SQF Frequently Asked Questions
How do we go about implementing SQF?
Most food suppliers have implemented some form of an overall food safety program and have experience preparing for regulatory, quality, and/or food safety/hygiene audits. Transitioning to an SQF System is much easier for suppliers who have already implemented ISO or HACCP, and even more so if they have implemented both. After becoming informed about SQF Program requirements, you should evaluate consultancy options if needed* and designate an employee to serve as your SQF Practitioner, essentially your internal expert on the SQF System. Per SQF requirements, the SQF Practitioner must be:
- A permanent, full-time employee responsible for the overall management of the SQF System;
- HACCP trained and competent to implement and maintain your company’s HACCP plans; and
- SQF knowledgeable and competent to implement and maintain your SQF System.
After you have conducted a preliminary gap analysis of your current system, you must now “say what you do” and “do what you say.” The time and resources required to develop and implement an SQF Program vary depending on the current state of your program and your intended scope of certification.
Perry Johnson Registrars Food Safety Inc. (PJRFSI) understands that this time can be very stressful and challenging, especially when a customer mandate or parent company is driving the certification requirement. We highly recommend that you initiate a relationship with a certification body prior to completing the implementation process. When you contact PJRFSI, we will ask you to fill out an application and, based on the information you supply about your company and program, a Project Manager will provide you with a competitive certification plan and pricing. Completing this process step early on will be helpful as you continue to manage the project, especially in terms of budgeting and scheduling. Without providing consulting, PJRFSI may also serve as your hotline for answering any questions about the certification process.
*Perry Johnson Registrars Food Safety Inc. does not provide consulting services since doing so would be a conflict of interest. However, PJRFSI is acquainted with several reputable SQF consulting firms and can provide a reference list upon request.
Is a pre-assessment required?
Pre-assessments are optional and PJRFSI, as a certification body, does not require them. However, the benefits of a pre-assessment, particularly in the initial certification cycle, are numerous, including:
- focusing your attention on weaknesses in your current system;
- allowing you to gain familiarity with an auditor and the audit process; and
- increasing your overall chances of passing the certification audit the first time.
The length of time allotted for a pre-assessment is discretionary. However, PJRFSI typically recommends at least 60% of the time quoted for the certification audit.
How much will the certification process cost?
PJRFSI follows the certification body audit duration guidance provided by the SQF Institute. The total number of days required for your audit will be determined based on the following primary factors:
- Your desired SQF certification level (Level 1, 2, or 3);
- Your total number of HACCP plans and the complexity of your processes; and
- Your total number of employees and the size of your facility.
Additional secondary factors unique to a supplier might call for some adjustment, up or down, to the total time. Like most quality management system audits, the SQF Program follows a Stage 1/Stage 2 audit process. The Stage 1 Document Audit averages one day while the Stage 2 Facility Audit typically ranges from one and a half to three days (additional time, usually one day, is planned for report writing and corrective action management). As a certification body, PJRFSI’s fees include: audit time calculated at a daily rate; an annual certification and file maintenance fee; and capped auditor travel expenses. The SQF Institute collects additional fees: an annual supplier registration fee based on the supplier’s gross sales in the previous year; and a small audit report download fee. For the most accurate apples to apples comparison when seeking quotes, PJRFSI recommends that you ask each certification body for an upfront, thorough accounting of all fees expected.
What is involved in the certification process?
Once you have signed a services agreement with a certification body, you must register as a supplier in the SQF online database. PJRFSI will assist you with the registration process if needed. The online database is where all audit activity is managed, including delivery of the audit report, the corrective action process, and posting of certification results. Next, unless you have opted for a pre-assessment, your first step is to schedule your Stage 1 Document Audit.
In preparation for Stage 1, you will need to complete all of your SQF System documentation and PJRFSI will provide you with a list of requirements as guidance. The purpose of the Stage 1 Document Audit is to verify that your documentation meets the requirements of the SQF Code and your scope of certification. Depending on timing concerns, auditor availability, and other supplier considerations, your Stage 1 may be conducted offsite or onsite. Either way, your auditor will provide you with a summary of results at the close of the audit. Any nonconformities discovered are classified as critical, major, or minor (see SQF Guidance). Next, the auditor will detail the audit results in a standardized SQF Document Audit report in the online database and work with you to set a timeline to complete corrective actions. There is no deadline by which the Stage 2 Facility Audit must be scheduled following the Stage 1. However, all major and critical nonconformities from the Stage 1 must be corrected before the Stage 2 can be confirmed. With pre-approval, minor nonconformities may be carried over but must be closed out prior to the conclusion of the Stage 2 Audit.
The purpose of the Stage 2 Facility Audit is to assess the compliance of your entire SQF System in operation. In preparation for Stage 2, you will need to complete a full internal audit cycle and a management review of your SQF System. Stage 2 is always conducted onsite and the auditor(s) will spend most of the time in the facility where your processes occur making observations, conducting interviews, and reviewing key records. Again, the auditor will provide you with a summary of results at the close of the audit and will complete the standardized SQF Facility Audit report in the online database. Because a certification decision must be issued within 45 days of the close of Stage 2, you will need to work closely with your auditor to complete corrective actions by required due dates. Once all nonconformities are appropriately closed out and as long as your audit report rating meets the minimum satisfactory compliance level, our Executive Committee will approve your hard-earned, well-deserved SQF Certification! Within two weeks, you are issued a certificate acknowledging your achievement and you may make the results available to your buyers as you wish.
How long is the certificate valid? How often will we be audited?
SQF requires annual recertification conducted within 30 days of your certification anniversary. Unless there have been significant changes in your personnel, your operations, or your SQF System, the Stage 1 Document Audit is typically omitted and only the Stage 2 Facility Audit is conducted. Six‑month surveillance audits are reserved for multi-site suppliers and those suppliers who achieve the minimum compliance rating at their last certification or recertification audit.