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The Ultimate Guide to gaining HACCP Certification for your Food Business

Implementing a HACCP based food safety system and gaining HACCP certification can be the gateway to increased business opportunities, demonstrating food safety commitment and ensuring the viability of your food business. In this ultimate guide, find out all you need to know to get your food business HACCP certified.

What is HACCP Certification?

HACCP Certification is an approval system that recognizes that a food business has developed, documented and implemented systems and procedures in accordance with HACCP. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control point and is an internationally recognized tool to help identify and control food safety hazards that may occur within the food business.

The Benefits of HACCP Certification

There are many benefits of implementing HACCP in your food business and becoming certified.  Besides the obvious benefit to your customers – they don’t get sick from eating your food, there are also several business benefits. The main benefit is the demonstrated commitment to food safety. This tells your customers and the wider community that food safety is a priority and you have control systems in place.

Secondly, by applying HACCP in your food business, you should see more effective use of resources, financial savings and more timely response to food safety problems. Implementing HACCP allows you to identify everything that could go wrong with regards to food safety and then put a strategy in place to prevent it from happening.

Depending on where you are located, it may also be a mandatory or legal requirement that your business has a certified HACCP system in place. It may also provide a basis of due diligence in a court of law and a great way to protect your brand and business reputation.

Finally, HACCP can lead to an increase in business.  For some of your customers, it may be a requirement to have a HACCP based food safety management system in place. For international trade, compliance with the internationally recognized Codex Alimentarius standards will greatly benefit your business opportunities. 

Deciding to become HACCP certified

Before starting on the HACCP certification process it is essential to understand the drivers of wanting to be certified. One of the first questions I ask when a food business contacts me wanting HACCP certification is “why do you want to become HACCP certified?” The majority of the time it is because a new or potential business customer requires it. In other words, you have to have a HACCP certificate to be able to sell your products to them.

The next question I ask is “do you know what HACCP standard you are required to have?” There are multiple HACCP-based certifications out there so it is essential to know this. It may be just Codex HACCP or a more extensive food safety certification standard that is a GFSI recognised scheme. I have previously written about choosing the best food safety certification for your business that outlines a helpful decision tree.

The HACCP Certification Process

There are many steps in the HACCP certification process and it is not something that is achieved overnight. It takes considerable planning, management commitment and human resources that have been educated in the process of HACCP. Let’s take a look at what the path to certification should look like.

1. Understand the requirements of HACCP

The first step in becoming HACCP certified is to understand the requirements of HACCP. I am a big believer in “to know the rules, you must first read and understand the rules”. It is helpful to complete training in the Principles and Application of HACCP. HACCP Mentor offers this course and has been accredited by the International HACCP Alliance. You may also choose to engage an external food safety consultant if you do not have the expertise in-house.

2. Develop a HACCP Plan

If you are starting from scratch, you will need to develop and implement a HACCP Plan. This plan needs to be specific for your business and the products that you produce. It also needs to address any regulatory requirements for your country of manufacture and any country where you export. After you have implemented your HACCP plan, it is helpful to make sure that it is implemented correctly.

During the development phase, the system scope should be identified. The scope is essentially the areas, products, processes and locations that will be covered by the HACCP plan or the food safety management system. Identifying the scope is also important when you undergo the HACCP audit.

3. Complete a gap analysis

If you already have a HACCP plan in place, I highly suggest completing a gap analysis against your chosen HACCP standard. This will help you to identify anything that you have missed that the HACCP standard requires your business to complete. If you do not feel comfortable doing this analysis, you can engage an external food safety consultant to help you. Alternatively, your HACCP team leader may be able to facilitate this task.

4. Choose a third-party certifying body

HACCP certification is granted by an external of 3rd party certification authority that has auditors with the necessary knowledge and skills to undertake an assessment of the HACCP system or HACCP plan. The food business should always ensure that the external or third-party certification body has the necessary qualifications and accreditation to provide this service.

The easiest way to find a certifying body is to refer to the website of your chosen HACCP standard. Here are some quick links to get you started for SQF and FSSC 22000. I suggest shopping around to get the best quality service at an affordable price based on the needs of your business. Always request a documented quote that outlines ALL expected costs.

5. Undergo the HACCP audit

To gain certification by a reputable certification provider, the food business is required to undergo an audit or assessment of its food safety and HACCP policies and procedures. Your audit may occur in two stages: a document review (which may occur remotely) and an onsite review. If the auditor identifies major issues a follow-up may also be required.

All audits should be undertaken by a competent and qualified food safety auditor. To check the credentials of food safety auditors you can visit Exemplar Global which is a professional body for food auditors. Any of the GFSI recognised standards will also have a list of approved auditors available on their website.

What to expect during the HACCP audit

The aim of the food safety HACCP audit is to check to see if your business complies with the requirements of your chosen HACCP standard. The auditor will do this by:

  • Completing an onsite inspection of your facility.
  • Interviewing relevant staff members to determine their level of understanding
  • Check a sample of food safety / HACCP records generated as part of system implementation
  • Review the HACCP plan and any associated policies, procedures, documents and forms

For example, Codex HACCP requires that a system for monitoring is established for each critical control point (CCP). The auditor would, depending on the type of CCP:

If you are just starting out on this journey, you may be required to have at least 4-8 weeks worth of HACCP records to be able to demonstrate system compliance. Your chosen third-party certification body will be able to provide you with further guidance on this.

When the auditor has completed the audit, they will document any non-conformances observed. You will then have a specified time frame to fix any issues identified. When the auditor and certification body has reviewed your evidence of rectification and found it to be suitable, a HACCP certificate will then generally be issued.

How long does an audit take?

It really depends on the rules that apply to the type of certification you are trying to achieve and also the physical size of the food facility. HACCP audits can take anywhere between 1 day and 5 days depending on the audit scope.

Looking holistically, the entire HACCP certification process can take anywhere between 1 to 12 months when you consider each individual phase of audit criteria/standard selection, learning the rules, development, implementation, audit, review and issuing the HACCP certificate.

What does it cost to gain HACCP certification?

This will depend on the scope of the HACCP food safety system. When budgeting for HACCP certification, costs to be considered include:

  • Developing the HACCP plan
  • Implementing the HACCP plan including ongoing monitoring, validation and system verification
  • Training all food handlers and other relevant staff
  • Customer contractual costs including laboratory testing and increased liability insurance
  • Third-party auditing costs (by your chosen certification body)
  • GFSI recognised standards application and certificate fees
  • Ongoing maintenance of the HACCP plan and food safety management system including re-audit costs

The development of a HACCP based system, in conjunction with a thorough and rigorous certification, can indeed be beneficial to the success and viability of a food business. The cost of HACCP certification can range upwards from $10k per year depending on your system scope and audit criteria.

How long is HACCP certification valid?

Your HACCP certificate will be valid for a time frame designated by your chosen third-party certification body. The majority of GFSI recognised standards generally set a certificate expiry date of 12 months, dependent on your audit result or grading. Your HACCP certificate can be revoked at any time if your business is found to breach any certification or regulatory requirements.

The role of continuous improvement

After you have gained HACCP certification the process does not stop there. You will need to continuously maintain, improve, review and update the HACCP system. HACCP standards, food law and customer requirements are always changing so you need to make sure you remain relevant, current and compliant. Refresher training and keeping up-to-date plays a big part in this process. Your third-party certification body will also continue to audit your facility and system on a routine basis.

Are you ready to get started?

HACCP Mentor provides plenty of resources to help you become HACCP certified. Please check out our online training, HACCP templates or read other free articles ( just like this) to get started.

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