Food & Catering

Q: What is HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points)

A: After all, you would not cross a busy road without taking adequate precautions for your safety. A busy road is a hazard; a hazard is the potential to cause harm, therefore we should take the necessary measures to minimise (control) the risk of being run over. Controlling a risk will not always eliminate it, but it will reduce the chances of someone getting hurt. If you substitute roads for food you have a similar scenario.

HACCP was originally developed by NASA in the US, for astronauts. The thought of someone suffering food poisoning symptoms, while travelling in space in weightless conditions confined with others in a small capsule does not bear thinking about. It was therefore decided that random quality control testing at the end of production was not a sufficiently safe system.

HACCP is a system that was devised to provide quality assurance throughout the process of food manufacture by establishing critical monitoring (control) points. This system aims to ensure the safety of the food from farm to plate. Although HACCP in its full form is mainly used in the manufacturing industry, a slightly 'watered down' version called Hazard Analysis, has been set out in the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995 and is now a legal requirement for all food businesses. New regulations will come into force on 1st January 2006 internationally and will require all food businesses to implement a documented HACCP system or a system based on HACCP principles after this date.

The seven principles of HACCP:

  1. Conduct a Hazard Analysis - identify the food safety hazards associated with your business, e.g. multiplication of harmful bacteria.
  2. Determine the Critical Control Points - if there is no later stage in the process that will then make the food safe, e.g. cooking, then it is a CCP. An easy way to do this is to ask the question "What if?"
  3. Establish Critical Limits - temperature limits, below or above which food will not be acceptable.
  4. Monitor and Control the CCPs - if it cannot be monitored or measured, it is not a CCP. You cannot monitor by sticking a hand in the fridge or looking at a food to say it is OK.
  5. Establish Correct Actions - If a Critical Limit is exceeded, you must have a procedure in place to take remedial action, i.e. increase cooking time, lower fridge temperatures etc.
  6. Establish Verification Procedures - how do you know that your temperatures are OK, unless you regularly calibrate your thermometer? Just one example of verification.
  7. Documenting Records and Procedures - having gone through the whole process of HACCP, you will find it difficult to demonstrate your controls, unless you keep records of your actions.

Q: What are the Critical Food Safety Temperatures?

A: The Australian Food Standards publishes temperature guidelines for safe practices of food preparation, storing and cooking. Potentially hazardous foods must remain within certain temperatures in order to minimise bacteria / toxins. Using your thermometer you can regularly check temperatures to minimise food-borne illness in your kitchen. Hazardous food must be stored within:

  1. 5°C or below; or
  2. 60°C or above

Exceptions to the above is allowed if it can be proven that the safety of the food is not adversely affected. Some leftover foods must be reheated to minimum temperatures to assure sufficient “kill rates” of bacteria or parasites.

Q: Why do I get different readings when I test my food in different places?

A: Because the temperature of the food may in fact be different. It is not uncommon for the internal temperature of a large roast or turkey to vary by as much as 10 to 15°C (20 to 30°F) throughout the meat or bird. Even a steak or boneless chicken breast may show many degrees difference. Depending upon the speed and accuracy of your thermometer, as you move the tip of your thermometer probe from the surface toward the centre of the piece (or from end to end), when the temperature differs the reading will change accordingly.

Q: Why is my steak overdone when my ETI thermometer reading suggested medium?

A: Because meat will continue to cook after you take it off the heat (also known as “resting”). Ideally, cooked meat should be allowed to “rest” after cooking and before cutting so that the juices can be reabsorbed into the fibres of the meat. If you skip resting, you will lose more juices when the meat is cut. The temperature of the meat will always rise a little during the resting period with even smaller cuts of meat rising at least three or four degrees. A large roast or turkey can rise as much as ten degrees. To prevent overcooking, you should remove your meat from the oven or grill prior to reaching your target temperature.

Q: Why is my chicken still bloody when my ETI thermometer reading says it’s done?

A: Because the bone marrow in chicken bones can still release blood while cooking. If the chicken has reached at least 71°C for five minutes or more, it is safely done.

Q: How do I know when my food is adequately cooked?

A: It may sound obvious, but a thermometer is simply a tool that provides temperature information of the food you are preparing. YOU have to make the decisions about when to increase or decrease the heat and whether the food is adequately cooked based on this information. Generally, when the thickest part of the food reaches the required temperature the food can be considered cooked. For example, it is recommended by health professionals that chicken must reach the temperature of 74°C to be fully cooked. Some meat (eg veal) can be cooked to different levels of “doneness”, however there is still a minimum temperature of 52°C that the meat must reach in order to ensure all bacteria has been eliminated. Please see the Temperature Chart for more information.

Q: Where should I place the probe tip to see if it’s cooked?

A: When testing if your meat is cooked, the coldest part will be the very centre of the thickest portion. Likewise, when chilling food, the thickest part will be the last to cool. When testing larger food, taking multiple readings from several areas will determine if the entire portion is done.

Keep in mind that different types of thermometers have different sized sensors. A dial thermometer can have a sensor as big as an inch long with your temperature reading being an average of all the materials the sensor is touching. Most digital thermometers have small sensors at their tip, making it important to ensure when penetrating the food that the tip is touching the right area.