The Food and Drug Administration requires all companies, organizations and importers/exporters to comply with Food Safety regulations. This is to help ensure all food, no matter the location of origin, is safe to consume.
SQF, Safe Quality Food, is one of the GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) approved food certification standards. Beginning with three benchmark levels, companies must follow these best practices to receive certification and remain allowed to produce and distribute food within the United States.
SQF Certification Levels
The SQF has three certification levels to ensure SQF. These certification levels include Level 1: this is good for low risk products they may not be in direct contact with food. This level of SQF is not benchmarked by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), Level 2: This level is good for food products and products in contact with food and is benchmarked by GFSI but does not include a quality management system, and Level 3: Comprehensive food safety and quality management system and is also benchmarked by GFSI.
Organizations and companies associated with the production, importing and distribution of food must first obtain their certification while maintaining it. The FDA and, depending on where the food is consumed, external national food regulation organizations around the world, regularly check the quality of food and the locations food is stored and prepared to ensure the highest quality level possible.
Obtaining SQF Certifications
Multiple steps are required in order to obtain certification in the individual level. Each entity involved with the production of food must first determine what level of certification to apply for and what is relevant in their particular line of production. Complete information on determining the appropriate SQF level is available at SQFI. The website provides an overview of levels for not only the United States but Canada and Mexico as well. During the initial identification process, companies must register their company with the assessment database to receive appropriate identification. This only happens after the company knows its appropriate level. Should such a rejection occur, the company must begin with the application and registration process again.
Once appropriate registration has occurred, the SQF Program implements a training program. Every company must identify and designate an employee as the “SQF Practitioner.” This individual works with the SQF Program as the internal expert while receiving the necessary training with the SQF Program to understand what is required of the company to receive and maintain its certification level.
An inspection of the facility is performed, documenting all guidelines of the SQF code. Once complete, the guidance documents is delivered to the SQF Practitioner who then should go over the necessary improvements with the company head. Now, a pre-assessment screening and inspection is not necessary, yet highly recommended. This way, the company knows what it needs to improve on before bringing in official members of the SQF Program to inspect and award or reject the certification application. If certification is rejected, the company must begin the process again, potentially costing the business time and preventing it from receiving the necessary certification any required deadlines. It is vital to have a designated person or team and compliant processes. It is highly recommended to a pre-assessment to identify anything which could cause a noncompliant score.
Maintaining the SQF Certification
Maintaining the certification is a responsibility of the SQF Practitioner. The SQF Practitioners demonstrate the knowledge and skills to effectively guide emplyees of what requirements are necessary of the company. Due to this, designating a backup practitioner with the same level of knowledge is important. This way, should the current individual leave for a job promotion or another company, the company has a secondary option. The company should continue to train employees to maintain SQF regulations, and to be ready for 24/7 audits to ensure that the company isn’t caught off guard.
Receiving proper certification for the SQF Program is desirable for a company in the food industry to remain productive. By following these steps for certification and to maintain certification, it reduces any risks of not complying with new FDA regulations.
If you are interested in more information about SQF certification, Quality Systems Enhancement can help. They provide consulting, auditing and training for the quality management and food safety standards that will equip your company with the necessary knowledge and skills to perform flawlessly. You can reach them through this number 770-518-9967 or by filling out a proposal request here.