What Are the 8 Major Steps To Prepare for an SQF Audit?

What does SQF stand for? What is an SQF audit? Before I get to the 8 major steps, let’s talk SQF basics. An SQF audit is the process you must follow to attain SQF certification. SQF (Safe Quality Food) is ...

hat Are The 8 Major Steps to Prepare For An SQF Audit

What does SQF stand for? What is an SQF audit?

Before I get to the 8 major steps, let’s talk SQF basics. An SQF audit is the process you must follow to attain SQF certification. SQF (Safe Quality Food) is a food safety management system certification process created by the SQF Institute. A SQF Certification Body will perform the audit and use a very long and detailed SQF audit checklist which we will examine below.¬†

The SQF Audit is a Two-Part Audit

First your SQF auditor is going to examine your food safety plan and depending on which certification you are going for, possibly your quality plan and supporting documents for both. 

Then, your facility will be inspected by the SQF auditor to see how your food safety plan and/or quality plan is being implemented and if the hazards are being controlled effectively. 

What Requirements are on the SQF Audit Checklist?

Last year the SQF Institute updated their code and audit checklist. This is a short summary of the SQF Edition 9 checklist. You really need to study the original SQF Checklist carefully for full understanding. There are 11 SQF checklists in all, in this article we are going to summarize the checklist for food manufacturing. This is a good outline of the SQF checklist for food manufacturing, but not all details of the checklist are included in the following list. 

Summarized SQF Checklist

    • You must have a prepared and implemented policy statement that outlines your food safety culture, commitment to quality food production, and adherence to regulatory requirements for safe food. This must be signed by senior site managers and displayed in the facility in appropriate languages so all employees can understand the policy statement.¬†

    • Your SQF system must be reviewed annually.¬†

    • You must have a complaint management system.

    • You must have a working and accurate document control and record keeping management system.

    • You must keep extensive and accurate product formulation and realization (product creation) documentation and records. Every change in the product must be recorded and documented.¬†

    • You must have thorough documentation of specifications of raw ingredients, packaging, and finished product, these all must be validated and verified to be free of toxins, contaminants, chemicals, physical hazards and any adulterants that would harm consumers. Allergens must be listed clearly on labeling and controlled in the facility as to not cross-contaminate any products deemed free-of-said allergens.¬†

    • You must have an approved supplier program in place.

    • Your product must comply with food safety legislation in place in the country of the product‚Äôs creation and also in any country(s) where the product is sold.¬†

    • You must have Good Manufacturing Practices in place.¬†

    • You must effectively implement and maintain a Food Safety Plan in accordance with the Codex Alimentarius Commission HACCP guidelines.

    • Note; this is a very important and detailed part of the audit checklist and where most manufacturers need guidance. FoodReady has SQF audit help for you with our software and fractional QA Managers. Check out our services.¬†

    • You should document the methods, responsibility, and criteria¬† of foods and processes you inspect, analyze, and sample. This applies to ‚Äúworks in progress‚ÄĚ as well as finished products. Specific guidelines are detailed in the SQF checklist. Environmental monitoring is part of this requirement.¬†

    • Non-conforming materials and products must be identified, documented, quarantined, handled and/or disposed of in a safe manner. Records of these actions must be maintained.

    • Product rework, shall be overseen by qualified staff and documented, clearly identified and traceable, reprocessed in accordance with your food safety plan, inspected and analyzed before release, and shall not affect the safety of the product. Records of any rework need to be maintained.

    • Product release responsibilities by a responsible staff member and methods of release need to be documented and implemented after inspection and verification of all food safety controls. This includes proper product labeling.¬†

    • A risk-based environmental monitoring program shall be in place for all food manufacturing processes and immediate surrounding areas, which impact manufacturing processes. An environmental sampling and testing schedule and should test for all pathogens that are risk factors for your industry. All details of the sampling and testing should be recorded and the documents maintained.¬†

    • You must validate for the effectiveness of your SQF program. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) shall be followed, critical food safety limits reviewed annually, and all changes assessed to ensure effectiveness. Everything must be recorded and documents maintained.¬†

    • You must record and document all procedures and activities by qualified staff related to verifying Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Critical Control Points (CCPs), and the legality regarding these practices.

    • The methods, responsibility, and outlining how corrective and preventive actions are determined, implemented and verified shall be recorded and documents maintained.¬†

    • Internal audits and inspections to verify the effectiveness of your SQF code should be regularly performed with trained SQF staff, all findings and processes should be recorded and documents maintained.¬†

    • Product identification, basically every process, ingredient, work-in-progress, finished product, label, product in storage, batches, lots, etc., shall be clearly identified. Labels for the consumer shall have all information regarding ingredients, allergens, etc. Records shall be documented and maintained.

    • Product should be traceable at least one step forward to the consumer and back to the supplier. Records regarding product traceability shall be maintained.

    • The responsibility and methods used to withdraw or recall products shall be documented and implemented. Recall management should be tested and verified annually. (mock recall) All records regarding product recall measures shall be documented and maintained. You must notify SQF of any food safety event that requires the public to be notified.

    • A crisis management plan and trained staff should be in place. The crisis management plan should be verified annually and all records pertaining to crisis management should be maintained.

    • You need to have a food threat assessment performed. You must create a food defense plan based on your food threat assessment. Staff is trained to carry out the food defense plan, it should be reviewed and tested annually and all documents maintained.

    • A food fraud assessment and mitigation plan shall be tested annually and all documents maintained.¬†

    • An allergen mitigation program needs to be in place, documented and records maintained for traceability. Allergens shall be stored, machinery and surfaces shall be cleaned, maintained and used in such a way as to not contaminate areas and products that do not contain these specific allergens. Labeling needs to be accurate and complete.¬†

    • There needs to be appropriate SQF training for staff in order for the SQF code to properly be carried out.¬†

    • A training program with appropriate resources needs to be in place for regular training of staff for SQF. Training records need to be maintained.¬†

So that is the condensed version of the SQF checklist! It’s a lot! That’s why companies use the FoodReady Enterprise Solution to help them prepare for their SQF audit.

Try it out today!

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How do I prepare for an SQF audit?

Preparing for an SQF audit (SQF stands for Safe Quality Food) can be a lengthy and difficult process. In this article I am going to explain the steps to prepare for your SQF audit. Most food manufacturers find that utilizing a food safety software system and a SQF consultant from FoodReady indispensable for passing their SQF audit and obtaining SQF certification.

What are the 8 steps to prepare for an SQF audit?

    • Learn the SQF code. The SQF institute has a downloadable guide to the latest SQF code – Edition 9.

    • Register the facility to be audited in the SQF Audit Database.

    • Choose a SQF practitioner. Your SQF practitioner must be HACCP trained, know the SQF code and have a full understanding of¬† Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).¬†

    • Choose the type of SQF certification you wish to attain.
        • Fundamentals

        • Food Safety

        • Food Safety and Quality

    • Find a Certification Body (CB) to conduct your SQF audit.

    • Conduct a pre-assessment (gap-analysis) of your facility to determine areas that do not comply with the standard and need improvement.

    • Schedule your SQF audit.

    • SQF audit is conducted

The 8 Major Steps to Prepare For An SQF Audit


How long does it take to prepare for an SQF audit?

Preparation for the SQF audit can take anywhere from 4-6-9 months depending on the size and scope of your facility and process, the number of changes and improvements that need to be made, and the amount of time your SQF practitioner can work on preparation per day. Having food safety software and SQF guidance from FoodReady can help lessen the amount of prep time for the audit. 

FoodReady is your all-in-one food safety management system for SQF audit preparation

    • FoodReady has a HACCP/PC builder and recall plan builder.¬†

    • FoodReady provides a library of SQF Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) examples as part of its SQF software subscription.

    • FoodReady provides a Verification Dashboard that allows for supervisor sign-offs and review of corrective actions in one single view

    • FoodReady automates the corrective action process with conditional logic checklists and min and max values for food safety criteria, such as pH and temperature, inside the mobile app.¬† Corrective action management is a requirement of SQF.

    • FoodReady has a robust reporting section that allows for the creation of audit-ready reports for SQF auditors or dashboard views.

    • ¬†FoodReady provides the ability when the FoodReady system is fully implemented to provide production traceability which is also a requirement of SQF.

    • FoodReady has a recall management system.

    • FoodReady has record keeping and document management.

    • FoodReady has environmental monitoring programs.¬†

    • FoodReady has a complaint management system.


SQF certification requires an annual audit to maintain the certification status. The certification body conducts these audits to ensure continued compliance with the SQF Code. Some aspects of the audit, such as surveillance audits, may occur more frequently, depending on the certification body’s requirements and the company’s performance.
A gap analysis, also referred to as a pre-assessment, is an essential step in preparing for an SQF audit. It involves a detailed review of your current food safety management system to identify areas that do not comply with the SQF standards. This analysis helps in pinpointing specific areas that need improvement or development to meet SQF requirements.
The SQF Food Safety Code focuses on the safety aspects of food production, processing, and handling, ensuring that food products do not pose a risk to consumers. The SQF Quality Code, on the other hand, goes beyond safety to include criteria for product quality. Companies can choose to certify under one or both codes, depending on their objectives and customer requirements.

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Saro Loucks

Saro Loucks is the Director of Content and a Food Safety Advisor for FoodReady. Saro is certified in HACCP and a trained SQF Practitioner. When Saro is not editing, writing, or advising new customers on what food safety goals they should pursue, she enjoys spending time with her family, baking gluten-free sourdough bread, and playing Mahjong.
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