Achieving SQF Certification: Actionable Advice for Manufacturers

Achieving SQF Certification: Actionable Advice for Manufacturers

Achieving the Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification is no small feat, but it's a crucial milestone that can elevate your business. Here’s how we at Zina's Salads Inc. navigated this journey, and how you can too.


1. Start with a Safe Product

The foundation of any successful SQF certification journey is ensuring that your product is safe. This means implementing basic food safety measures and maintaining high hygiene standards. At Zina's Salads, we began by rigorously enforcing cleanliness and sanitation protocols to ensure our products met consumer safety expectations from the outset.


2. Seek Expert Guidance

We began our journey as a small mom-and-pop shop, and like many small businesses, we lacked the resources for extensive upgrades. Hiring a respected advisor was a game-changer for us. Our advisor started our training, put together the program, and guided us through what to consider and look for. This step is crucial in understanding the path to certification. Conventional wisdom in food manufacturing suggests that external expertise can provide fresh perspectives and essential knowledge to navigate complex certifications.


3. Implement and Document Quality Assurance Processes

 Even if you can't afford significant upgrades immediately, start by documenting your quality assurance processes. This includes:

- Recording safety protocols

- Implementing small but meaningful upgrades

- Training your staff rigorously

At Zina's Salads, we started by documenting everything from ingredient sourcing to final product checks. This documentation not only prepared us for future certification but also improved our current operations. Remember, meticulous documentation is often half the battle in achieving compliance with food safety standards.


4. Develop a Clear Path to Certification

Understand the financial and operational burdens of achieving SQF certification. This includes:

- Budgeting for dedicated staff and facility upgrades

- Planning for necessary equipment, like x-ray machines and temperature monitoring systems

- Anticipating the additional training required for your team

For instance, we knew we needed significant upgrades such as new floors, drain systems, and refrigeration. By planning these improvements in stages, we managed to spread out costs and avoid financial strain. Conventional wisdom here is to view certification as a long-term investment rather than an immediate expense.


5. Invest in Custom Software

Develop or acquire custom software to track your quality assurance efforts and operations. This was vital for us at Zina's Salads, as it allowed us to streamline our processes and ensure nothing was overlooked. Effective tracking and documentation are key components of SQF certification. Our custom software enabled us to trace every step of our production, making compliance easier and more transparent.


6. Focus on Incremental Upgrades

While it might be challenging to implement all the required upgrades at once, focus on incremental improvements:

- Upgrade facilities step-by-step

- Invest in necessary machinery gradually

- Continuously train your staff to adhere to evolving standards

For example, we initially started with GMP certification, achieving a 98% rating, which laid the groundwork for future improvements. Conventional wisdom in food manufacturing suggests that incremental upgrades are more sustainable and less financially overwhelming.


7. Understand Client Expectations

By the end of the day, client requirements and expectations will guide your certification journey. Ensure that your business plan and operations align with client demands and safety standards. This alignment will help you grow faster and more sustainably. At Zina's Salads, understanding our clients' need for reliable, high-quality products was a driving force behind our certification efforts.


8. Persevere Through Challenges

The path to SQF certification is not a straight line. There will be highs and lows, and achieving certification might take longer than expected. Do not get discouraged. Understand that the process itself is a testament to your commitment to quality and safety. At Zina's Salads, it took years of persistent effort and gradual improvements before we finally achieved certification.


Key Takeaways

- Start Safe: Begin with a product that meets basic safety standards.

- Get Expert Help: Hire an advisor to guide you.

- Document Everything: Keep detailed records of your processes.

- Plan Financially: Understand and prepare for the costs involved.

- Use Technology: Implement custom software for tracking.

- Incremental Improvements: Focus on gradual upgrades.

- Client Focus: Align with client needs and standards.

- Stay Committed: Persevere through challenges.


Achieving SQF certification demonstrates your long-term commitment to quality and safety. It’s a challenging journey, but with careful planning and perseverance, you can achieve it.