What is SQF Certification?

Saro Loucks
Saro Loucks

Last updated: February 2, 2024

What is SQF Certification

A SQF (Safe Quality Food) certification is a GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiate) system of food safety requirements created and managed by the SQF Institute.  SQF is accredited by ANSI and provides a food safety and quality program recognized world wide.  SQF certification is used to manage the food safety risks that inherently happen with various types of food processing, packaging, and storage. 

FoodReady SQF consultants and SQF software can help your food manufacturing business prepare for the rigorous and challenging SQF certification audit. To see how great our software is, ask questions, and get consulting and subscription pricing, please schedule a demo of our software here.

What is an SQF audit?

A SQF audit is a comprehensive review of the food safety and/or quality management systems at your facility to meet an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standardized program.  Certification Bodies or “CB’s” administer these audits under the guidance of SQF through trained auditors. The audit includes an assessment of how your facility implements the requirements of the SQF Code, as well as how it complies with related regulations and standards. 

What are the benefits of SQF certification?

There are many benefits that come with being SQF certified such as improved food safety culture, increased product integrity, and enhanced food safety programs. SQF helps to meet buyer and regulatory requirements. SQF certification is recognized internationally and provides an internal resource for continual improvement. Your food packaging, processing, or food retail business can build confidence and trust with customers, who will feel secure knowing that you have a rigorous food safety and/or quality management system in place.

SQF is “the gold standard” of food safety certifications.

SQF certification is considered the “gold standard” of food safety certifications. SQF is also considered a more rigorous audit than GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) or GFSI Global Market audit. FoodReady’s expert Food Safety Team can help you navigate this difficult certification process by performing gap assessment, documentation development, program implementation assistance, and internal or pre- audits of your process and facility.

SQF is often required by your buyers.

SQF certification can be a requirement for many food retailers and buyers.  A SQF certification will make your food product eligible to get into retail stores such as Walmart, Whole Foods, Kroger, Publix, Safeway, and Meier. SQF is considered a higher level certification than GMP and “covers more bases” than many other food safety audits so you save time and money going for SQF certification than several other “lesser” certifications. FoodReady can help find the right certification bodies for your product(s) or processes.

SQF protects your brand’s integrity.

SQF certification protects your brand’s integrity by making sure your product is safe for the consumer and that you as a manufacturer are continually maintaining the quality of your products. 

How do you prepare for and pass an SQF audit?

To get SQF certified, a third-party SQF auditor must be brought into your facility to examine your manufacturing process and ensure the facility is meeting the stringent requirements of the SQF Institute and the United States Government. Each category of food manufacturing, processing, packaging, storage, and distribution must meet the standards on the SQF audit checklists.

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Steps Needed for SQF Certification

  1. Determine your Food Safety Category (FSC): The journey to understand SQF begins with knowing your product and how it relates to SQF.  The FSC’s are designed to capture the type of production and products produced.  From the FSC determination, the specific modules can be determined. 
  2. Learn about SQFOnce the modules are determined, locate the SQF Code from the SQF website.  Yes, this is free.  SQF also provides other useful tools which a FoodReady advisor can lead you to.
  3. Get your company listed on the SQF assessment database.
  4. Have a designated SQF practitioner and backup practitioner at your facility. You can find SQF practitioner training online or in your area via google.  While formal training is recommended, there are other ways one can become an SQF practitioner knowledgeable of the SQF code.
  5. Decide which level of SQF certification you want to obtain.  Fundamentals, Food Safety, and Quality.  We have moved away from Levels 1 -3.     Fundamentals – the most basic level that only covers Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and/or Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), and/or Good Distribution Practices (GDP).  Consider this a stepping stone to the bigger and “better” SQF Food Safety audit.   Food Safety – This is a HACCP based food safety system along with all the requirements of the Fundamentals level.  Food Safety and Quality– incorporates all the Fundamentals, Food Safety HACCP based system, and actions have been completed to prevent any poor quality and safety issues will occur.  In order to qualify for the Quality, you must pass the Food Safety section.  Additionally this section requires additional documentation and practices.
  6.  Gap analysis/pre-audit- this is an optional step but many find it crucial to find any issues prior to the actual audit and have them corrected and implemented effectively before the live audit. FoodReady software and consulting is ideal for this step. We have helped many companies become GFSI compliant in SQF and BRCGS.
  7. Schedule your audit with your selected certification body and auditor. 
  8. Audit is performed.

What happens during an SQF audit?

The auditor will compare the SQF code against the HACCP plan and food safety software, as well as any other documents that relate to food safety. The auditor also reviews your procedures for handling food safely, including record keeping, corrective actions and then compares it to the activities being performed.

Finally, the auditor looks at how you’re using this information to run a safe operation and ensures you are verifying and validating the whole SQF system and programs within.

What documents are required for SQF?

The following documents are required for an SQF audit:

  • Your food safety management system which includes the facility’s written procedures, pre-requisite programs (SOPs), HACCP/PC plans with their related documents, and any other documents that support or provide evidence of the development, implementation, adherence, maintenance and running of the SQF System.The system should include documents, policies, procedures and forms, monitoring logs (such as temp and time), records,validations, verifications, calibrations, and schedules.  All of these records must be current, accessible to staff, securely stored, and easily retrievable.

 

  • A documented food safety policy that includes:
  1. Food safety goals and objectives, plus performance measures. 
  2. The roles of management, employees, company representatives who work onsite during production and transportation activities and who are committed to establishing a food safety culture
  3. Company commitments to food safety standards.
  4. Procedures for all employees working with the product (i.e. sanitation requirements and SOPs), ensuring that they understand how they can contribute to maintaining high standards while performing their job duties.

If you decide to get SQF certified and need to prepare for it, these tips should help you get started. After you have fully prepared for your SQF audit you must  make sure that all your documents are in order and easily retrievable  so that you can demonstrate that your business complies with the SQF standard and has performed all aspects of the code. More and more companies are switching to a digital cloud-based food safety software solution like FoodReady because of the easy accessibility of food safety records and the reduction of cost, paper, and time.  

FoodReady is your all-in-one food safety management system for SQF certification.

  1. FoodReady has a HACCP/PC builder and recall plan builder. 
  2. FoodReady provides a library of SQF Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) examples as part of its SQF software subscription.
  3. FoodReady provides a Verification Dashboard that allows for supervisor sign-offs and review of corrective actions in one single view
  4. 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.
  5. FoodReady has a robust reporting section that allows for the creation of audit-ready reports for SQF auditors or dashboard views.
  6.  FoodReady provides the ability when the FoodReady system is fully implemented to provide production traceability which is also a requirement of SQF.
  7. FoodReady has a recall management system.
  8. FoodReady has record keeping and document management.
  9. FoodReady has environmental monitoring programs. 
  10. FoodReady has a complaint management system.

FoodReady software and consulting helps you get ready and stay ready for any scheduled or surprise SQF audit. More information about SQF audits

In this article

Saro Loucks

Saro Loucks

HACCP Certified, food safety enthusiast.

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