The Essential Guide to SQF
What is SQF?
SQF Stands for “Safe Quality Foods”.
The SQF standard, first developed in Australia in 1994, has been owned and managed by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) since 2003. It’s one of the GFSI-benchmarked certification programs, which are recognized worldwide, and are required by many retailers and food manufacturers in order for them to purchase your company’s products.
What began as a food safety standard has now become a suite of standards for the food industry that encompasses food safety from the agricultural level, to all types of food processing, and even retail. In addition there are standards for food quality, the manufacture of food packaging, storage and distribution of food, and others. The organization that manages this food standard is the Safe Quality Foods Institute (SQFI).
The SQF standards have a unique structure which includes a modular approach, allowing greater flexibility for certification of different parts of the food industry with a consistent approach at all levels. In addition its suite of programs now includes SQF fundamentals, which has two levels of more basic food safety audits, allowing smaller companies a step-wise approach to full SQF certification as depicted in this diagram:
How does SQF differ from other GFSI schemes?
At one time there were some significant differences between the various GFSI-benchmarked food safety standards. Over the years, as the GFSI benchmarking standard has been further developed to encourage greater consistency between the standards, standards have become much more similar. However there are still some differences worth noting.
- As described above, the SQF standards is modular in nature and includes standards for certification of many different parts of the food supply chain. This can also be said for some of the other GFSI benchmarked schemes, but the SQF standards are quite broad in scope and allow certification of many different parts of the food supply chain.
- All of the GFSI programs have some flexibility in terms of how the requirements may be applied to a company, based on risk. However the SQF standard is viewed by some as less specific in its requirements, allowing greater flexibility.
- Although all GFSI programs include industry input in their development processes, the SQF programs have a high level of involvement from members of the food industry, certification bodies, and training organizations through “Technical Advisory Committees”. These committees are directly involved in development of the standards, training materials, and guidance documents.
Implementing SQF Food Safety Program
SQF Implementation varies for each company, but it typically includes some common steps:
- Identify an SQF Practitioner, and ensure they have the proper training. A certified 2-day HACCP course is required, as well as auditor training. SQF training is strongly recommended prior to certification. Courses such as our HACCP 102 and HACCP 103 are recommended to be taken when timing allows.
- Ensure proper training is conducted for team members. This includes any relevant job-specific training related to SQF programs. Some members of management are also required to have specific training, such as crisis management training and training in the principles of HACCP.
- Establish effective HACCP and Pre-Requisite Programs.
- We strongly recommend obtaining a HACCP audit, or and audit to the SQF Fundamentals Intermediate standard, to confirm program implementation and identify any gaps. Get in contact with a Certification Body, or CB, to coordinate this audit. The CB can also assist in identifying which SQF standards apply to your operation, and to start the paperwork for scheduling an audit later, once your company is ready.
- Get a copy of the SQF self-audit tool from www.sqfi.com, and conduct a gap assessment to identify what needs to be done. Other helpful resources can be found on the site as well!
- The gaps identified during the gap assessment become your company’s ‘to-do’ list. These are assigned to team members for completion. The team should meet regularly to track progress.
- Finally, we recommend getting an SQF pre-assessment audit, prior to the official audit. This is an unofficial ‘practice’ audit. This is the best way to identify any final gaps in the program and help ensure a successful certification audit.
Additional audit modules that are available through our certification body along with your SQF audit:
- SQF Quality Module
- SQF FSMA Preventive Controls Module
- Costco Addendum
- Jamba Juice Addendum
A member of our consulting team is ready to come assist with all of these processes, including necessary training, assisting with gap assessment, conducting management team meetings with you, and assisting with internal audits. Check out our training, or Contact us for help.
How long does it take to get SQF Certified?
Implementation of SQF varies widely from company to company, taking anywhere from 6 months to 2 years or more. It depends on several factors:
- Existing certifications: Having an established HACCP program significantly reduces the work needed for full SQF implementation.
- Proper training: Many common implementation errors are due to a lack of understanding the requirements.
- Dedicated resources: Some companies make the mistake of placing all the responsibility on one or two team members. It should be a team effort.
- Assistance: Getting outside assistance from a consulting company (like us) can help move the process along significantly faster.
What are the Benefits of SQF Certification?
For buyers, such as food manufacturers or retailers, SQF certification programs reduce the risk of a supply chain issue that could result in a recall and other financial impacts. Purchasing from certified sites helps companies ensure that their suppliers have rigorous food safety and quality programs in place, thereby reducing risk. Additionally, certified sites are required have programs in place to ensure that customer requirements are met.
One study of 406 food facilities, conducted by the University of Arkansas and published in the Journal of Food Protection, showed that over a 4-year period sites implementing GFSI saw a 34% reduction in recalls.
For food companies, having a GFSI certification like SQF has a few important benefits:
- Reduces risk to your company, as it does for the buyer, through robust food safety programs.
- Reduces “audit exhaustion”. Certification typically reduces the number of on-site customer audits, as buyers often rely on the GFSI audit results as part of their supplier management programs rather than personally auditing the site.
- New Business Opportunities. Many customers, such as major grocery chains and international customers, will not purchase from a company unless they have GFSI certification.
- Improved competitiveness. Having a GFSI certification gives your company a competitive advantage against companies which are not certified.