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SQF Audits: Levels, Scoring, & What To Do If You Fail An SQF Audit

Congratulations you have decided to take a great step in your food safety management program. Deciding to pursue an SQF certification can seem extremely daunting, however, there are plenty of resources available to help you reach your food safety goals.

SQF has several different levels to their certifications as well as a fundamentals program to help you get started. The SQF Fundamentals program is a way to help you get serious about getting a certification. This program offers an easy step-by-step guide on how to become GFSI certified if you currently only have a HACCP certification¹. The next important step is to complete a pre-assessment prior to the audit occurring. The pre-assessment is a way to gauge how your facility is performing against the current standard. It will take the same amount of time to complete as the real one you will do to get certified¹.

The next thing to go over is the levels that SQF has for their audits. These levels are a great way to work on building your food safety program.

Levels of SQF

Level 1: This is the basic level and applies to low-risk, small, and new companies that need SQF to expand their business.

Level 2: This level uses the greater GFSI standard and you must already have a HACCP certification for your facility.

Level 3: This is the highest level you can obtain and follows the same layout as Level 2, but the application of the standard is held to a higher execution Level than in level 2.

SQF Audit Scoring

A minor non-conformity is something that if not addressed it could become a risk to food safety, but that risk is not so high that it would not cause a major incident (recall, production shut down, or health risk). A major non-conformity is something that poses a threat to food safety and quality that would cause a major incident if not fixed. All major non-conformities must be resolved within 30 calendar days. A critical non-conformity is a breakdown of control(s) at a critical control point, prerequisite program, or other process steps likely to cause a significant public health risk. This is also assigned to a non-conformities if the supplier fails to take effective corrective action within the timeframe agreed¹. Critical non-conformities must be addressed within 14 calendar days.

The way the score is calculated is that all the points from nonconformities (X) are added up and then subtracted from the total points (100-X). Then based on the score that you received you will be given a rating.

What Happens If You Fail A SQF Audit?

If you have received a score of less than 70% and have failed your SQF audit, don’t worry, there is still a way to get your SQF certification. You will have 30 days to reschedule a site visit with the auditor to go over all the corrective actions for the non-conformities that were found during the initial inspection². Some things to think about when you are going through your non-conformities.

Important Questions to Ask Yourself About Your SQF Non-Conformities

  • Do I understand what the problem is?

When looking at the list of nonconformities try to identify exactly what the problem is and where it fits into your facility. For example, does the problem affect food safety or quality, was it a document non-conformity, what is a maintenance-related issue? Identifying what exactly the problem is will help to understand what all needs to be addressed short and long term.

  • Is this a problem that I can fix on my own or do I need assistance?

Some problems are solved just on the quality team side, however, others may require help from production or maintenance.

  • Was this issue a one-time occurrence or is it a repeated one?

One-time occurrences can happen to anyone and can be the result of a new operator, someone getting busy and accidentally leaving something where it does not belong. This can easily be addressed by training or a reminder. Often these are minor and easily taken care of. Repeat one could present their own problems. This could be a result of communal knowledge that is not written down and followed exactly the same way by each person. To fix these problems it often takes more involvement from management and multiple departments.

  • Who is able to help fix the problem and maintain the solution?

Depending on the identified problem, the FSQ manager and staff may be able to fix and maintain it internally. However, there could be some things that need to be addressed by the preventative maintenance program, or a production check done by the operators and supervisors. The goal of corrective actions is to bring the identified nonconformity up to audit readiness standards at all times.

Major GFSI audits like SQF may seem daunting at the beginning. Being able to select a level of audit that matches your facility's current food safety program is a big bonus for this standard. If you are a small business that has just started developing its food safety program you can choose a level that matches your readiness instead of jumping straight into the strictest audit standard. Then not only is it important to understand the non-conformities but also how to effectively resolve them. Each non-conformity will need to be addressed on its own and needs to be solved in a way that is sustainable and is prevented from reoccurring. Good luck with your next SQF audit! Remember you are not alone in your food safety journey. There are plenty of resources on the SQF website to help you.

Did you receive a nonconformity on your last SQF audit related to documentation? Document Compliance Network is here to help! We can help automate your supplier documentation so you have all your required documents and are audit ready at all times. Our software is user-friendly and takes an average of 2 hours to set up.



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