and post audit follow up of ethical auditing internally. Also the work that our growers have put in to all aspects of worker welfare on their farms, as seen by the reduction in numbers of non-conformances raised in ethical audits in recent years. This can also be demonstrated by the positive feedback received from growers with regards to the way the whole process is managed.

We have worked with Verner Wheelock for a number of years and over that time, the relationship has improved greatly. They are our first point of contact for queries on matters relating to worker welfare. The team understands our business and the challenges presented by ethical auditing for our growers. They are willing to adapt and communicate fully with us when issues arise which may affect our ability to complete audits and also follow ups within the timescales we would like. The auditors that visit our farms are understanding of the issues our growers face, and this has been particularly evident in 2020 with the restrictions and concerns that our growers have had regarding on farm physical audits.

Verner Wheelock also have a good relationship with retailers which gives us confidence that issues we are facing are communicated to the right people, therefore aiding resolutions where they might be required.”

Staying strong in 2021

We are committed to providing high quality training and ethical audits for the food industry, even during Covid-19. Our courses are offered face-to-face (subject to social distancing requirements) and remotely and cover all levels of HACCP, Auditing and Food Safety as well as specialist courses such as Legal Labelling and Managing Food Allergens. Live SMETA audits are also going ahead wherever possible.

More information can be found at www.vwa.co.uk

Exam techniques – 6 tips for improved performance

exam techniques

If you left school, college or university several years ago, the chances are you won’t have sat an exam for a very long time. However, exams are a necessary evil if you want to gain qualifications for career progression; or improve your skills in your current role.

It’s natural to feel a little anxious before your exam or test, so here are some top tips to help out.

1) Read the questions

This might seem really obvious, but before you put pen to paper, make sure you read the question. Not just once, but 3 times. This should ensure that you have understood it correctly. When you’re nervous and up against the clock, it’s easy to misread something. For example, if the question says ‘Which of the following are not food safety prerequisites?’, you don’t want to read it as ‘Which of the following are food safety prerequisites?’

Some of the questions in HACCP and Food Safety examinations can seem ambiguous and there can seem to be more than one relevant answer. Reading through carefully often helps to clarify this.

2) Understand what is required

It’s a good idea to search Google for ‘exam questions glossary’ before the big day. This will tell you what is meant by particular words and phrases and what the examiner will expect to see in your answers. E.g. “List the 7 principles of HACCP” is a very different question from “Describe the 7 principles of HACCP.” The first will have fewer marks and you will just be able to provide a simple list. The second will carry more marks and requires a more detailed answer.

3) Allocate your time efficiently

Level 4 Food Safety, Level 4 HACCP and Lead Auditor exams are written papers rather than multiple choice. Each question shows the maximum amount of marks awarded. It’s common sense that you should spend more time on the questions for which you can get more marks.  Don’t waste time writing hundreds of words on a question worth a few marks, even if you could wax lyrical about pests for hours. Spend more time on a question worth 10 or 20 marks.

If you know that the exam is 2 hours duration, allow 5 to 10 minutes reading time and the same again at the end to go over your answers. Then split the remaining time according to the marks structure. Don’t feel you have to answer the questions in the order they appear. It might be sensible to answer the high-ranking questions first, then tackle the rest.

4) Tips for a multiple choice exam

Exams such as Level 3 HACCP, Level 3 Food Safety and Auditing Skills are in multiple choice format. You have a separate answer sheet which is marked electronically. A good tip is to go through the question paper and mark all your answers on there first. You can tick the answers to the ones you know and for ones you’re not sure about you can eliminate the answers you know are correct. Then, once you’ve made your choices, carefully transfer the answers to the answer sheet. You can use a sheet of paper or ruler under the corresponding questions and answers to make sure they’re entered correctly.

5)Blue or black ink?

The answer to this one is that we would always recommend that you use black ink. Exam papers are scanned for marking, so black is much clearer and easier to read. When you sit an examination at Verner Wheelock we provide black pens as standard.

On the subject of writing, try to make your handwriting as clear as possible. If your handwriting is difficult to decipher, you could print instead.

6) Make sure you’re prepared

One of the best ways to prepare for an exam is to try to replicate examination conditions. Make sure you are somewhere quiet with no distractions, then attempt a mock paper within the given time. Study in short bursts of 20 -30 minutes at a time and memorise facts using mnemonics wherever possible.

What if English is not your mother tongue?

You need to let the examination centre know well in advance if English is not your first language. In some cases the examination paper might be available in different languages. Remember that this will need to be ordered in specially, so give them plenty of notice. If the examination paper is only available in English you will be allowed to take a dictionary and thesaurus in with you (paper version only) and you will probably be allowed extra time.

After the exam

Don’t overanalyse the questions and your answers with your colleagues. What happens in the exam stays in the exam. Just take a deep breath and enjoy the rest of the day. The chances are you’re worrying about nothing. As long as you’ve listened to the tutor during your training you should do fine. For example, the pass rate for Verner Wheelock delegates is 98% for Level 3 Food Safety and 97% for Level 3 HACCP.

Good luck!

Don’t overload the fridge! Plus other food safety rules this summer

ice cream coneWell, it looks like this current heatwave will continue for a couple of weeks. I, for one, am not complaining. It’s nice to have some heat after months of feeling like you’re living in a fridge. Unsurprisingly sales of beer, cider, sun lotion and insect repellent have increased over the past week. So too have sales of ice cream and barbecue food, such as burgers, sausages and chicken, as well as salad ingredients.

Good weather means the opportunity for alfresco dining. But it also means that we need to be particularly mindful when it comes to food safety. Here are some tips to keep you on track.

Wash your hands

It might seem an obvious one, but always wash your hands before handling food. You also need to be mindful of washing them after you cough or sneeze into them. Or after touching pets or using the toilet.

Don’t overload the fridge

fridgeDon’t overload the fridge. If the air in the fridge isn’t allowed to circulate, it won’t keep the contents as cool as intended. If the salad and meat is fighting for space with a crate of beer, remove the beer. You can always put this in a bucket of ice to stay chilled. Cold beer is a ‘nice-to-have’ rather than something which is safety-critical.

Another point about temperature control in the fridge – if you’re planning on reheating hot food, keep it in the fridge before you do, but allow it to cool down first. Putting hot food straight into the fridge will raise the temperature.

Ensure food is cooked properly

barbecue meatIf you’re having a barbecue, be sure that the food is cooked all the way through. Always check to see if burgers, sausages, chicken etc. is not pink on the inside. Don’t give in to pressure to get food on the plates. If it takes a few minutes more, people will just have to wait – better to be safe than sorry.

Keep raw and cooked food separate

You also need to avoid the danger of cross-contamination by keeping raw and cooked food separate. Don’t offer up a cooked burger to somebody on a plate that previously held raw chicken, for example. The same rule goes for vegetables – wash them first and prepare them on a clean chopping board with clean utensils.

Keep it refrigerated until you need it

Additionally, I know it’s tempting to be well prepared, but don’t get things out of the fridge until the very last minute. Cheeses, anything containing cream, and raw meat should not be left out in the sun for longer than is necessary. Once outside, cover it until you need it. Also, check ‘use by’ dates before serving food up to your friends and family.

And finally…

sausages on barbecueDon’t forget to make sure that the barbecue grill is clean before you cook! Nobody wants to eat food cooked on a rusty dirty barbecue coated in last year’s grease. Give it a good scrub with soapy water and rinse and dry the grill well before you begin.

OK food safety lecture over! (But if you do want to know more about the basics of food safety, why not take our online Level 2 Food Safety course? It’s just £15 plus VAT and you’ll get a certificate at the end of it).

Enjoy the sunshine!

Fruit, food poisoning and food safety #foodsafety

fresh fruit

It’s finally summer time, so it’s out with the stodge and in with the fruit and salad!

When you’re preparing lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries and the like, you might encounter the odd creepy crawly. However, these can be removed easily. it’s the microscopic bacteria you can’t see that can cause serious food poisoning. That’s where having food safety and hygiene knowledge is important.

Contaminated fruit causes death

pomegranate Hepatitis AThere were reports in the news recently that eating contaminated fruit had killed a 64 year-old woman in Australia. She and 24 others had contracted Hepatitis A from consuming frozen pomegranate seeds. The virus takes around 15 to 50 days to develop. Symptoms include nausea, fever, vomiting and yellowing of the skin.

Hepatitis A and other types of illness linked to fruit and vegetables is often caused by traces of faeces. These can be transferred to the food from a number of sources. Generally it is in the water used to wash the produce. It can come from manure which has got into the water stream if fresh water has not been used.  Alternatively it can come from the hands of staff at the processing facility.

Continual re-use of processing water can result in a build-up of microbes (including pathogens) which have been left behind in the water from the previous load. Therefore final rinse water should always be of drinking quality.

The importance of personal hygiene

hand washingGood personal hygiene is vital if you are involved in processing, packing or handling produce – and also if preparing it at home. You should wash hands thoroughly including under your fingernails and between your fingers. Cough or sneeze away from food and always cover your mouth. Then wash your hands immediately.

If you have cuts, sores, or lesions on your hands, make sure that they are effectively covered and wear clean gloves. Finally, if you are suffering from a virus or diarrhoea, don’t handle food – it’s just not worth the risk.

Cantaloupe melonMelons and Listeria poisoning

One fruit which seems particularly prone to harbouring food poisoning bacteria is cantaloupe melon. It has been responsible for numerous cases of Listeria food poisoning, especially in the USA. Reasons why include the number of times they are turned during maturation. Another is the potential for human pathogens reaching the flesh via the stem scars.

If you’re preparing a melon you should clean the skin using fresh water and a clean scrubbing brush. This is to prevent bacteria from the outside from reaching the flesh when you cut into it. In fact you should wash all fruit, even if you plan to peel it.

raspberriesIf you can’t scrub the skin of a fruit, for example berries, the best thing to do is rinse then in fast-running water. This is better than soaking them since the friction helps to remove bacteria more efficiently.

It goes without saying that you also need to follow the usual food safety rules.  Wash your hands. Prepare it with clean utensils on a clean surface which has not been in contact with raw meat to avoid any danger of cross-contamination and potential illness.

For more information about food safety and hygiene, please click here.