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HACCP: Biological Hazards Management

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Training participants will gain a basic understanding of HACCP: Biological Hazards Management and its applications within food safety and quality systems. Basic knowledge competency will be verified through successful completion of the accompanying HACCP: Biological Hazards Management assessment activity. Basic skill competency can be verified through the HACCP: Biological Hazards Management competency checklist available as a resource for this training activity.

Key Definitions for HACCP: Biological Hazards Management
- Acidity: An acid; from the Latin acidus meaning sour, is traditionally considered any chemical compound that, when dissolved in water, gives a solution with a hydrogen ion activity greater than in pure water.
- Aflatoxin: Aflatoxins are naturally occurring mycotoxins that are produced by many species of Aspergillus, a fungus, most notably Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Aflatoxins are toxic and among the most carcinogenic substances known, and are found in cereals, oilseeds and nuts when incorrectly dried and stored. Aflatoxins can cause acute liver damage and cancer.
- Alkalinity: A measure of the negative ions that are available to react and neutralize free hydrogen ions with pH values above 7.
- Microbiological Pathogens: Any microbiological entity including viruses, bacteria or other microorganisms that can cause food borne illness in humans.
- Biological Hazard: The danger posed to food safety by the contamination of food with pathogenic microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, spores, fungi or naturally occurring toxins.
- Chemical Hazard: The danger posed to food safety by the contamination of food by chemical substances, such as pesticides, detergents, additives, and toxic metals.
- Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point or HACCP: HACCP is a food safety methodology that relies on the identification of Critical Control Points in all stages of food business processes.
- Macro-biological: Large living organisms.
- Micro-biological: Organisms that are usually too small to be seen with the naked eye including protozoa, bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
- Mycotoxin: A potentially harmful chemical compound produced by some forms of fungi to protect themselves against other microorganisms.
- pH: From potential of Hydrogen. The logarithm of the reciprocal of hydrogen-ion concentration in gram atoms per litre; provides a measure on a scale from 0 to 14 of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution where 7 is neutral and greater than 7 is more alkaline and less than 7 is more acidic.
- Physical Hazard: Particles or fragments of items not supposed to be in foods.
- Vegetative Bacteria: Bacteria that are in the growth and reproductive phase; not spores.

HACCP: Biological Hazards Management Development
When considering the development, documentation and implementation of HACCP: Biological Hazards Management within food safety and quality management systems, the following information should be considered to ensure effective outcomes:

When considering the hazards associated with the process steps in the HACCP plans, the three traditional groupings of hazards to consider include biological, chemical and physical hazards. As HACCP plans evolve and customer standards and regulatory requirements become more stringent, often allergens, regulatory hazards, quality hazards and engineering hazards are also commonly considered in HACCP Plans.

About Biological Hazards
Biological hazards are situated at the high end of the scale of potential health risk, presenting the very real possibility of immediate and severe danger to the consumer, through ability to cause food poisoning. The majority of food processing operations will be at risk from one or more biological hazards, either through the processing stages, or from the raw materials entered into the process. A food safety system is designed to monitor and control these hazards. Biological Hazards can be classed as either macro-biological or Microbiological.

Macro-biological hazards including insects, flies and the like, are objectionable when discovered, but rarely present a genuine risk themselves to food safety in its real context. Poisonous insects are an exception to this, and the presence of such macro-biological hazards simply causes revulsion. Macro-biological hazards may, however, cause an indirect risk through the harbourage of pathogenic micro-organisms that may be introduced to food through contact. For example, an insect carrying Salmonella could pose a major threat if it gained access to ready-to-eat food, but would become insignificant as a food safety threat if it gained access to an item to be cooked sufficiently before serving. The insect would be sterilised by the cooking process, and would pose no great food safety risk, becoming a quality hazard instead. It is of obvious importance to ensure that food products are free of macro-biological hazards, but it is always important to assess the risk level in a particular hazard.

Microbiological hazards are of far greater concern in food safety compared to their macro cousins. Pathogenic or food poisoning bacteria affect the human body either directly or indirectly. The degree to which contamination from micro-organisms may occur is directly related to the conditions which such micro-organisms are subjected to. Many micro-organisms leave food unsuitable for use because the evidence of their presence indicates that the food has been improperly handled. Direct effects come as a result of an infection or the invasion of body tissues and are caused by the organism itself, including bacteria, viruses and protozoa. The indirect effects are caused by the body’s reaction to the formation of poisons or toxins that are usually formed within the food that has been consumed. Toxin producing micro-organisms include bacteria and moulds.

Micro-organisms, as the name suggests, are very small and simply constructed living organisms, which in most cases need a microscope to be seen.

Micro-organisms can be separated into five groups:
- Bacteria;
- Moulds;
- Viruses;
- Parasites;
- Algae.

Bacteria are single-celled organisms that require significant magnification to be seen. They come in many different shapes, with round, rod, and spiral being the most common.

Three factors that are required for the growth of bacteria are:
- Nutrients;
- Sufficient temperature, as applicable to each bacteria and their optimum growth temperature; and
- Time.

Bacteria are mostly present in their vegetative form; however some bacteria have the ability to produce spore forms, which are very difficult to kill with heat or chemicals. Not many foodborne disease bacteria will grow when temperatures reach freezing, but many may still survive. Most bacteria grow slowly at refrigerated temperatures, and growth rates increase with increased temperature; rapid growth occurs at room temperature. Several bacteria types survive higher temperatures, and a few can tolerate boiling for a short period of time.

Some foodborne disease bacteria form spores or protective shells when conditions are not suitable for growth. These bacteria can live for a long time in the spore stage in dry conditions, at adverse temperatures and during exposure to some chemicals. When conditions are suitable again, the bacteria grow. Some foodborne disease bacteria do not grow very well when other competitive bacteria such as spoilage bacteria are present. Cooking food kills spoilage bacteria in the food and contributes to the growth of foodborne disease bacteria. Some bacteria produce a toxin or poison. Cooking the food may kill the bacteria but will not necessarily destroy the toxin.

Some important bacteria properties:
- Bacteria reproduce via cell division;
- Most will not reproduce in acid conditions below pH of 4;
- They require moisture and food to reproduce;
- When conditions become unfavourable, spores are produced which are difficult to eliminate and may reproduce again under favourable conditions. Under conditions such as heating, freezing or drying, some bacteria will produce a protective coating around the nucleus of the bacteria;
- Bacteria reproduce slowly under chilled conditions and stop completely well below freezing point; Although growth has ceased, survival is still possible;
- Bacterial toxins are divided into three categories:
- Exotoxins are produced by some bacteria: these are heat stable, and therefore, still poisonous after the food has been cooked;
- Enterotoxins refer to a broad range of toxins which cause gastroenteritis;
- Endotoxins occur within the bacterial cell, and are only released when the bacteria dies, or forms a spore. This may occur in the intestine of the host, or on food itself.

Moulds are plant-like organisms that can be clearly viewed without magnification. Some forms of moulds are used as foods, including mushrooms and some cheese varieties, but generally the presence of mould in or about foods indicates a discrepancy in the food handling system. Some moulds can produce toxins called Mycotoxins or Aflatoxins, which can be responsible for food poisoning outbreaks. A prime example of a beneficial mould is Penicillium which is important not only to the production of some cheeses, but also for the production of antibiotics such as penicillin.

Some important mould properties:
- They produce seed like spores for reproduction, which become airborne upon release and float like dust in the air;
- Growth requires moisture, food, oxygen and sufficient time;
- They may grow in weak acid and under chilled conditions;
- They are destroyed by heat at relatively low temperatures.

Viruses are extremely small and require enormous magnification to be viewed. Unlike bacteria, viruses do not generally grow and live in food. Food only serves as a vehicle from the source of contamination to the consumer. The primary contamination source is man, either directly or indirectly. A virus commonly attributed to foodborne disease outbreaks is Hepatitis. Contaminated shellfish, uncooked foods and foods contaminated after cooking have contributed to a considerable number of Hepatitis outbreaks within global food markets.

Some important virus properties:
- They do not reproduce outside the body of their host, but can be transported from the host via contact.

Parasites include Protozoa are simple single-celled organisms which are often found in water sources such as ponds, ditches, sea water or ground water. Parasites are often acquired from consuming raw or improperly cooked meats or seafood. Other less common parasites found in, or transmitted by food and water is protozoa. Infected persons transmit the organisms to food via not washing their hands after using the restroom. The larva of pathogenic flatworms, tapeworms and flukes may infect humans via the consumption of infected meats from pork, beef, fish and shellfish, and wild game.

Some important parasite properties:
- Prevention of infection occurs through good animal husbandry and veterinary inspection, heating, drying, salting, and freezing;
- The eggs of some parasites are resistant to chemical disinfection, but can be deactivated by heating or drying.

Algae are simple plants usually associated with growth in water. They are commonly found in water that is not treated or high in chlorine or sodium content.

Factors Affecting the Survival and Growth of Microbiological Hazards
Factors affecting the survival and growth of microbiological hazards include:
- Temperature;
- Humidity;
- Gasses;
- pH;
- Moisture Content or Water Activity;
- Nutrients;
- Antimicrobial Constituents;
- Biological Structures;
- Time.

Microbiological pathogens or micro-organisms that cause illness in humans are able to multiply most rapidly between the temperatures of 5 degrees Celsius or 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The area including and in between these two temperatures is regarded as the danger zone for potentially hazardous foods. Bacteria may reproduce very slowly at freezing temperatures and lay dormant at temperatures of -18 degrees Celsius or 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Upon thawing, they may start to reproduce again, so freezing doesn’t necessarily destroy bacteria. Vegetative bacterial cells are destroyed after a few minutes at 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit, but spores may require several more minutes at higher temperatures for deactivation.

The range of humidity that a food is exposed to or kept in is of great importance regarding the water content at the foods surface and related microbial growth. If a food is dried compared to the humidity of the environment in which it is being stored, it will absorb moisture from the air and may become moist enough to support microbial growth

Micro-organisms of different varieties are able to survive and multiply in all different states of oxygen supply:
- Obligative Anaerobes: Require and environment without oxygen to survive and grow;
- Obligative Aerobes: Require oxygen to survive and grow;
- Facultative Anaerobes: Prefer no oxygen, but may survive, not grow in an environment with oxygen;
- Facultative Aerobes: Prefer oxygen, but may survive, not grow in an environment without oxygen;
- Microaerophiles: Grow in the presence of very little oxygen, down to 1%.

Some bacteria grow rapidly only in the presence of free oxygen; others require the absence of oxygen; some grow in both atmospheres and even others may have special atmospheric requirements. Cooking drives off oxygen; stirring, mixing, and beating foods introduce oxygen. Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen gasses are often used in modified atmosphere packaging to retard the growth of some micro-organisms. Sulphur dioxide can be applied to both food and beverages as a liquefied gas, or in the form of sulphite, bisulphite, or metabisulphite salts to aid in the preservation of foods.

The pH of the environment is a measurement of the degree of acidity or alkalinity. The scale for pH ranges from 0 to 14. Acid based foods will have a pH value of less than 7, while alkaline foods have pH values of more than 7. Most foods occupy the pH scale from 2.3 to 8.0. A pH of 7 is considered neutral. The majority of micro-organisms thrive within 6.6 and 7.5 pH; Most bacteria of public health concern grow best at pH values between 4.6 and 7.5.

It is important to consider that mixing foods of different pH levels changes the pH of the end mixture. Moulds and yeasts will grow within wider ranges and overall at much lower ranges than bacteria, pathogenic bacteria in particular.

Moisture Content or Water Activity
The amount of water that micro-organisms require for growth and survival is defined in terms of water activity. Water activity is a term used to describe the water available in food for micro-organisms to utilise. There must be adequate moisture for bacteria to grow. The amount of moisture needed is defined by the term water activity. Fresh meat with a high water activity will support rapid bacterial growth, whereas a cured dried meat product beef jerky with a lower water activity will not. The water activity of a food substance can generally range from 0 to 1. Water has a water activity of 1.0, and pure silicone has a water activity value of 0. In general, bacteria need higher water activity levels to flourish than moulds. Most food spoilage bacteria will not grow within products with a low water activity, while spoilage moulds can grow quite easily at these lower levels. Micro-organisms are able to survive at a much larger range of water activity levels than the range required for their growth.

The majority of micro-organisms use sugars, alcohols, and forms of amino acids as sources of energy. Fewer types of micro-organisms utilise carbohydrates and fats as nourishment sources.

Antimicrobial Constituents
Inhibitory substances from bacteria themselves, or as a natural ingredient of food or added during food processing may slow down, stop or inhibit growth of some bacteria or enhance the growth of others. Salt cured meat products are a good example of this. Because of the salt concentration within the product, the growth of spoilage bacteria is inhibited. Growth inhibiting constituents are contained naturally in some foods. Such substances are found in cow's milk, eggs, tea, fruits and vegetables.

Biological Structures
The natural coverings of some foods provide protection against the entry of micro-organisms. These coverings only remain effective as long as the integrity of the covering is not compromised.

Examples of biological structures include:
- The testa or shell of seeds and nuts;
- The skin of fruits and vegetables;
- The hide of animals;
- The shell, cuticle and membrane of eggs.

If conditions are collectively within the correct boundaries, the numbers of bacteria present in food can double approximately every 20 minutes. Subsequently, food should be held within the temperature danger zone of between 5 degrees Celsius or 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit for as short amount of time as possible.

About Food Microbiology Management
A minimum of a basic understanding of Food Microbiology Management is an elemental requirement for food industry personnel who participate in the development, implementation and review of HACCP plans and finished product testing among other food safety and quality management system elements. This ensures that relevant microbiological hazards are effectively controlled and do not impact upon the safety or quality of finished food products.

Bacteria in Food
Bacteria are everywhere in our environment! Most are harmless and are used to make foods, such as cheese. Others are spoilage organisms that sour and rot foods. A few bacteria become a threat to our health when they grow and reproduce; these are commonly known as microbiological pathogens. Sources of these bacteria include soil, water, air, dust, edible plants, plant products, animals, animal products, intestinal tracts of humans and animals, employee’s hands and contaminated food utensils and equipment. A common misconception is that food is free of bacteria that cause food borne diseases when it reaches the establishment or after processing.

Human Bacteria
Another common misconception is that healthy employees do not harbour harmful bacteria. Healthy humans commonly have their own natural population of bacteria, and some are the variety that causes food borne diseases. High percentages of the population are carriers of bacteria that cause food borne illness. In this context, sick employees are carriers of greater numbers of organisms that cause food borne illness.

Bacterial Growth
Bacteria require nutrients, essentially foods to provide the basic elements for growth. These nutrients include carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur, sodium, magnesium, iron and manganese. Before bacterial growth can occur, other essential requirements must be favourable, such as temperature and the level of oxygen of the bacterial growth environment.

Bacterial growth refers to the increase in number of organisms. This process is accomplished by Binary Fission, whereby the bacterial cell splits to form two cells. Bacterial growth can be very rapid. It may occur at a frequency of every 20 minutes in optimum conditions, but not until conditions are just right for the type of bacteria involved. There are four phases bacteria go through within their lifecycle; It is important to understand what takes place at each phase of the bacterial growth curve to be able to target effective control points for bacteria within a structured food safety and quality program.

Microbiological Cross Contamination
Pathogens can be transferred from one food to another, either by direct contact or by food handlers, contact surfaces or the air. Raw, unprocessed food should be effectively separated, either physically or by time, from ready-to-eat foods, with effective intermediate cleaning and where appropriate disinfection. Access to processing areas may need to be restricted or controlled. Where risks are particularly high, access to processing areas should be only via a changing facility. Personnel may need to be required to put on clean protective clothing including footwear and wash their hands before entering. Surfaces, utensils, equipment, fixtures and fittings should be thoroughly cleaned and where necessary disinfected after raw food, particularly meat and poultry, has been handled or processed.

If your food business supplies foodstuffs manufactured to a customer’s specifications, it is important to consider any specific HACCP: Biological Hazards Management Development requirements in relation to their items.

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