(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the February/March 2018 issue.)
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Having recently guided the food safety team at my company through a successful SQF Level 3 certification process, our first attempt at certification, I thought it would be helpful to offer some steps that may benefit companies interested in similar Global Food Safety Initiative benchmark certification schemes.
The SQF scheme is simple, write what you do, and do what you write—ensuring the elements of the code are integrated in your practices. Below are seven steps that I found to be beneficial in ensuring certification success.
Step 1: Designate the right person for the job. The first point I want to make is that a college degree, while good to have, is not required to secure such certification for your company. You need to know the SQF Code and what it requires for your company as each company is unique. It is advisable that the person designated as the SQF practitioner be knowledgeable, and I would recommend STEM due to the scientific nature of the management system to be developed being Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) based. Per the Code, the person who is designated SQF practitioner must be HACCP trained, and with Edition 8 of the new code replacing Edition 7.2 as of Jan. 2, 2018, the new Quality Code mandates the SQF practitioner be “competent in statistical process control (SPC) and/or other quality tools to reduce process variation and drive root cause analysis of non-conformities.”
Step 2: Management support. No matter how qualified the SQF practitioner or how well he/she prepares required documents, without management support at the highest level, it will be like “beating a dead horse.” The SQF practitioner is designated by management and there are key responsibilities enshrined in the code for the management team.
Step 3: Support from all staff. The prepared documents must be implemented, and no one person can implement documents that impact all departments without the support of all team members. The SQF system is a management system designed to prevent or reduce possible adulteration of food. This is why the principles of HACCP are embedded in the document and the expectation that the person preparing the documents be HACCP trained.
Before the HACCP plan can be developed, there exists prerequisite programs that must first be considered such as current Good Manufacturing Practices, which impacts several departments. For instance:
- The HR department is responsible for personnel who are considered when developing the company’s Food Defense Plan;
- The project management department, maintenance department, and environmental department may all be impacted when you look at building design and facilities;
- The production, food safety, and environmental departments may be impacted by sanitary operations, equipment and calibration, and production and process control, and
- Warehousing and distribution may impact the logistic and accounting department, and the list goes on.
Step 4: Testing the program. This management system requires testing to ensure effective implementation and allow for improvements. No new car on the road gets to customers before rigorous testing. Likewise, your plan must be tested. The first test of the plan in my opinion is at the required document audit, also called desk audit. The document audit is not scored, but should there be majors or minors for instance, they must be addressed before you can clear that stage. Likewise, you cannot have a facility audit without first going through the document audit phase.
Once cleared of the document audit phase, you are assured you have all required documentations for a successful system. You now have time to further improve and implement the system. For example, while not required, there is a pre-audit that can be scheduled, which helps you see how prepared your facility is for a facility audit. Like the desk audit, it is not scored, but it does help in providing focus areas that may need to be improved.