The first part when developing a HACCP plan is to undertake the 5 preliminary steps. The preliminary steps are intended to help you gather and collate background information that will help with implementation of the 7 principles of HACCP. The HACCP preliminary steps form an important precursor to effectively identifying and controlling food safety hazards within your food business.
Reference is often made to flow process charts. Step 4 of the HACCP preliminary steps requires a food business to document the product / process flow. Step 5 requires that this flow process is then verified (checked that it is correct).
What is a Flow Process Chart?
A flow process chart is a pictorial representation of a process. Within the food industry, it generally represents all the steps that raw materials go through to become a finished product. Steps in a flow process chart can include Receival of raw materials, store of ingredients, preparation, cooking, cooling, packing, labelling, bulk storage and dispatch. Depending on your process you may have many more or fewer steps or types of steps than the ones listed.
Depending on where you are located, it may be a regulatory requirement to document a flow process chart for your food business. This will definitely be the case if you are required by law to comply with Codex HACCP.
FSMA or the preventive controls for human food or animal food does not require creating a flow diagram. However, it is recommended in the guidance and also in FSPCA trainings that you cover all necessary process steps.
Documenting your flow process chart
A common question I get asked at HACCP Mentor is how much detail should be documented on the flow process chart. At a minimum, you should be documenting all process steps, inputs (like water, packaging, compressed air) and outputs like waste and rework.
Keep in mind that you really only need to document process steps. It can get very over-whelming and visually messy if you start including GMP activities like cleaning and sanitising or inspection and testing activities. If your process is complex and contains many steps, consider documenting over several different flow charts.
The other point to consider is whatever process step you do document, you will need to complete a hazard identification and analysis for that step in accordance with HACCP Principle 1.
There are lots of different tools that you can use to document your flow process chart. In a podcast I did with Michael and Charlie Kalish in 2020 we discussed a few of these tools including Vizio and Lucid Chart. Whatever format you use make sure that it is flexible – because things change. You are going to go through different iterations of your process as you draft it, so the more flexible it is to modifying – the better.
Verifying your flow chart
When you have finished documenting your flow process chart it will be time to verify that it is correct. The easiest way to verify your flow process is to grab a copy of the flow process (that you have documented) and physically walk the process from start to finish. Look to see that you have included all steps on your documented chart and also check that you don’t have steps documented on your chart that don’t actually exist in real life.
If you do not verify (check that it is correct) the flow process chart prior to undertaking the 7 principles of HACCP, you will be at risk of not identifying all possible hazards at all possible steps in your process. Also, during a certification audit, the auditor will be looking to see if you have verified your flow process chart and will most likely perform their own check during the site inspection. If you want to avoid getting a non-conformance raised against your system, correct flow chart verification is essential.
When to verify your flow process chart
There are some key times when you are required to verify that your HACCP flow process charts are correct. These include:
- Annually (at a minimum)
- Whenever there has been a change to your production processes. Changes may occur when you have installed new equipment or removed existing equipment from the process. For example, your food business installs an inline metal detector.
- Whenever you introduce a new ingredient that can have a significant impact on the process eg. a raw material containing an allergen
The HACCP team should confirm the processing operation against the flow diagram during all stages and hours of operation and amend the flow diagram where appropriate.
Have your say
That wraps up this post on developing, documenting and verifying your flow process chart. Feel free to share your thoughts, tips and experiences with the AHCCP Mentor community by leaving a comment below.