Woman in lab coat examining growing food in greenhouse as part of Safe Quality Food (SQF) food safety management system.

Cynthia Weber

Director of Food Safety Training and Curriculum

What is SQF: A Look At the Safe Quality Food Scheme

Jun 5, 2022

What Does SQF Stand For?

SQF stands for Safe Quality Food. It is a Food Safety Management Certification Scheme, created and managed by the SQF Institute and is used to control food safety risks. Once your food safety management system is implemented it is audited and certified by a third-party certification body.

The Food Safety Certification requirements provide a rigorous system to manage food safety risks and provide safe products for use by companies in the food industry. It is a GFSI-recognized food safety certification. This allows your customers to have confidence in your food safety program and know that you have a rigorous food safety system in place.

Edition 9 is the current version of the Safe Quality Food Code and was released in October 2020.

What is SQF Certification?

SQF Certification is an important influence in the food industry today. In addition to helping companies build an effective food safety system, the certification provides evidence of compliance to that system and provides confidence in your product by customers and others in the industry. SQF Certification is recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative, GFSI.

What Are The Benefits of the Safe Quality Food Scheme?

Managing Risk

First and foremost, building your food safety management system will provide your company with effective management of food safety hazards by creating an environment capable of producing safe product and a management system to continually manage, monitor, validate and improve the system.

Maintain Current Customers

Statistics show that approximately 1 out of 4 certified companies are asking their suppliers to achieve certification. Chances are that if you have not been asked yet, you will be asked in the near future. Starting on your certification can help you stay competitive and qualified to work with your current customers.

Increase Your Market Reach

Large retailers and multinational manufacturers or processors are also demanding certification of their suppliers. SQF Certification means you are qualified to supply these organizations or their suppliers, opening up a large market for your products.

Prepare for New Regulations

Countries across the globe are making changes to food safety regulations, including the United States and its Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The newest version, Edition 9, prepares your organization to meet many or most of the FSMA requirements.

What are the SQF Levels and Modules?

There are 3 Levels of Certification

  • Food Safety Fundamentals: This level does not require HACCP and is not recognized by GFSI.
  • Food Safety Code (Previously known as Level 2)
  • Quality (Previously known as Level 3). This is for those who are already certified to an SQF Food Safety Code.

There are different versions of the code for different types of companies. They include:

  • Food Manufacturing
  • Pet Food Manufacturing
  • Animal Feed Manufacturing
  • Animal Product Manufacturing
  • Dietary Supplement Manufacturing
  • Storage and Distribution
  • Manufacture of Food Packaging
  • Primary Plant Production
  • Primary Animal Production
  • Aquaculture
  • Quality Code

A food facility will use the Code that applies to its role in the food chain.

You will choose the Food Safety Code that is specific to your industry and then follow the requirements in that code. Module 2 is the backbone of the food safety system. This module describes the requirements that assure product safety.

In addition to Module 2, a company will also use an industry-specific module that sets out the requirements for the industry-specific GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices or Prerequisite Program) requirements. If you have any doubts at all about which to choose, we recommend confirming with your certification body that you have selected, to find out which is the correct Code for your business.

The SQF Code for all of the segments can be downloaded for free from SQFI.

How Do We Get SQF Certified?

Basic Steps to Certification

  1. Download the Code and Guidance documents
  2. Learn what is required for the food safety management system
  3. Select the applicable modules for your industry segment and activities
  4. Register in the SQFI database (Reliance database at www.SQFI.com)
  5. Designate & Train your SQF Practitioner
  6. Design, document and implement the required processes and food safety fundamentals
  7. Train your internal audit team
  8. Run your system, collect records, perform internal audits, management review and HACCP team meetings.
  9. Make corrections and improvements to your system.
  10. Select a certification body
  11. Schedule and complete your audits

How Long Does it Take to Get Certified?

Getting ready for registration involves building your Food Safety Management System, documenting that system, and implementing it throughout your organization. A 2012 survey of certified companies showed an average of 8-12 months to prepare for certification. Based on information from our visitors and customers, the average time for implementation is approximately one year, however the time frame will vary depending on your organization’s specific circumstances. Your timeframe maybe shorter or longer than average.

Consider the following:

  • Do you have a Food Safety Management System or parts of a system in place?
  • How much time can personnel devote to working on the Food Safety Management System development each week?
  • What tools or assistance will you use?
  • How many products, product groups or process lines do you have?
  • How complex are your processes?

Safe Quality Food Editions:

What Is SQF Edition 9?

Edition 9 is the current version of the Safe Quality Food Code and was released in October 2020.

What Is SQF Edition 8?

Edition 8.1 is the previous version of the Safe Quality Food Code. Learn more

This version of the code, became effective January 1, 2018. Companies are expected to begin their transition to the new edition.

What is SQF Edition 7.2?

Edition 7.2 is no longer the current version of the code and is no longer used for certification audits. SQF Edition 9 is the current version and is used for certification audits.


Cynthia Weber

Director of Food Safety Training and Curriculum

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