Here Are Some Things to Consider Ahead of an SQF Certification
First off, congratulations on your decision to take on the challenge of becoming an SQF Certified site. As a site working with one of the most recognized GFSI schemes in the world, you are committing to providing your customers and supply chain with the highest quality product that exceeds safety expectations. With that said, this article will go through the step-by-step costs, both internally and externally, that you have to be aware of with SQF Certification.
The SQF Practitioner
Designating an employee as the SQF Practitioner is one of the most fundamental requirements of the SQF Code. Your SQF Practitioner must be a full-time employee of your site, have completed a HACCP based training course, be competent in implementing and maintaining Good Agricultural/Aquacultural/Manufacturing Practices, understand the SQF Code and the requirements to implement, and finally, maintain the SQF System relevant to the site’s scope of certification. You can hire someone with the certification and industry experience or you can pick one of your qualified internal employees and train them appropriately. While HACCP Certification courses range in cost, a full 2-Day course can cost as much as $1800 CAD. Many sites opt to send their SQF Practitioner for an in-class Advanced Practitioner course – these are available through SQFI or one of the Approved Training Partners. An estimated cost for one of these courses is approximately $1000 CAD. For learning how to implement the SQF Code at your site, another option is the Implementing SQF Systems course which is offered online for $850 CAD. Be aware that the actual time it takes to develop a fully functional and implemented SQF Program may vary, but an auditor will require 3 months’ worth of records to be able to properly assess your facility.
The SQF Consultant
Sometimes, your SQF Practitioner may require assistance for developing their SQF program and perfecting all aspects of it. At this stage, companies can elect to bring in a third-party consultant. Costs can vary depending on the consultant’s level of experience. Most consultant’s hourly rates can range anywhere between $100-$200 CAD, with the final costs varying based project scope, how elaborate your process is, and how much you can accomplish in-house versus with consultant support.
The Certification Site
Arguably the most extensive requirements of the SQF Code are those associated with the physical building and equipment. You have to ensure that your building and equipment do not pose a biological, chemical or physical contamination risk to your ingredients, packaging or final product.
Some of the elements to consider are:
• Appropriate materials used for all surfaces – you want to minimize the use of items such as wood, copper, glass and other rigid plastics that could potentially be corrosive, break or wear down and end up in the final product. • Appropriate floor drainage and sloping – if your facility does wet clean-up or has a process that involves the use of a lot of water, you will need to have drains set up at appropriate locations and floors sloped towards those drains to allow water to leave the processing area. Bacteria and pathogens need water to grow, so proper drainage is necessary. • Ease of cleaning – your equipment and surfaces need to be easy to clean as you do not want to have any potential contaminant to be left in a crack or crevice that could contaminate your product, be it from an allergen or bacterial contaminant. • Appropriate ventilation – depending on your facility, you do not want to have contaminated air moving through your facility, especially after a kill step is applied. • Appropriate water quality – depending on the facility and its source of water, whether it be from an on-site well or the municipality, you must ensure that the water used in your process and for cleaning meets the regulatory drinking water guidelines. • Appropriate lighting – your staff must be able to read all records, labels and perform any function that is needed in that area. This requires appropriate lighting. In addition, you should ensure the lights in all processing and warehousing areas are shatter proof so as not to become another potential contamination risk to the final product. • Hands free dispensing stations/sinks – hands free dispensers allow your employees to not recontaminate their hands after they have washed them. While not always required (for example, for lower-risk processes), these are highly recommended and required for high-risk areas. • Appropriate storage space – facilities are required to have the appropriate storage space to provide safe conditions for storing your product and ingredients. This includes having the appropriate refrigeration capacity, appropriate HVAC system to support the storage temperatures, and segregation of allergens and non-compatible materials. • Pest/Outside Environment Prevention – Your site must be able to protect the product and equipment from outside sources of contamination such as pests and the environment. This is done by ensuring that the structure does not have any openings and that pest stations are in place.
After your internal processes are all in place, you will need to reach out to a certification body to perform an SQF audit. You can find a list of approved Certification Bodies here – www.sqfi.com All certification bodies are ISO 17065 accredited and use only certified and approved auditors to conduct the certification activities. Next, you need to be aware of the registration fees associated with the SQF database – ReposiTrak. Based on your business size there is the registration fee with the SQF database. You can see the fee structure below as it was updated for 2019.
The next consideration is deciding if you need a pre-assessment audit. A pre-assessment audit is not mandatory, but is recommended to provide a “health check” of the site’s implemented SQF Food Safety System. A pre-assessment audit can assist in identifying gaps in the site’s SQF Food Safety System so that corrective action can occur before engaging the selected certification body for a full certification audit. It can be conducted using internal resources, a registered SQF consultant, or a registered SQF food safety auditor. The pre-assessment is typically a one-day audit with an approximate cost of $2000 CAD.
The next stage is the actual Initial Certification audit. Both a desk and facility audit are required for your initial certification, but following this only one annual facility recertification audit is performed. Desk audits can be completed remotely over the phone, through skype, dropbox, email or other means. Remote desk audits allow the site to save the costs associated with getting the auditor to the facility location, but also comes with its own challenges such as providing the appropriate documentation to the auditor in a timely manner or being able to fully comprehend what is being asked for. The desk audit only looks at the procedures you have in place to ensure that your documentation is ready for the facility audit. After corrective actions are all closed out, the site would proceed to the facility audit which is the actual audit used for certification and scoring. The cost for an initial certification audit process starts at approximately $6500 CAD and increases with facility size, number of employees and number of HACCP plans. This cost includes the desk audit, facility audit, technical review, corrective actions closeout, certification decision and associated administration fees as part of the process. It does not include expenses of the auditor, but in most cases your Certification Body will attempt to provide the auditor within the appropriate categories, who is closest to your facility.
The SQF Certification requires annual recertification to maintain compliance. As the recertification audit does not require a desk audit, the cost for recertification starts at $4500 CAD and increases with facility size, number of employees and number of HACCP plans.
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