In baseball, hitting 0.333 makes you a star and earns you a lot of money. In the food industry, getting it right about a third of the time means you'll be out of business in a hurry, and rightly so. Food service operators can turn to various well-tuned guidelines to help avoid critical errors, including HAACP and ISO 22000.

What HAACP Means

The acronym HAACP – pronounced HASS-ep – stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points. Depending on your jurisdiction, you may have had to take HAACP training in order to become licensed, or you may need to have an approved HAACP plan in place and verified by your local health department.

A simple way to understand HAACP is to think of it in terms of three questions:

  • What could possibly go wrong?
  • At what points in the process can it go wrong?
  • What am I going to do about it?

The twelve phases of a formal HAACP program – five preliminary steps, and then seven principles that define how you'll respond – all revolve around the answers to those questions. HAACP training is widely available if you aren't currently operating under a HAACP plan, and HAACP principles are recognized and embraced worldwide.

ISO 22000 vs. HAACP

The issue with HAACP is that it's an internal process for each food producer. That's fine if you only sell into your local market, but the food industry itself is now global – a fish caught in Chile might be processed in China, delivered to your door by a wholesaler, and become chowder for restaurants in New England – and a global food chain can't blindly trust in the internal processes of each company along the way.

That's where the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, enters the picture. ISO sets global standards for management processes, so companies around the world can adhere to the same practices and work from the same rulebook, regardless of their physical location and local regulatory environment. More importantly, they can be audited to demonstrate that they are following the same rulebook.

The ISO 22000 standard is the organization's Food Safety Management System. It's based on the HAACP principles, but takes a "bigger picture" approach. To summarize it in simple terms, HAACP is just a method you follow in pursuit of food safety. The ISO standard's goal is to embed that methodology into your company's overall function, so your management practices are aligned to serve food safety in general and HAACP specifically. You can download the ISO 22000 PDF directly from the organization's website, or purchase it in hardcopy form.

ISO 22000 and GFSI

To complicate things further, at least one of the notable bodies overseeing the international production and distribution of food doesn't recognize the ISO standard. That's the Global Food Safety Initiative, an industry consortium. You may hear people speak of becoming "GFSI certified," but that's incorrect. The GFSI itself doesn't offer certifications.

It's more correct to speak of being "certified to a GFSI-recognized standard," which ISO 22000 is not. However, the GFSI does recognize a derivative standard known as FSSC 22000, which combines ISO 22000's management standards with a number of ISO's food-related Technical Specifications. To become FSSC 22000 certified you must implement the standard throughout your company's operations, and a certified third-party auditor must confirm that you conform to its specifications.

Which Certification is Right For You?

There is no single answer to that question. HAACP certification might be a hard requirement to even operate in your jurisdiction, which makes it a non-negotiable starting point. Whether you opt to go beyond that to ISO 22000 certification or FSSC 22000 certification depends on your ambitions, and the needs of the companies you hope to do business with.

If ISO or FSSC certification is mandatory in a market you want to enter, obtaining that certification is the price of admission. If both are available in your area, and the costs are comparable, FSSC certification may offer better value. Because it's ISO-derived, becoming FSSC 22000 certified is the equivalent of ISO 22000 certification, but has a more specialized food-production scope.