What is SQF?

By Tim Coeck



Safe Quality Food (SQF) is a chain control system for the food safety of foodstuffs that was developed in Australia. At present, companies in Australia and America in particular are opting for a SQF-certification. Seeing that the SQF-programme is recognised by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), the requirements included in the programme are very similar to the BRC- and IFS requirements. The choice for a specific GFSI-accredited quality system is generally influenced by the market and the requirements of the client. The SQF-certification may therefore be of interest to you if you export products to Australia or America.

The SQF-programme consists of three levels. Only the level-two and level-three certifications are GFSI-accredited.
– Level one comprises a basic requirements programme that aims to ensure the production of food under safe circumstances
– Level two involves a risk analysis, based on the HACCP principles
– Level three involves additional requirements for the purpose of guaranteeing the quality of foodstuffs, in addition to their safety

The SQF-standard can be applied in every stage of the food production process (from agriculture to consumer products), but also in the sectors cattle feed, packaging materials, storage, distribution and sales. A separate module, each with specific requirements, was developed within the SQF-programme for each of these sectors.

The programme is linked to an annual certification audit, which is two-part: an evaluation of the documents and an inspection of the production environment. Any deviations found during the documentation audit must be corrected before the inspection can take place. Moreover, one of the three certification audits will take place unannounced.

What is new in version 8 of SQF?

Version 8 of the SQF standard was published in the spring of 2017. The changes implemented in version 8 are the result of the new FSMA-regulations in America, the publication of version 7 of GFSI and an analysis of the most frequently occurring reasons for recalls. An overview of the most important changes is provided below.
More stringent requirements regarding allergen management comprise an enforced separation of allergens in stockage and production areas, training of personnel, validation of cleaning procedures and inspections regarding correct labelling.

– A microbiological monitoring plan of the production environment is no longer limited to high risk zones. The frequency of monitoring and the relevant pathogens must be determined on the basis of a risk analysis.

– The existing requirements concerning “food defense” were expanded to “food fraud”. Both parts must be annually evaluated on the basis of a risk analysis and all necessary preventive measures must be implemented. This risk analysis must also take into account contamination and fraud at suppliers.

– As previously requested in BRC 7, there should be a procedure in place that guarantees the use of correct packaging and correct labels in product exchanges during the packaging process. An authorised person must monitor that this procedure is followed correctly and must record the result.

– The unannounced audit programme is to be further expanded. In addition to the mandatory 3-yearly unannounced audit, a company may opt to have all of the re-certification audits carried out unannounced. Whenever a company stipulates so-called “black out dates”, being the dates upon which an unannounced audit is not possible, then this must always be motivated.

– All raw materials, packaging and finished products must comply with the relevant laws, not only in the country where the production takes place, but also in the country where the sales are realised. This requirement is particularly relevant to companies that export to the USA and therefore must comply with the new FSMA regulations.

In addition to these changes in terms of content, the structure of the standard was reconsidered as well. The previous division into Level 1, 2 and 3 is now described in 3 separate documents: Food Safety Fundamentals, Food Safety Code and Quality Code. Moreover, the large number of different modules has been considerably reduced. Each of the remaining modules are described in a separate Food Safety Code: Primary Production (formerly module 7), Food retail (module 15), Manufacturing (module 11), Manufacturing of Food Packaging (module 13) and Storage & Distribution (module 12). The requirements regarding the quality management system, formerly described in module 2, were incorporated in each Food Safety Code. As is also the case in previous versions, a surveyable table stating which sector falls under which Food Safety Code is also provided.

January 2018


Version 8 will come into effect as of 2 January 2018. If you require assistance with the implementation of SQF or with the switch to version 8, then KTBA can conduct a norm test that provides an assessment of the elements still lacking in your present quality system.

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