A health inspector came to my restaurant and asked me to stop using my vacuum packing equipment until I produced a HACCP plan and got it approved. What was the next step for me? I started asking questions. Why do I need a HACCP plan? Why now? What changed? When is my next inspection? What is HACCP? Where do I even start?
Those are frequently asked questions that I hear from overwhelmed retailers, general managers, chefs, and restaurant owners. Some of them have been in operation for years and their health inspector had never mentioned HACCP until now.
In fact, despite HACCP existing for decades, HACCP enforcement during inspections is a fairly recent phenomenon.
The Food Code
The Food Code 2001 established that the implementation of HACCP at retail should be a voluntary effort by the industry, with the exception of specialized processes. The specialized processes or high-risk culinary processes included in this section are curing, fermentation, ice cream production, acidic foods and vacuum packaging.
In September 2015, the FDA established the FSMA Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food. The Final Rule requires the implementation of comprehensive, science-based preventive controls across the food supply. By September 2018, all businesses that manufacture, process, package, hold, sell, and in general handle food had to comply with the Final Rule and have a HACCP plan implemented.
But what happens if I don’t have a HACCP plan? Should I wait until my health inspector says something? For all I know, my operations are safe, and no customers are getting sick after visiting my restaurant.
Your Next Health Inspection
Yes, you could wait until your inspector’s visit. He or she will stop your high-risk culinary processes until you’ve implemented your approved HACCP plan. Furthermore, the FDA may consider different regulatory actions:
- The issuance of advisory letters
- Court actions, such as seizure or injunction
- Administrative actions, such as administrative detention to gain control of adulterated or misbranded products, mandatory recall of violative food, or suspension of a facility’s food registration to prevent the shipment of food
That means that the authorities can and will in some cases confiscate or force you to dispose of all inventory. This has led to thousands of dollars in lost inventory, or even closure of restaurants and manufacturers.
Not having a report of people getting sick is a good start, but it is not enough to prove that your operations are safe. It’s also not proof that you are complying with all regulations to avoid sanctions from the authorities.
My recommendation is to not wait until your inspection and take preemptive action immediately. After all, HACCP is a system built on preventative and not reactive control. Experienced professionals can help you write and get a HACCP plan approved in less than 3 months, and they can help you improve business or organizational practices to ensure food safety and compliance.
What do you think? Let us know your thoughts. We also write HACCP plans for a number of industries and areas, including seafood, in case you were looking to get one for your business. Get in touch with us at [email protected].