In October 2020, SQF released the final version of their updated food safety standards, edition 9.0. You may recall that when edition 8.0 was released, the changes were somewhat minor. In general terms, with edition 9, the standard’s intent is the same, and many of the requirements are the same, but there are some significant changes in this edition that you will need to address.
Reasons for the changes in edition 9
- To ensure the SQF standard meets new GFSI requirements in the updated benchmark standard. This change includes a section on food safety culture.
- The SQF team wanted to “Improve the Architecture and Structure of the Codes.”
- To better address changing risks in the food industry and emerging issues.
- To implement feedback from stakeholders, like your facility and members of our technical team.
Changes to The Program
Overall, SQF has streamlined the standards, resulting in a 34% reduction in sections and a 15% reduction in total elements. This update should help audits run a little bit more smoothly!
There are a few significant changes to note in how the program works:
- Major non-conformities now result in a 5 point deduction instead of 10 points.
- You will no longer be required to perform a desk audit before the initial site certification audit. The initial audit will be a full facility audit, the same as in subsequent years.
- The standard now includes an allowance for remote audit activities, with guidance on how to perform them.
In addition to the changes to the program mentioned above, there have also been updates to specific codes. The previous primary production code (for farms) has been separated for livestock, plant production, and aquaculture standards. In the same way, there are now individual standards for processing animal products, animal feed, and pet food.
Structural Changes, in a snapshot:
New Requirements to Note for Food Manufacturers
There are significant changes to note in this new edition of the standard, which we’re summarizing below for you. We won’t get into modifications to the primary production requirements (farms) here.
- Sites are now required to have two SQF practitioners so there is a back-up. This update may impact smaller companies with less dedicated food safety employees.
- You must require your raw material suppliers to notify you of any changes to the formulation that may impact the safety of your products.
- On-site laboratory analysis must meet new, more stringent requirements.
- Crisis management is now part of the Traceability and Recall section (makes sense!).
- There is a new requirement for a food defense threat assessment – which is very similar to the FDA’s new food defense requirements. For more information on this subject, check out our self-paced short course here.
- There is a new “Food Safety Culture” section, but there are no substantial changes to the SQF requirements. As they indicate, these expectations were already built into previous editions of the standard, in separate sections.
- Sites are required to have a contingency plan for situations in which their potable water supply becomes contaminated.
- Ambient air testing is now explicitly required for high-risk areas.
- For the Storage and Distribution standard, a food safety plan formatted according to the FSMA Preventive Controls guidance is now acceptable, in place of a HACCP plan.
If your documents make specific reference to sections of the SQF standard, you’ll need to review and update them. This update will be a significant task for companies that rely heavily on reference to the standard.
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic turned our world upside-down. In the world of food safety, many audits were delayed due to travel and facility restrictions over concerns for individuals’ health and safety. As a result, in the spring of 2020, SQF and other GFSI programs began building in an allowance for delay of facilities’ audits based on risk.
Another significant impact was the introduction of remote audits via computer meeting software such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and many others. SQF made some additional changes to their programs during this trying time to help facilitate these remote audits.
SQF does not use the term “virtual audit” in their standard but instead refers to “remote activities” and the use of “information and communication technology (ICT).”
Here is what you need to know about these audits:
- Up to half of the certification audit can be virtual.
- SQF outlines specific activities that can be conducted during the remote portion of the audit, including reviewing procedures and records and interviewing key site personnel.
- Remote audit activities do not apply to unannounced audits.
- As an alternative solution during the COVID-19 pandemic, SQF allows for a fully remote (virtual) audit, managed through the SQF program. It should be noted, any fully remote audit will not be recognized by GFSI and, therefore, may pose a challenge with your customers. However, it’s good to know that SQF allows this other option for sites that can’t obtain an audit due to travel restrictions.
For More Information
You can find more detailed information from the SQF web site here, and you can download the standards here. If you have additional questions about this article or would like to talk to a member of our team about training, consulting, and certification, please give us a call at 916-206-7445. We offer a wide range of consulting and training packages custom-built to meet your needs.