Dr. Bob Strong

SQF Certification for Food Packaging Plants

By Dr. Bob Strong
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Dr. Bob Strong

Senior food safety consultant Dr. Bob Strong discusses the requirements of SQF and a roadmap for food packaging plants to get certified.

The Global Food Safety Initiative is a set of standards created to assure confidence that food products meet international standards. GFSI sets the minimum requirements for Food Safety Management Systems, GMPs, GAPs, GDPs, and HACCP. All standards to get GFSI approval must meet the minimum requirements outlined in the GFSI guidance document. There are currently nine approved GFSI schemes, however only four apply to packaging.

Safe Quality Food or SQF, as it is more commonly referred to, originated as an Australian standard in 1994. It was purchased by The Food Marketing Institute in 2004 and is now operated by the Safe Quality Food Institute in the US. It was one of the first four GFSI approved schemes. It’s currently in edition 7.1 and is available from sqfi.com. Edition 7.2 will become effective July 3, 2014.

SQF offers three levels of certification: Level 1 is basically the fundamentals of food safety;  Level 2 requires at a minimum HACCP analysis and possibly a HACCP plan; and Level 3 requires a quality plan. GFSI approval only requires Level 2 SQF certification. 

SQF initial certification audits

The initial certification process requires two separate audits. The readiness audit reviews documents, programs, policies, and procedures to make sure that they match the SQF requirements. The auditor may look back through up to two years of records. SQF code also requires practicing continuous improvement and that the facility meets the regulatory requirements of the country in which the facilities operates as well as those of each country where product is sold. 

The second audit is a facility audit. This audit assesses how the facility is in compliance with the documented programs, policies, and procedures. The auditor will look at your equipment, building, processes, and records and will perform a graded evaluation. All deficiencies in this audit will need to be corrected before the Certifying Body can issue a SQF Certificate. For packaging plants, this audit usually takes two days but can take longer. Recertification only requires one annual audit that is a combination of the readiness audit and facility audit.

SQF practitioner

SQF certification requires that facilities employ a full-time SQF practitioner that is in a position to manage the program. This person must have completed an accredited HACCP course and be competent to implement and manage HACCP plans. They must also have SQF code knowledge and be competent to implement and manage SQF programs. While not required for certification, taking an SQF implementation course is highly recommended.

SQF for food packaging manufacturers

SQF has products and services divided into 35 food safety categories of which Category 27 is “Manufacture of Food Sector Packaging Materials.” The two modules of SQF code that require compliance from packing manufacturers are Module 2, SQF System Elements and Module 13, Pre-requisite Programs for the Manufacturing of Food Sector Packaging. The other modules do not relate to packaging and will not be part of the audit of a packaging facility.

The following are SQF mandatory sub-elements that are required to be documented and implemented by everybody. They cannot be excluded, exempted, or marked as non-applicable by the auditor. There are only mandatory elements in Module 2; there are no mandatory elements in Module 13.

  • 2.1.1 – Management Policy
  • 2.1.2 – Management Responsibility
  • 2.1.3 – Food Safety and Quality Management System
  • 2.1.4 – Management Review
  • 2.2.1 – Document Control
  • 2.2.2 – Records
  • 2.4.1 – Food Legislation
  • 2.4.2 – Food Safety Fundamentals
  • 2.4.3 – Food Safety Plan (levels 2, 3)
  • 2.4.4 – Food Quality Plan (level 3 only)
  • 2.4.8 – Product Release
  • 2.5.2 – Validation and Effectiveness
  • 2.5.4 – Verification and Monitoring
  • 2.5.5 – Corrective and Preventative Action
  • 2.5.7 – Internal Audit
  • 2.6.1 – Product Identification
  • 2.6.2 – Product Trace
  • 2.6.3 – Product Withdrawal and Recall
  • 2.7.1 – Food Defense
  • 2.9.2 – Training Program 

Nonconformities

A minor nonconformity must be corrected within 30 days of the facility audit. Extensions may be granted by the certification body where there is no immediate threat to product safety and quality, and alternative, temporary methods of control are initiated. 

A major nonconformity must be corrected and appropriate corrective action verified and closed out within 14 days of the facility audit. 

A critical nonconformity raised at a certification audit results in an automatic failure of the audit and the supplier must reapply for certification. 

Nonconformities can occur during the document audit or during the facility audit, but only the facility audit is scored. Out of a possible 100 points, a critical nonconformity will deduct 50 points, a major nonconformity will deduct 10 points, and a minor nonconformity will deduct 1 point each. All nonconformities should be corrected before an SQF Certificate will be issued, however if all minor nonconformities have not been corrected, a certificate can still be issued within 45 days of last day of facility audit. A score of 96 to 100 is ‘excellent’ (E), 86 to 95 is ‘good’ (G), 70 to 85 is ‘complies’ (C), and 0 to 69 is ‘fail’ (F). A certificate will be issued for grades of excellent, good, and complies. Excellent and good grades require a 12-month recertification audit and a grade of complies requires a six-month recertification audit.

The above article has been adapted from an archived webinar, hosted by SAI Global and presented by Dr. Bob Strong. For more details, please click here

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