Space-age technology designed to keep food safe in outer space may soon become standard here on Earth. The Food and Drug Administration has adopted a food safety program developed nearly 30 years ago for astronauts and is applying it to seafood and juice. The agency to eventually use it for much of the U.S. food supply. The program for the astronaut's focuses on preventing hazards that could cause food-borne illnesses by applying science-based controls, from raw material to finished products. FDA's new system will do the same. Traditionally, industry and regulators have depended on spot-checks of manufacturing conditions and random sampling of final products to ensure safe food. This approach, however, tends to be reactive, rather than preventive, and can be less efficient than the new system.
The new system is known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, or HACCP (pronounced hassip). Many of its principles already are in place in the FDA-regulated low-acid canned food industry. FDA also established HACCP for the seafood industry in a final rule December 18, 1995 and for the juice industry in a final rule released January 19, 2001. The final rule for the juice industry will take effect on January 22, 2002 for large and medium businesses, January 21, 2003 for small businesses, and January 20, 2004 for very small businesses.
In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has established HACCP for meat and poultry processing plants, as well. Most of these establishments were required to start using HACCP by January 1999. Very small plants had until Jan. 25, 2000. (USDA regulates meat and poultry; FDA all other foods.)
FDA now is considering developing regulations that would establish HACCP as the food safety standard throughout other areas of the food industry, including both domestic and imported food products.
To help determine the degree to which such regulations would be feasible, the agency is conducting pilot HACCP programs with volunteer food companies. The programs have involved cheese, frozen dough, breakfast cereals, salad dressing, bread, flour and other products.
HACCP has been endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (an international food standard-setting organization), and the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods. A number of U.S. food companies already use the system in their manufacturing processes, and it is in use in other countries, including Canada.