If you manage or operate water systems today as part of your industrial operations or water utility, you’re probably not thinking much about outer space, but interestingly many of the process you probably follow when it comes to microbial control of your water actually come from there.
As it turns out, back in the 1960s, the U.S. space agency NASA wanted to make sure its astronauts didn’t get stomach bugs in while in orbit or en route to the moon. So, they created something called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point or HACCP – a detailed and exacting process to ensure that food and beverages served to astronauts were free from microbial hazards. In other words, certain strains of E. coli are bad enough on earth. But gastroenteritis in space? Clearly, not something astronauts would want to deal with 200,000+ miles from home.
Given its success with in the space program, the protocols were then adopted by the food production and food safety industry in the 1980s, and then subsequently drinking water systems starting in the mid-90s. In truth, these same methodologies can also apply to most of your industrial systems to keep workers, residents, and other key stakeholders healthy and safe from water-based or aerosol-borne pathogens.
What Is HACCP?
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a systematic preventive approach to food and water safety that provides a methodology to identify, evaluate, and minimize or control microbial hazards. With the goal of preventing, eliminating and/or reducing hazards to an acceptable level, it’s critical that the supervisory members of any HACCP team are at least familiar with the methodology, which includes five preliminary steps and seven principles.
Together, the 12 elements of this are known as the Codex Alimentarius (Latin for “food code”) – World Health Organization guidelines that provide a framework for application to your own industrial processes. Those steps and principles include:
- Assemble a team. Bringing together a cross-departmental collection of workers who work with, or have management of, your water systems. To drive acceptance of HACCP, it’s critical to involve as many employees as feasible including directly layers of seniority.
- Describe the product. Detail your water system (food processing, industrial, water treatment, cooling towers, etc.) including where the water comes from, how it’s treated, stored and distributed.
- Document intended use of product. Describe how the product is used and by whom. If you’re a wastewater reuse facility, it might include all users from agricultural, municipal water supplies, ground water recharge, landscape irrigation, and more.
- Construct a process flow diagram. For a comprehensive HACCP, this is likely a schematic showing all sources of water, how it’s treatment, stored, and potentially distributed to end users.
- Validate process flow diagram. This a key part of the process, and as such needs confirmation of accuracy and buy-in from the full HACCP team.
- Conduct hazard analysis. Using the process flow diagram, managers can identify hazards or risks, measure likelihood, potential consequences, and control measures. If thinking of this as a pilot or test program, you can focus on areas of highest potential risk. Food and beverage manufacturers should implement controls when a potential food safety hazard has occurred in the past or could occur in the future.
- Identify Critical Control Points (CCP). For each material hazard, identify where the consequences of failure are substantial. For aquaculture, typical CCPs include water intake, fish tanks, hatchery, treatments stages, backwash and outlet.
- Establish critical limits. As the name suggests, create critical limits for CCPs that, when met or crossed, will trigger a corrective action. In the case of intact cell count monitoring in non-sterile water, this includes defining a baseline corridor with lower and upper limits.
- Identify monitoring procedures. Establish monitoring points, frequency, and responsibility to ensure that systems are not just setup but tracked and followed. For a bottling plant, monitoring intact cells means better control over microbial contamination during bottling.
- Establish corrective action procedures. Develop plans for actions when critical limits are met or exceeded. These activities may include operations, maintenance, monitoring and/or communications with workers, residents, customers, or other stakeholders.
- Validate/verify HACCP plan. Have the HACCP team and other affected parties check the HACCP plan for accuracy, ability to implement, and potential effectiveness.
- Establish documentation and record keeping. Develop a system tracking, keeping and, perhaps most importantly, learning.
The benefits of following a HACCP protocol based on rqmicro technology include:
- Rapid detection of microbial contamination to reduce risk to your employees, residents, and community stakeholders
- Quantitative assessment—and therefore proper response parameters—to total viable bacteria and specific pathogens such as E. coli or Legionella
- Far more cost-effective model to be proactive vs reactive
- Implementation of effective procedures to mitigate health, operational, financial, and regulatory risks
How rqmicro Can Help
At rqmicro, we have developed tests that enable operators in the food and beverage industry, bottling plants, and water treatment plants to monitor the presence of bioburden in water and relevant pathogens such as Legionella and E. coli. Accurate and reliable results are generated on-site or in labs within 30 minutes to two hours. Our tests can be implemented seamlessly as part of your established HACCP protocols.