Dakota State University -- NDSU Agriculture
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Economist Says, Proper HACCP Implementation Will Make a Good Tool Better
Despite the recent outbreak of food borne illness, HACCP is a cost-effective tool for assuring food product quality if implemented properly, according to a North Dakota State University agricultural economist.
William Nganje, an NDSU agricultural economist, has studied the economic impact of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) on firm-level profitability and efficiency. HACCP is a continuous-process quality control system mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for meat and poultry processors.
"Recent outbreaks of food borne illness do not indicate HACCP is ineffective, but suggest the need for wider implementation of the system," Nganje says. "Other constraints on HACCP are the USDA’s lack of power in punishing violators, and the limitation of HACCP solely to the processing firms in meat and poultry production."
"HACCP is a system that identifies critical control points in a process," Nganje explains. "Potential problems that can occur at these critical points are mitigated by establishing critical limits. Processors measure temperature, pressure, microbial counts and other factors to assure the quality of products at each point. The USDA conducts periodic, surprise inspections to verify whether or not HACCP plans are being followed."
"The USDA doesn’t have the jurisdictional power to shut down plants in violation of HACCP," Nganje points out. "They have done a very good job of monitoring plants and fining violators, but after they fine these companies and pull their inspectors, there is not much else they can do."
Nganje also thinks that a broadening of the USDA’s ability to enforce HACCP’s requirements would go a long way to making HACCP more effective. "In some European countries, the health department has the authority to shut down facilities that are not operating up to standards," Nganje says.
The limiting of HACCP requirements to the processing sector of meat and poultry production creates some problems as well. "A major challenge HACCP faces is that it only applies to the processing level," Nganje states. "Many food borne illness outbreaks are caused by emergent, antibiotic-resistant microbes. Antibiotic resistance may occur at the producer level, where HACCP guidelines are not practiced. At the retail level, the USDA’s involvement ends and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) becomes the agency responsible for food handling. So now you have two government agencies responsible for food safety at different points. This lack of unification is a big problem."
There are benefits to companies setting their own critical control points, according to Nganje. "We want a system that is dynamic and adaptable to changes in procedure and technology. You don’t necessarily want the USDA setting concrete guidelines that will be obsolete in five years. If that becomes necessary, we will probably have to revise them on a yearly basis," Nganje points out.