How to Prepare for SQF Certification with Icicle
There are three different layers of oversight that every food business must consider. The first is government regulations like FSMA, which are mandatory in your jurisdiction and for the purposes of exporting to others. The second layer is specialty foods regulations, such as organic, non-GMO, vegan, Kosher, Halal, and the like. The third layer is driven not by government or consumers, but by retailers. This is where the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recognized certifications come into play. In the North American market, chief among these certifications is the Safe Quality Food (SQF) program.
The Benefits of SQF Certification
In a recent survey, researchers found that 92% of SQF practitioners, auditors, and stakeholders believe that passing SQF certification provides trust in the food manufacturing process. The same study showed that 86% of those surveyed report that big customers and retailers demand GFSI certification, such as SQF. This is the case with big name retailers like Costco, Sobeys, Target, Tesco, and Walmart.
Researcher Tetty Havinga writes that there are several drivers for retailers to require such certifications:
- Certifications like SQF are a safeguard against liability claims
- Programs that focus on quality, in addition to food safety, ensure high-quality products
- SQF helps standardize requirements across their suppliers
- SQF helps avoid recalls and bad press
- Higher standards help build consumer confidence in the retailer’s brand
- SQF helps companies outsource expensive quality controls
SQF certification carries international recognition of safe, quality food that leads to worldwide possibilities with the biggest retailers. The newest version of the SQF Code reflects the demand for safer sourcing, production, and transportation of food. So why not get this certification yesterday?
The reality is that SQF certification can be difficult to attain and maintain, with lots of paperwork, procedures, and annual renewals. Icicle can make SQF certification much easier – here’s how.
Steps to SQF Certification
Becoming SQF Certified is a straightforward process of seven steps:
- Learn about the SQF Code.
- Register your company in the SQF Assessment Database.
- Designate and train an SQF Practitioner.
- Obtain proposals from certifying bodies.
- Conduct a gap analysis.
- Choose a certification body and schedule an audit.
- Work with the certifying auditor as they conduct two initial audits:
- Documentation review to ensure you’re ready on paper. This also allows time to correct mistakes before the facility audit.
- Facility audits verify that the SQF System is effective and all elements interact properly, hazards are identified and controlled, and the company is committed to meeting SQF standards.
Passing the initial audit doesn’t guarantee continued certification. Depending on your score, your company will have annual or bi-annual re-certification audits, including one unannounced audit within the first three years. SQF certified companies and those working toward certification must familiarize themselves with SQF Code Edition 8 and update their procedures before an audit occurs.
New Things to Know: Food Fraud and Food Defense
SQF (and other GFSI-certified programs) are focusing more and more on the global problems of food fraud – the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of food products or false or misleading statements made for economic gain – and food defence, which is aimed at preventing intentional food contamination by biological, chemical, physical, or radiological hazards.
Two new prevention systems, closely related to HACCP, have been introduced to address food fraud and food defense. VACCP (Vulnerability Assessment and Critical Control Points) plans address the global food safety and quality problem that has been widely reported in markets like olive oil and honey. VACCP plans can help satisfy new SQF code requirements, like Item 126.96.36.199: “The site’s food fraud vulnerability assessment… shall include the site’s susceptibility to raw material or ingredient substitution, mislabeling, dilution and counterfeiting which may adversely impact food safety.”
TACCP (Threat Assessment and Critical Control Points) is a program that focuses on employee background and facility security. By systematically analyzing employee’s background checks and increasing security, threats are minimized. A TACCP plan can satisfy new parts of the SQF code, like item 188.8.131.52: “Vehicles (e.g. trucks/vans/containers) shall be secured from tampering using a seal or other agreed upon, acceptable device or system.”
How Icicle Prepares Your Company for SQF Certification
SQF Code is beginning to push automation and software solutions as a way to maintain excellence. Item 184.108.40.206 requires that software be validated as appropriate, and auditors will determine if the SQF system in use is truly effective. Meeting the demands for software is a small reason to choose Icicle; the big reason that users love Icicle is that it makes every aspect of managing a food business simple, including certifications.
Whether your company is just beginning or needs a better solution to earn and maintain certifications, Icicle helps you through each step with integrated and time-saving features.
Reusable templates can be created in Icicle to enable employees to efficiently react with corrective actions to events that can place the business such as recalls. This feature also improves efficiency for routine tasks such as lab tests, inspections, and preventative maintenance.
HACCP, TACCP, and VACCP
Icicle walks you through setting up HACCP, TACCP, and VACCP plans – step by step – so that you can satisfy food safety, food fraud, and food defense requirements. The intelligent system aggregates anonymized data to provide smart suggestions, which makes the whole process faster. By setting up your HACCP, TACCP, and VACCP plans in Icicle’s digital model of your facility, you benefit in the long-term as your plan can change and grow easily with your company.
TACCP and VACCP concerns are addressed in Icicle’s Assessment feature. Managers answer customizable questions about an employee’s or vendor’s potential economic or ideological motivations that could lead to food adulteration or fraud. It also looks at the potential of ingredients, materials, and packaging to be adulterated for financial gain or terrorist purposes. The feature uses statistical algorithms to generate a risk profile score, allowing risks to be mitigated.
The Vendor Management feature checks for vendor certifications to ensure every ingredient entering your facility is as safe as possible. This feature also helps create plans for alternate sourcing, fulfilling VACCP requirements. Learn more about what Icicle’s Vendor Management can do here.
Virtual Audits by Remote Access
The SQF Practitioner can grant the auditor online access to facility documents, building trust and transparency and minimizing auditor time in the facility.
The most cost-effective way to prepare for audits is to never find your company unprepared. Icicle helps you continuously maintain audit-ready standards so that you’ll never have to play expensive catch-up or fail an unannounced audit.
Icicle’s Alerts feature goes a long way toward preventing mishaps by notifying users of deviations at Critical Control Points (CCP), like a refrigerator’s temperature rising above its operational limit, so that the problem can be corrected immediately. Other mandatory records, like waste storage and disposal, are readily accessible and, tied into the Alerts infrastructure, help employees stay on top of tasks before they become mistakes.
Real-time alerts are one of the reasons that Food Safety and Quality Coordinator Christopher Foster of recently SQF certified company Ontario Pride Eggs finds Icicle’s automation a worthwhile investment:
“Our immediate return on investment for Icicle is real-time reporting that can capture non-conformities as they happen. If you receive real-time information and alerts, then you can act on it within minutes instead of hours – and fix it before it becomes a problem. It’s all on my dashboard; I can access Icicle through my computer, my tablet, or my phone.” — Christopher Foster, Ontario Pride Eggs
The Incident Management feature quickly allows the SQF Practitioner to launch an incident and reference suggested corrective actions. Root cause analysis and preventative measures can be added to the CCP’s plan. Employees can be flagged for re-training if necessary, and documents can be flagged for review.
Task Management and User Teams
Any task, whether day-to-day preventative maintenance or one-time assignments like a major equipment overhaul, can be assigned to individuals in User Teams through the Task Management feature. Integrated with Incident Management and Alerts, supervisors can monitor and be certain that corrective actions have been taken to fix any problem and maintain readiness.
Visitor Access Component
Per TACCP, visitors to the facility are required to be fully trained in safety or be escorted at all times. Icicle’s Visitor Access Component creates an account for regular personnel like delivery staff and contracted maintenance so that they fill out entry paperwork only once, saving time and building trust. Icicle can print temporary badges for visitors, increasing facility awareness of who should and shouldn’t be in sensitive areas while also fulfilling TACCP requirements. When threats are identified, visitors can also be flagged and locked out.
Enhanced Traceability and Automatic Mass Balance Calculations identify exactly which lots contain which ingredients, and how much of that ingredient remains, and does so in 90 seconds. When responding to a potential recall or simply pulling up the data during a re-certification audit, the speed and detail of Icicle’s traceability is unparalleled. This information is centralized and available on more devices than binder or spreadsheet systems.
Icicle users report that audit times have been cut 40% due to the readiness of thorough documentation and the ease of finding information. The ease of keeping records and finding them during audits is one reason Terry Goulah, Vice President of Operations and co-Founder of allergen-free snack company FreeYumm, uses Icicle:
“To be honest, I don’t think we could have [achieved SQF certification] without Icicle. They were impressed that we could show them any information they wanted, like where those products went. From my standpoint, that made the audit go very smoothly.” — Terry Goulah, FreeYumm
Earning SQF certification is only the beginning. You need a plan to stay certified. Automation never sleeps and never takes a day off. Icicle’s 24/7 watchful eye is the easiest way to grow your brand and increase profits by earning and maintaining certifications. Your company goals are closer than you think with the right management system to help you there.