Clean uniforms are a vital prerequisite to a HACCP plan.

HACCP Standards and Uniforms: What to Wear

Health & Safety Safety

HACCP standards are vital for strong food safety performance, and uniforms are an important prerequisite to any HACCP program.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a tool food processors can help minimize food safety risks. By following HACCP standards, operators can be confident that they’re providing carefully prepared, high-quality food that they’re proud to label as their own.

HACCP standards for food originated in a seemingly unlikely source — the national space program in the 1960s. We all know the emotional and physical toll caused by a case of food poisoning. Now imagine getting sick in a space capsule, without running water, and in close quarters with colleagues. You can see why the space program would have a keen interest in minimizing risk of food borne illness through provisioning the safest food possible.

Forming a HACCP Standards Plan

The approach, in simple terms, is to have a plan for everything prepared so that it closely follows HACCP standards. To do this, operators, internal sanitarians and food safety staff or food safety consultants write a HACCP plan. In that plan, the author determines the key points of the process (called critical control points) and what could go wrong (hazard analysis), all along the process that the operator controls, “from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished product.”

For example, a HACCP plan for jarred tomato sauce will specify how the tomatoes should be when they arrive in terms of quality, temperature and safety; how they are cleaned and cut; the acidity of the sauce; and how they’re cooked (time and temperature), jarred, cooled, packaged and distributed, making sure HACCP standards are followed throughout the process.

The hazards analyzed generally fall into one of three categories: biological, which includes bacteria, mold, yeasts, viruses and other organisms; chemical, which includes toxins from microbial growth as well as cleaning chemicals; and physical, which includes foreign objects like hair, droppings, metal, glass, stones and bandages.

Uniforms and Food Safety

While uniforms may not be the obvious focus of a HACCP plan, they’re an important part of what the USDA and FDA consider “prerequisite programs” that have to be in place to “provide the basic environmental and operating conditions that are necessary for the production of safe, wholesome food,” such as facilities, cleaning programs, proper equipment, employee training and personal hygiene.

The uniform in particular is a vital ally and an unsung hero in protecting food from contamination. Here are some guidelines for a uniform program that supports HACCP standards:

  • Use a high quality uniform provider that can provide a steady supply of clean uniforms in all needed sizes so you always have an abundant supply. You never want to risk hurting your core business because an employee can’t find a clean uniform in the proper size.
  • Be sure uniforms are designed for food-safe environments. Many of the features of those uniforms are designed specifically to minimize physical contaminants. For example, no outside pockets helps ensure that keys, glasses or pens don’t fall into food; no buttons; and elastic sleeves to prevent anything worn on the arm from falling out.
  • Uniforms should be clean at the start of each shift and refreshed as needed, especially after spills or soiling.
  • Uniforms should only be worn in food production areas and clean locker rooms provided for changing.
  • For employees working in cold rooms, coats and extra layers should only be worn under the uniform. Be sure to order larger sizes to accommodate the extra layers.
  • Uniforms that are worn or in poor condition should be separated from the rest of the laundry and returned to the vendor to be discarded.
  • Order color-coded uniforms to distinguish visitors from staff, quickly identify supervisors, or point out staff from different areas that risk cross-contamination with others.

Finally, a key component of HACCP is using reliable and trusted suppliers. Put the same effort into selecting your uniform provider. Be sure they know the food business and aren’t cross-contaminating clean and dirty uniforms, using designated bins for each. Ask for education on their cleaning process as well as to inspect their trucks and plant the same way you would for a food supplier.

Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D.
Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D.

Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D., is Professor of Culinary Arts & Food Science at Drexel University. He oversees the Drexel Food Lab, a product development and food innovation lab that solves real world problems. He is the author or editor of six books including Barbecue: A Global History (with Megan Elias), Culinary Improvisation, and Gastropolis: Food and Culture in New York City (with Annie Hauck-Lawson). When not in the kitchen, he can be found behind his tuba.