SQF Certification - Safe Quality Food : Food quality

Food safety and quality are essential at all stages of the food chain, engaging producers, processors, distributors and consumers. To ensure these high standards, international standards and certifications, such as SQF (Safe Quality Food) certification, have been established. These certifications validate good practices within food companies.

What is the SQF certification ?

The SQF (Safe Quality Food) certification is an important food safety and quality certification, internationally recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). Developed and managed by the SQF Institute, a component of the FMI (Food Marketing Institute) foundation, this food certification ensures a high level of safety and quality in the food field.

Accredited by the ANSI (American National Standards Institute), SQF certification applies to all stages of the food chain, from production to distribution. Based on the SQF code - a comprehensive set of standards and criteria derived from the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles - certification is broken down into three levels :

  • Level 1, corresponding to the basic requirements, includes good agricultural or manufacturing practices and regulatory standards.  
  • Level 2, an intermediate level, is based on the HACCP food safety management system.  
  • Level 3, or advanced level, build to level 2 by adding the requirements for the food quality management system.

Opting for SQF certification brings significant benefits to food businesses, including :

  • Optimized management of health risks and non-compliances.  
  • Increased customer and consumer confidence and satisfaction.  
  • Enhanced competitiveness and easier access to international markets.  
  • Reduced audit costs and time, thanks to an integrated approach to safety and quality.  
  • Continuous improvement of process performance and efficiency.

Which organizations offer SQF certification ?

To obtain an SQF certification, it is necessary to turn to a certification body officially approved by the SQF institute. This institute is responsible for the development and management of the SQF code. Various certification bodies, spread around the world and adapted according to the sectors of activity as well as the regions, can issue this certification. Below is an overview of the main SQF certification bodies:

NSF International

As an independent organization, NSF International offers a range of services covering certification, training, auditing and consulting, specialized in the field of food quality and safety. This entity is responsible for certifying all the links in the food chain, including primary production, processing, storage, distribution, trade and catering. With a network of qualified and experienced auditors, NSF International can conduct SQF audits in more than 170 countries.

SGS

Recognized worldwide in the fields of inspection, control, analysis and certification, SGS offers SQF certification for the primary production, processing, warehousing, distribution, as well as for food packaging manufacturers. With a team of knowledgeable and well-trained auditors, SGS is able to perform SQF audits in more than 130 countries.

Bureau Veritas

Bureau Veritas, a major global player in testing, inspection and certification services, provides SQF certification for primary production, processing, warehousing and distribution, and food packaging manufacturers. With its qualified and accredited auditors, Bureau Veritas has the ability to perform SQF audits in more than 100 countries.

What are the specific SQF certification requirements for my industry ?

The SQF certification is aimed at all actors in the food chain, including primary production, processing, packaging and distribution. Depending on your sector, specific requirements, set out in the SQF code, must be met. This code is structured in modules, targeting different aspects of food safety and quality.

The modules are of two types :

  • Module 2, mandatory for all, details the requirements of a food safety management system based on HACCP.
  • Modules 3 to 15, specific to each sector, deal with good practices in areas such as agriculture, production, storage or distribution.

To be SQF certified, it is necessary to register for module 2 as well as modules relevant to your field. For example, a fruit and vegetable producer will select modules 2 and 7 (primary crop production), while a dairy manufacturer will select modules 2 and 10 (animal product manufacturing), and then choose the desired certification level: level 1, 2 or 3.

To determine the SQF requirements specific to your activity, the SQF website provides guides, datasheets and checklists.

What are the steps to obtain an SQF certification ?

To earn SQF certification, follow these key steps :

Step 1 : Learn the SQF code

Start by familiarizing yourself with the SQF code, the main document for SQF certification. This code is available free of charge on the SQF Institute. Training courses, online or face-to-face, around the SQF code are offered by accredited centres.

Step 2 : Register your business

Register your company on the SQF Institute website. Provide details about your company, industry, scope and desired certification level. This record gives you access to the SQF evaluation database to manage your certification.

Step 3 : Prepare your audit

Prepare for the audit by developing and implementing your SQF system. This includes the food safety management system (module 2) and good practices for your sector (modules 3 to 15). Perform a self-assessment to verify your system’s compliance with the SQF code criteria. A pre-audit, although optional, with an SQF auditor or SQF practitioner may be useful to identify gaps.

Step 4 : Select a certification body

Choose a certification body accredited by the SQF Institute. The selection will depend on their expertise, cost, availability and location. Then plan your audit according to the timing and frequency requirements determined by the SQF code.

Step 5 : Complete your audit

To carry out your audit, it is essential to collaborate with the SQF auditor appointed by your certification body. This procedure has two main phases. First, a document audit is performed to ensure that your SQF documentation is in line with the SQF code standards. The second phase is an on-site audit, designed to verify that your SQF practices and records also meet the code requirements.

At the end of this audit, the SQF auditor will provide you with a detailed report, highlighting the positive aspects of your SQF system, while highlighting potential weaknesses and non-conformities.

Step 6 : Obtain your certification

Obtaining your SQF certification requires the resolution of all non-conformities highlighted during the audit, within the set deadlines. You must also submit your corrective action documentation to the certification body for validation. Provided that you fully meet the criteria of the SQF code, the certification body will issue you an SQF certificate. The latter confirms your compliance with SQF certification standards and will be recorded in the SQF database, making this information accessible to stakeholders.

Step 7 : Renew your certification

Renewing your certification involves conducting monitoring audits at regular intervals, in accordance with the guidelines of the SQF code and your certification body. These audits are intended to verify the continuous maintenance and optimization of your SQF system. It is also crucial to update your SQF system to reflect changes in the SQF code, regulatory requirements, customer expectations, and incorporate lessons learned from audits.

How much does an SQF certification cost ?

The cost of obtaining an SQF certification is influenced by various factors, including the size of the company, the number of employees, the number of HACCP plans present, the level of certification targeted, the certification agency chosen, and the duration and frequency of the necessary audits. Since there is no fixed rate for the acquisition of this certification, we can still estimate its cost through several elements :

  • Registration fee on the portal of the SQF institute, amounting to 85 USD annually.  
  • Cost of the SQF code training, variable according to the type of training (online or face-to-face), the chosen training institute and the number of participants. On average, online training costs 500 USD per person.  
  • Cost associated with the development of your SQF system, including the time and resources devoted to the drafting and implementation of your SQF documentation, not to mention the potential expenses related to a pre-audit or external advice.  
  • Expenses related to the SQF certification audit, determined by the certification body according to the number of audit days, the daily rate of the auditor and the expenses of travel and accommodation of the auditor. The average cost for a first audit is approximately $6,500 CAD.
  • Renewal cost of the first audit is $6,500 CAD.

The total cost of SQF certification can therefore vary considerably, from a few thousand to several tens of thousands of dollars, depending on your specific situation. Nevertheless, this investment is worth considering for its many advantages, such as improving brand image, increasing customer satisfaction, opening to new markets, reducing the risk of product recalls, and more.

How long does it take to get an SQF certification ?

Acquiring an SQF certification varies according to many elements, including the complexity of your SQF system, the level of certification you are aiming for, the availability of the certification body, and the number and severity of non-conformities identified. There is no standard period for obtaining SQF certification, but an estimate can be made taking into account the following aspects :

  • The time required to prepare your SQF system, which can range from a few weeks to several months, depends on the effectiveness of your current practices and SQF documentation.
  • The registration time on the website of the SQF institute, which is usually fast. However, delays may occur if all the necessary information is not provided or in case of technical difficulties.
  • Planning your audit, which can vary from a few days to several weeks, depending on the availability of both the certification body and the SQF auditor.
  • The execution of the audit itself, which varies according to the time required for the documentary audit and the on-site audit. This time can range from one to several days depending on the size and complexity of your business.
  • The time required to obtain certification, depending on the time required to correct non-conformities and validate corrective actions. This process can range from a few days to several weeks, depending on the nature and volume of non-conformities.

The total time to obtain SQF certification can range from a few months to more than a year, depending on your specific situation. It is crucial to see this process as an investment, allowing to benefit from the benefits of SQF certification. These benefits include improving your brand image, customer satisfaction, opening to new markets, and minimizing the risk of product recalls.

SQF Certification Renewal : What you need to know

SQF certification is not permanent; it requires a continuous renewal process to remain valid. This is because the SQF certification is based on the principle of continuous improvement. This process requires that your SQF system be constantly evaluated and adjusted to meet SQF code standards, regulatory changes, customer expectations, and audit feedback.

To renew your SQF certification, it is essential to pass monitoring audits at regular intervals. These audits, carried out by the certification body of your choice, are intended to ensure that your SQF system remains efficient and compliant. These checks must be carried out at least once a year, although their frequency may vary depending on various factors such as the level of certification held, the sector of activity, the risks associated with food safety, and the overall performance of your business.

Passing these audits is crucial : if you succeed, you will maintain your SQF certification and receive a new certificate, valid for one year. If you fail, you will be forced to restart the certification process entirely.

To simplify the process of renewing your SQF certification, consider partnering with Yvea, an ally of choice that offers a range of tailor-made services, adapted to your needs :

  • An ongoing update on regulatory changes and SQF code standards.  
  • Advice and personalized support for the maintenance and improvement of your SQF system.  
  • Help prepare for and successfully complete your monitoring audits.  
  • Optimize your costs and certification timelines.

By choosing Yvea, you benefit from the expertise of a reliable partner, with a network of qualified professionals, ensuring an effective and sustainable renewal of your SQF certification.

La procédure classique

Revue documentaire

Voici la liste des documents nécessaires pour l'ouverture du dossier :
Proforma ou facture finale
Fiche descriptive pour chaque code de nomenclature
Rapports de test ou certificats d'analyse pour chaque code de nomenclature
Certificat de qualité ISO 9001 ou équivalent
Déclaration d'importation à demander à votre acheteur (selon la destination)

1

Revue documentaire

Voici la liste des documents nécessaires pour l'ouverture du dossier :
Proforma ou facture finale
Fiche descriptive pour chaque code de nomenclature
Rapports de test ou certificats d'analyse pour chaque code de nomenclature
Certificat de qualité ISO 9001 ou équivalent
Déclaration d'importation à demander à votre acheteur (selon la destination)

2

Revue documentaire

Voici la liste des documents nécessaires pour l'ouverture du dossier :
Proforma ou facture finale
Fiche descriptive pour chaque code de nomenclature
Rapports de test ou certificats d'analyse pour chaque code de nomenclature
Certificat de qualité ISO 9001 ou équivalent
Déclaration d'importation à demander à votre acheteur (selon la destination)

3

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