- November 7, 2023
- Posted by: Felicia L
- Categories: Advices, Business, SQF
SQF certification, which stands for Safe Quality Food Certification, is a globally recognized food safety and quality management system. It is designed to ensure that food manufacturers and suppliers meet the highest standards of safety and quality in their products. Achieving SQF certification can be important for businesses in the food industry as it not only demonstrates their commitment to food safety but also opens up new opportunities for growth and expansion.
We will discuss the challenges for SQF certification and demystifying some of these challenges
What is SQF Certification?
SQF certification is a rigorous process that involves implementing and maintaining a comprehensive food safety and quality management system. It is based on internationally recognized standards and guidelines and covers all aspects of food production, from sourcing raw materials to manufacturing and distribution. The certification is awarded by the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI), an organization that sets the standards for food safety and quality.
There are several benefits to achieving SQF certification. Firstly, it helps businesses comply with regulatory requirements and industry best practices. It also enhances the company’s reputation and builds trust with customers and stakeholders. Additionally, SQF certification can open up new market opportunities, as many retailers and food service providers, such as Whole Foods, Costco etc require their suppliers to be SQF certified.
You can obtain SQF for the food safety requirements and optionally, add the quality modules.
Understanding the SQF Certification Process
The process of achieving SQF certification an be confusing for food businesses that is new to SQF requirements. At SFPM Consulting, we have supported many food businesses in understanding SQF requirements even if this will be their first audit.
So, if anyone tells you SQF certification is challenging, talk to us. It might not be as difficult as you imagine it to be.
The first step is to familiarize yourself with the SQF standards and guidelines, which can be found on the SQFI website. You can download these standards for free, but select the right standards that match your food product categories. It is important to understand the requirements and expectations of the certification before starting the process.
Once familiar with the standards, you can begin implementing the necessary changes and improvements to your food safety and quality management system. This may involve updating policies and procedures, training employees, and implementing new processes and controls. It is important to document all changes and keep records of your progress.
After implementing the necessary changes, it is time for your SQF certification audit. During the certification audit, your SQF auditor will review your documentation, interview employees, and inspect your facilities to ensure compliance with the SQF standards. If you pass the audit, you will be awarded the SQF certification.
The timeline for achieving SQF certification can vary depending on the size and complexity of your business and if you receive the right guidance in your SQF program implementation. We have heard others that use several months to a year to complete the certification process.
With SFPM Consulting, we know time is valuable for our clients. We build the SQF program within 1 month and work with clients for program implementation within their timeline expectation to get the SQF program implemented and certified. Some of our clients get certified within 2 to 3 months of working with us.
That being said, rushing through program implementation may create stress for your team. It is important to plan and allocate enough time and resources to ensure a successful certification.
Preparing for SQF Certification
Preparing for SQF certification requires careful planning and attention to detail. Here are some tips to help you prepare for the certification process:
1. Familiarize yourself with the SQF standards: Take the time to read and understand the SQF standards and guidelines thoroughly. There are also SQF training that you can take to ensure that you understand the SQF standard. This will help you identify gaps in your current food safety and quality management system and make the necessary improvements.
2. Conduct an internal audit: Perform a thorough assessment of your current practices and procedures against the requirements of the SQF standards. This will help you identify areas that need improvement and develop an action plan to address them. This will help you identify any issues or non-conformities before the official audit.
3. Train your employees: Provide comprehensive training for your staff on food safety and quality management. Ensure they understand their roles and responsibilities in maintaining compliance with the SQF standards.
4. Implement robust documentation systems: Develop and implement systems for documenting all aspects of your food safety and quality management system. This includes policies, procedures, records, and training materials.
5. Seek external assistance if needed: If you are unsure about any aspect of the certification process, consider seeking external assistance from a Registered SQF Consultant or experts in food safety and quality management.
Demystifying SQF Challenges by Providing Solutions
With any new process, achieving SQF certification can be seen as challenging, especially for businesses that are new to the process. Here are some common challenges that food companies may face during the certification process, along with solutions to overcome them:
1. Lack of resources: One of the biggest challenges in achieving SQF certification is the lack of resources, both in terms of time and money. Implementing the necessary changes and improvements can be costly and time-consuming. To overcome this challenge, it is important to allocate enough resources and plan ahead. This may involve hiring additional staff, investing in new equipment or technology, or outsourcing certain tasks.
➡️ Talk to us regarding our resource management solutions that help you work within your current business setting.
2. Resistance to change: Another common challenge is resistance to change from employees. Implementing new processes and controls can be met with resistance, especially if employees are used to doing things a certain way. To overcome this challenge, it is important to involve employees in the process and provide them with training and support. Communicate the benefits of the changes and address any concerns or objections they may have.
➡️ We believe in sustainable implementation and work with the team
3. The standards language: The language for SQF standards can be foreign and difficult to understand, especially for businesses that are new to the certification process. To overcome this challenge, it is important to take the time to read and understand the standards thoroughly. Break down the standards into manageable tasks and focus on one area at a time.
➡️ One of our expertise is working with our clients to explain the requirements in plain language.
Maintaining SQF Certification
Maintaining SQF certification is just as important as achieving it. In fact, most folks failed in the second audit, worse than their first audit.
Here are some tips for ongoing compliance and success:
1. Regularly review and update your food safety and quality management system: As regulations and industry best practices evolve, it is important to regularly review and update your food safety and quality management system. This includes updating policies and procedures, conducting training, and implementing new processes and controls.
2. Conduct regular internal audits: Regularly conduct internal audits to ensure ongoing compliance with the SQF standards. This will help you identify any issues or non-conformities before the official audit. Address any issues promptly and make any necessary improvements.
3. Communicate with your employees: Regularly communicate with your employees about the importance of maintaining compliance with the SQF standards. Provide ongoing training and support to ensure that they understand their roles and responsibilities.
4. Continuously improve your processes: Continuously look for ways to enhance your food safety and quality management system. This includes seeking feedback from customers and stakeholders, conducting root cause analysis of any issues or non-conformities, and implementing corrective actions.
Maintaining SQF certification is important because losing an SQF certificate can have serious consequences for your business. It can result in loss of customers, damage to your reputation, and legal and financial implications.
Don’t ask how I know but it is a true story that happened to one of my previous employer! Our competitor knew that our certification was not renewed on time (not our fault) and decided to use it as their competitive advantage.
Plus, failing an SQF audit isn’t fun! Read my other article, if you happen to fail your SQF audit, there are multiple steps that you need to take.
Precaution is better than cure!
It is important to allocate enough resources and time to ensure ongoing compliance with the SQF standards.
Is SQF for me?
You might be wondering if SQF is a certification made for your business.
Many folks are afraid to start straight from SQF; they will choose HACCP certification. To me, there are very few differences between the requirements for SQF and HACCP. You may benefit from additional requirements for SQF such as building management commitment and reviewing food fraud and food defense for your facility.
SQF can be key to growing your business, especially if you want to sell your product across North America and globally.
While SQF certification can be seen as challenging and nerve-wracking to complete with minimal resources and within a short timeframe, it is all about having the right resources to guide you through your SQF certification.
Can we help plan your SQF certification so you can be confident about your next step for your SQF audit?
Book a no-commitment call here:
About the Author:
Felicia Loo, a registered SQF Consultant, writes this article. She specialized in assisting food businesses in setting up food safety management systems, and building and implementing the SQF program in as little as 3 months.