Written by Katie Edwards and Jon Kimble
HACCP; It’s a bit complicated. There are so many steps and rules to follow, and for a beginner, it can be extremely overwhelming. In this article, we take a closer look at one principle in particular: Verification.
According to Codex Alimentarius and the National Advisory Committee for Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF), verification is one of the most important and complicated of the seven Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles. Verification procedures are vital in ensuring everything you’ve implemented so far in your food safety plan is correct and leads to producing safe food.
To have a sound HACCP plan in place, you must ensure that the plan is adequate for controlling food safety hazards. You achieve this assurance through verification and validation. But you can’t validate that it’s working until you verify that your team is consistently following the plan. If you need a little bit more help before moving on, take a look at our HACCP 101 article.
Verification, Validation, and Monitoring: What’s the Difference?
You’ll notice a blue square in the image above, around the top two layers of the pyramid. In the context of HACCP, when you hear the term ‘verification’ it generally refers to both the act of verifying something and the act of validating it. This can be a little confusing, so we’ll explain the difference below.
Monitoring is not verification. It is a routine activity which provides evidence that a CCP is operating as intended. This evidence happens in real-time, typically involves small amounts of data, and is the most frequent of the three activities. In addition to the value monitoring brings to your plan, it is also a requirement for HACCP and all GFSI recognized certification programs. Without using monitoring as a fundamental activity of our food safety plans, we would not be able to verify or validate that hazards are under control.
An example of monitoring: checking a metal detector at the beginning, end of the shift, and hourly, using the certified test pieces to ensure that it is functioning correctly.
Verification is “Those activities, other than monitoring, that determine the validity of the HACCP plan and that the HACCP system is operating according to the plan” (NACMCF, 1997). In simple terms, “are we doing it?” Verification involves more data and needs to be completed by your team less often. For instance, a typical example of verification is when we review the Critical Control Points (CCP) monitoring log at the end of the day. We’re reviewing all the monitoring activities conducted for the day, all at once.
“Validation is the element of verification that focuses on collecting and evaluating scientific and technical information to determine if the HACCP plan when properly implemented, will effectively control the identified hazards” (NACMCF, 1997). Essentially, is it working? Is the process achieving its goal? Validation is typically done the least often, with the most data. For example, we might validate our CCP once a year, by reviewing process trends over the year, customer complaints, equipment issues, and any other relevant data that would help us determine whether the process is still working correctly. The key here is to collect all relevant data and information.
Implementing Verification Activities
Verification is a critical component of your HACCP plan because it demonstrates that you’re keeping tabs on your processes and making sure they are working correctly. When it comes to implementing verification, many areas are often overlooked. When determining your verification policies, make sure you include the following:
- Designate a responsible team member to oversee activities. Verification activities typically involve individuals within the company but can also include third-party experts and regulatory agencies. Regardless of the situation, these critical activities need to be overseen by the company’s designated, responsible employees.
- Make sure you train your team before they verify your system.
- Schedule your validation activities appropriately. One of the most significant issues food facilities have with verification is not dedicating the time and resources needed. One of the best ways to overcome this hurdle is to create a verification schedule that prioritizes activities based on risk, as required by GFSI programs such as BRCGS and SQF. The schedule should dictate frequency for verification of each topic or area, identifying the risk associated with that program, the justification for (or explanation of) this evaluation, the frequency based on the evaluation, and finally the schedule. The table below is one approach that’s common among food companies.
- Make sure you’re looking at all the relevant information. For instance, if you’re validating a metal detector, it’s common for companies to rely heavily on the annual calibration for this. But it’s important that you also review customer complaints, third party audit results, internal audit results, and other relevant information.
- Verify before you validate. You can’t validate a process until you invest adequate resources in making sure the process is consistently operating as intended. Variations from person to person, or shift to shift, will result in differences in data and process results.
- Verify then record! Record review is a vital part of verification. It helps you spot issues and gaps in your system. A facility will want to have a trained, designated reviewer to sign and date when the review takes place.
The Most Common Verification Activities in a Food Plant
There are many common verification activities that should take place in any food manufacturing facility. Some of these are:
- Food safety plan review
- Facility walk-through
- Verification of the company’s prerequisite programs (PRPS) such as sanitation, allergen controls, traceability, and many others
- Food safety document review
- Environmental monitoring and product testing
- Regulatory and third-party audits
- Confirmation that the CCPs, HACCP plan, and other preventive controls are implemented and effective
Don’t Forget About Your HACCP Plan!
Once you’ve created your HACCP plan, don’t forget about it. The program is a living, breathing document, and plan that should be revisited frequently and updated based on the ever-changing needs of the facility, your customers, and regulators.
For that reason, you should stay up to date with industry best practices in HACCP, what’s working well in your program and what’s not, and continuously update your plan. Safe Food Alliance has created many resources for you to use and implement within your facility to do just that, including our HACCP training which is accredited by the International HACCP Alliance.
It is always good to attend an introductory HACCP class AT LEAST every five years or so or brush up on your skills. This course gives an excellent refresh on the HACCP process, and offers some more advanced information as well – it’s not just for beginners! We also offer an Advanced HACCP course, which is focused primarily on methods of verification and validation within the context of HACCP.
For a detailed guide on HACCP, check out the ‘What Is HACCP’ page on our website. The Safe Food Alliance team is here to help and is with you every step of the way through your food safety journey.
“Training Modules on General Food Safety Plans for the Food Industry.” Food Safety Cooperation Forum, 2012, fscf-ptin.apec.org/docs/APEC%20Food%20Safety%20Modules%202012/English%20Modules%20PDF/SCM_16_Section_3-8_HACCP_Principle_6-Verification_Procedures_6-2012-English.pdf.
Channaiah, Lakshmikantha. “Validation and Verification of Food Safety Control Measures.” Quality Assurance & Food Safety, Quality Assurance & Food Safety, 11 June 2015, www.qualityassurancemag.com/article/aib0615-food-safety-validation-verification-methods/.
Kimble, Jon (2018). Introduction to HACCP: 2-Day IHA Course PowerPoint Presentation