How to Get SQF Certification

Greg Matranga
By Greg Matranga | November 1, 2019
Vice President of Global Marketing

Fact checked by Stephen O'Reilly

In the first part of our blog series, we discussed how name-brand food and beverage manufacturers rely on contract manufacturers to reach their production goals. We also focused on the cold, hard fact that these brands demand (and rightly so) that contractors who work for them must obtain certification from the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI), one of the most recognized third-party organizations that sets the standards for food safety and quality. And the SQF food safety management program helps companies control food safety risks—and win those precious contracts with big brands.
SQF food safety management program certification
Think of obtaining SQF food safety management program certification like receiving a diploma, graduating from the school of everyday food and beverage manufacturing into higher learning (about your processes, quality, and safety), higher profits, and increased revenue. Before you hear the pomp and circumstance, though, you need to take a few courses…
So how does your organization become SQF-certified? Well, as it turns out, it’s a rather easy, step-by-step process. We’ll walk through it in this blog.

Steps to SQFI Certification

SQF InstituteThe SQFI offers detailed, step-by-step instructions for achieving SQF certification on their website. You’re just eight steps away from winning contracts with big brands and riding the wave to increased profits and revenue.

Step 1 – Study the SQF Code

The SQF Code emphasizes the systematic application of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system—a preventive approach to food and beverage safety from biological, chemical, and physical hazards in production processes. The implementation of the SQF Code addresses a buyer’s safety and quality requirements and provides the solution for businesses supplying local and global markets.
Featured components:
  • SQF practitioner requirement enhances and promotes food safety culture year-round, 24/7
  • The SQF Food Safety Codes are segmented based on industry scope
  • Third-party assessment to verify adherence to the rigorous requirements of SQF Code
There are several options for learning about the SQF Code: in-person seminars, online courses, and instructor-led classes. As a contract food and beverage manufacturer, you can choose to familiarize yourself with the SQF Code in whatever way best suits you and your organization. In fact, you have the option to train yourselves if you desire, as SQF codes are available to download for free.

Step 2 – Register with the SQF Assessment Database

The SQF Assessment Database was created to make food safety audits more efficient and effective. This innovative audit management and data capture solution helps set SQF programs apart from other certifying bodies recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)—a private organization established and managed by the international trade association, which maintains food safety standards for manufacturers and farms. You can register with the SQF Assessment Database here.
Here’s a list of their fees:
SQF Assessment Fees

Step 3 – Identify an On-Site SQF Practitioner

SQF certification requires that one of your employees be designated as a primary “champion” of your site’s SQF program processes. This person must be a full-time employee and be informed and competent about best practices as they relate to the site’s classification. Further, they must complete a HACCP-based training course and have thorough knowledge of the SQF Code requirements.
HACCP-based training 
A HACCP system requires that potential hazards are identified and controlled at specific points in the process. This includes biological, chemical, or physical hazards. Any company involved in the manufacturing, processing, or handling of food products can use HACCP to minimize or eliminate food safety hazards in their product. HACCP training is abundant online; conduct a simple search and find one that suits your organization’s needs.

Step 4 – Choose Your Certification Program

Obtaining SQF Certification is not only achievable for contractors; it’s possible for contractors at every level of the food and beverage industry, “from farm to fork.” The level of certification your company pursues will depend upon the current safety and quality program you have in place, as well as the goals of your organization.
Because the certifications progress in rigor from Level 1 to Level 3, small suppliers that are just getting started will begin with the Level 1 Fundamentals Program. Contractors with more established safety processes may pursue the Food Safety Program (Level 2) or the Food Safety and Quality Program (Level 3), depending on your ability to meet retailer demands. SQFI helps you determine which level is right for your company.

Step 5 – Explore SQFI-Licensed Certification Bodies

SQF audits must be conducted by certification bodies that have been licensed by the SQFI. (Certification bodies employ the auditors that conduct the site audits.) This verifies that they’re accredited to meet international standards (ISO/IEC 17065:2012, or subsequent versions as applicable). These partner certification bodies operate nationwide and around the world. Find a licensed certification body.
SQF audits take place around the world

Step 6 – Schedule a Pre-Assessment

This step is optional, but it’s highly recommended. Like a lot of things in life, overpreparing can only help. Working with an auditor in advance of the official audit enables suppliers to identify holes in the process that could impact their certification.

Step 7 – Schedule an Audit With Your Chosen Certification Body

Once a supplier is confident in their site’s command of the SQF Code, they can select a certification body that best aligns with their needs and schedule their official audit.

Step 8 – Undergo an Official Audit

To receive SQF certification upon an initial audit, suppliers must pass a document review and facility assessment. This ensures that proper information about food safety and quality is captured and that the process for handling food—including the knowledge of site employees—meets GFSI-benchmarked standards.

Become SQF-Certified and Win More Business

You can see from reading about these steps that it’s surprisingly easy to get your diploma—that is, for your organization to become SQF-certified. Okay, move your tassel from the right to the left. Now, step up and receive your sheepskin.
The SQF food safety management program helps food and beverage contractor companies like yours control food safety risks—and win those precious contracts with big brands. Increased profits and revenues await. You have your diploma in hand, the sun is shining, and the music is playing. The world is your oyster. What are you waiting for?
SQF Certification
Read the white paper: Win More Business with SQF Certification
Read the other blogs in this series:

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