SQF Becomes First Internationally Accredited Third-Party Assessment Program to Require Unannounced Audits

The Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI), a division of the Food Marketing Institute, announced today the incorporation of an unannounced audit protocol to be included in the next revision of the SQF Code (SQF). With the support of its Technical Advisory Council, representing SQF stakeholders, SQF will become the first internationally accredited third-party assessment program to require unannounced audits. Robert Garfield, senior vice president, SQFI, issued the following statement:

“SQFI’s unannounced audit protocol will be introduced in February 2014 and implemented in July 2014, and will require that one out of every three SQF audits will be unannounced.

“We made the decision to enhance the rigor of the SQFI program after consulting with numerous stakeholders. We understand that the food industry must respond to and meet the nation’s food safety challenges more rapidly and effectively, which requires a more nimble approach to our program.

“Although many stakeholders, such as governments and consumer organizations, recognize the efficacy of the SQFI food safety management program, unannounced audits will elevate the SQF Program to the next level by providing a standard that will prepare SQF-Certified suppliers to be audit-ready at any time. We believe that each facility must be prepared every day for an assessment.”

24 Responses to “SQF Becomes First Internationally Accredited Third-Party Assessment Program to Require Unannounced Audits”

  1. Bryan Reynolds says:

    1. How will the facilities be chosen for unannounced audits?
    2. What if the facility is not in operation on the day that the auditor shows up (i.e. only office personnel)? Will the audit be conducted on only the records and the structure or be rescheduled?
    3. Does the facility have the option to decline the unannounced audit?
    4. If so, what are the ramifications for the facility?

  2. Bryan Reynolds says:

    5. If the auditor shows up and the facility is not in operation (see #2) and audit is not performed, does the facility have to pay any type of fees?

  3. Sam says:

    So every facility, at every SQF certified company must, from now on, have an SQF practitioner on site 24/7 in case an auditor decides to show up and disrupt operations for 3 days? Give me a break. No vacation for SQF practitioners? I will be looking to other, more reasonable GFSI auditing options in 2015. We have FDA, state dept of ag (two different states), USDA, organic, kosher, AND 12 to 20 customer audits EVERY year. And I can only presume that you will send “unannounced” auditors during our busiest production times, when we need all our resources to, uhh you know, MAKE FOOD!!!! Our business is not “suffering through numerous redundant audits”. We “make food”. That’s what our customers pay for, and SQF randomly sending inspectors will not add any value to our customers. Seriously.

  4. Benson says:

    Hi,

    Does it mean for our 2014, 2015 and 2016 audits, we can pick one of these audits to be unannounced? Say, we pick 2016, 2019, 2022 audits will have to be unannounced?

    Thanks,

    Benson

  5. This announcement is an unexpected twist. I attended the SQF conference in November and nothing was mentioned about unannounced audits becoming a criteria for SQF certification.

    My company fully understands the need for the SQF food safety system within a facility to be ready at all times, but the SQF audits themselves are a major undertaking for each of our facilities each year. We require that all management staff including plant superintendent, asst. superintendent, QA manager, sanitation manager and several supporting staff be available. Without prior notice, having these people avaliable is difficult.

    I am the corporate SQF manager and am required to be at all audits. We have 11 facilities certified. If one is scheduled and another is unannounced, having support at both facilities is not possible.

    Again, my company understands the reasoning behind this decision, but want SQFI to realize the hardships an unannounced SQF audit will cause our facilites.

    Thank you for your time. If possible, I would like a reply to our concerns.

    Leanna Kilpatrick
    Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation

    • Joy Madsen says:

      I agree with Leanna from Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation also. Our company understands and welcomes unannounced audits but at the same time being the Corporate Senior HACCP Coordinator and SQF Manager I also am required to be at all audit. We have 5 facilities certified and I also have many questions.

      Thank you also for your time and if possible provide a reply for our concerns.

    • Jonathan Davis says:

      Managing a plant to meet SQF quality standards at all times – the stated intention – is absolutely not the same as being prepared for an exhaustive audit at all times. Indeed the new policy seems designed with complete disregard, even outright contempt, for smaller companies with modest but adequate staffing. The claim that this change was made “…after consulting with numerous stakeholders…” is highly dubious. We deal with dozens of “stakeholders” and we’ve yet to talk to anybody with whom this change was discussed.
      The reasons this is a problem are obvious:
      a) Key QA personnel do actually take vacations and sometimes sick days
      b) More than half of the preparation for an annual audit is in reading and adopting arbitrary changes issued by SQF to codes and procedures. SQF does an absolutely terrible job in noting changes to policies and advising companies of these changes – indeed SQF would fail their own audits as far as noting and indexing policy and procedure changes.
      c) There is a suspicion that this is designed primarily to increase costs to SQF audited plants, by increasing the number of audits and re-audits. The cost is already quite onerous

      We are very anxious to hear your response and solutions to these issues

      Jonathan Davis
      GLCC Co.

    • Norma Conner says:

      I am surprised by this announcement and agree that this was not a topic that was mentioned during the 2013 SQF International Conference. I need to understand what the expectations are for how to conduct an unannounced audit when contracts with certification bodies are in place and the site being audited is paying for that service. Does this allow the CB to conduct more than 1 audit a year and is the expense of that audit to be at the site’s expense? I believe this needs more thought before putting into practice.

  6. Torjo Sagua says:

    Hi,FSSC 22000 require them since version 3 (July 2013).

  7. Jessica says:

    I agree with Leanna. Unannounced full audits would be a real issue. I could see some kind of unannounced “check up” or mini audit, but the full blown three day audit being completely unannounced seems impractical for all parties involved. I was also at the conference and heard nothing about this. I think this needs to be more carefully considered beofre a rollout. Thnk you.

  8. Theresa Kentner says:

    I will be checking back to see how this is addressed. There are a slew of questions and comments springing up about how this will/should be handled.

  9. Susan Wise says:

    I have the same concerns as far as manager/practitioner availability.
    I also have a concern to the timing as it pertains to when our certification expires and the 30 days prior or 30 days after the certification expiration. Will we have to go through more than one audit per year or will the the unannounced audit be within that time period.

    Thank you.

  10. Congratulations to SQF for making unannounced audits. Without going into detail…This is a long time coming.

  11. Gentlemen, Ladies,
    I echo Leanna Kilpatrick’s comments, and lament the decision, as well as your lack of response.
    My issues are on the opposite side of the spectrum. Our company is small (40 employees), but mighty.

    We all wear many hats, and do not have staff that are only dedicated to the SQF requirements. Maintaining the system and documentation is but a part of many of our respective duties.
    The SQF audit, 3 days long, takes at least three key personnel off the production floor, as well as myself, from my daily duties.
    Also, there is no mention of how this will actually work. As SQF is at a minimum a 5000 expense for us, we budget for it, annually,
    And schedule it during the slower part of our year.
    If I get audited, say, in 6 months from my yearly date, you increase my certification fees by 50% for that year, as well as place an undue hardship on my team and production schedule.EXACTLY, how will this work? What if I have no production scheduled for the days I am audited, say during plant closures, or key staff are on vacation?
    SQF makes a lot of noise about stakeholders, yet seems to ignore them, and their concerns. I have never heard this mentioned, in any news letter, conference, etc.
    How can SQF unilaterally make such a decision, without a time set aside for comments by the people who pay them?
    SQFI needs to understand that their decisions should not be made in a vacuum, are not one size fits all solutions, and begin explaining how it will address the specific issues created by what seems like another marketing ploy, to differentiate itself from the other protocols, which, incidentally, are looking better and better.
    Please respond,
    Michael Gagne
    President
    Gagne Foods

  12. Mary says:

    Does this mandate apply to all SQF certified facilities, or are there exceptions based on the business profile of the company? I am thinking of contract packaging facilities that do not just have food and in fact food packing is less than 1/4 of their business. An unannounced audit could very likely happen on days when there is no food product running.

  13. Doren Reddy says:

    This for sure comes as a surprise.

    So what does the 1 out of every 3 audits actually mean- once every 3 year? So if my first audit is unannounced the next 2 will be scheduled? How will i know when to schedule audit? Is there going to be a timeframe for unannounced audits? Are survelliance audits part of the 3 audits?

    I also have the same concerns as Leanna above- what about time off work for important personnel that needs to be available during the audits? or i guess you could say that we are also evaluating the effectiveness of designated alternates that are responsible for those roles and responsibilities in their absences?

    Thanks,
    Doren Reddy
    Capital Packers Inc.

  14. Dustin Daniels says:

    I mirror the sentiment of the response above me.

    Previously in some GFSI audit program, there had been the ability for a company to go to a voluntary unannounced audit schedule. This voluntary achievement could then be used as an accolade or something to set the company apart from others. However, making it a mandatory part of the SQF audit program has made it, in my eyes, a very undesirable program.

    It should always be the goal of a company to be audit ready everyday. However, the resources required to go through an SQF for days at a time is not something conducive to a spur of the moment audit. Additionally, a company cannot restrict business travel, training or conferences, critical to continued business growth, for the sake of keeping resources ready in case of an unannounced audit.

    Is this the stance all GFSI approved audit schemes will take? I do not see how the hardship faced by affected companies is offset by the perceived benefit of this addition.

  15. Dustin Stark says:

    It is appreciated that SQFI is looking for new ways to verify the safety of our national food supply, however, unannounced audits will be very difficult on most manufacturers.

    SQF audits require the full attention of our entire QA staff for multiple days making it necessary for other departments to be available to manage the daily operations of the plant. With our company having a small management staff it requires careful planning to make sure all key personnel are available for the audit dates. There would be an even greater strain on the management staff if there is a scheduled customer audit on the day the auditor arrives unannounced.

    SQF also requires that all product types under the scope of the audit are being produced at the time of review. This also requires production to be scheduled accordingly. How would it be handled if an auditor shows up during a total plant shut down due to a scheduled culinary boiler inspection or other maintenance activity?

    I think that it is important to remember that food manufacturers do not go without unannounced audits. The FDA typically does a filing review and retail labeling inspection unannounced every two years. Additionally, the USDA and (for us in Wisconsin) the Wisconsin Department of Ag Trade and Consumer Protection inspect unannounced approximately every six months, however, they do not require the time, resources and precise scheduling that is needed to fulfill the scope of an SQF audit.

    Preparation is not the act of scrambling to fulfill requirements and hide faults, but to be ready for the audit process by organizing documentation and production to make the audit as streamlined and efficient as possible. This is appreciated as much by the auditors themselves, as it is by the plant management staff. I believe that requiring unannounced audits shines a negative light on manufacturers by giving consumers the belief that we are trying to hide something from them. As a manufacturer of food products that are distributed internationally, we have dedicated ourselves to the highest standards of food safety and quality.

    Thank You

    Dustin Stark
    Welcome Dairy, Inc.

  16. I agree with the first response comments. I just got e-mail confirmation from Kari L. Kochenderfer (GFSI – North American Representative) that this unannounced audit protocol is not part of the current or currently planned GFSI Standard. Without the GFSI requiring this across all the schemes, it will steer some of the current and potential SQF customers to other approved schemes. In a small company like ours, being prepared for a announced audit is onerous enough. To OPTIONALLY absorb the cost of staffing preparations to be ready on any day, and to OPTIONALLY absorb the production delays due to the staffing disruption is an option not preferred unless GFSI mandates this across all schemes. If we accepted this protocol it would OPTIONALLY increase our overhead costs that would be passed onto customers, and cause unanticipated production delays from the document gathering needed. Walmart and Target only ask that food suppliers be GFSI schemed, and unless they insist on SQF schemes, there is poor financial incentive to go along with the unannounced audit protocol unless your profit margin is really good. I don’t see the public clamoring for SQF certified food.

  17. Ben Marchant says:

    I applaud SQFI for taking the inevitable steps leading to unannounced audits. Buyers have made it clear for many years that this is the direction they wish standards to go, and it will help make SQF increasingly relevant within food safety in the US.

    That said, the claim that it is the ‘First Internationally Accredited Third-Party Assessment Program to Require Unannounced Audits’ is somewhat dubious at best, and seems to ignore the unannounced audit requirements of other GFSI standards, namely GLOBALG.A.P, who has had compulsory unannounced audits for many years.

  18. Robert Wright says:

    Our comments on your announcement. SQFI would add value to Suppliers programs by unannounced plant inspections once in a 3yr cycle. Plant inspections that are process audit format with inputs=outputs. The majority of auditors can identify major and critical N/C after a few hours in the plant. Full blown assessments of the FSMS and Management reviews, for two years, and a unannounced inspection based upon the risk at the plant, within the three year cycle. The inspection with high risk processes(roasting nuts, pasteurization, etc.)would require more value added time in the manufacturing plant. Suppliers would gain additional value added service with unannounced inspections. This would keep the process simple and extremely valuable to suppliers.
    Thank you for your consideration.

    Robert Wright
    Staff Quality Specialist
    The Hershey Company

  19. Bill Meed says:

    I think this could result in company’s changing Cert Bodies every other year. What would happen if your company changes Cert Body without notifying the old Cert Body? If they showed up they wouldn’t be permitted to preform the audit. The auditor may have to sit for hours in order for our company to notify senior management. We as your customers need to have a say in a major change like this. We are also a seasonal Company and don’t run all year long. This may also push company’s to other audit schemes like ISO.

  20. ANDRES VENEGAS says:

    Es buena esta medida, sin embargo creo que el terminó “no anunciada” debe de contener una lógistica bien definida. Que no afecte la operación de la empresa y a la vez la del instituto.

    Definir correctamente el alcanze de la auditoria,asi como la duración.

    También es importante que el costo de esta auditoria corra por parte del instituto para evitar elevar el costo de producción de la empresa.

    Gracias.

    Atentamente.
    Andrés Venegas Casaos.

  21. I understand people’s initial concert about an unannounced audit… but after hearing LeAnn discuss the parameters around it, and the benefits, I think it is really a good thing. Check out the FAQ on the SQFI documents page for good details, but in general:

    A big benefit – there has been a negative perception held by some consumer groups, government agencies and retailer/buyers that the audit doesn’t mean anything since the supplier can prepare for that day and put on the bells and whistles.

    Why it’s not so bad:
    - It is a re-certification audit, not an extra audit so no extra cost.
    - The supplier and CB can choose the unannounced audit year, a 60 day window, and blackout dates.

    As an SQF Training Center, we’re helping people to be prepared, and with the new Advanced Practioner Training they can really make improvements that benefit their business

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