Updated as of April 6, 2020.
We are deeply concerned by the impact of COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus, and its potential effect on our SQF community. We understand that continuing restrictions on travel and general business continuity could limit our ability to conduct audits, and we urge you to remain in touch with us to help communicate and identify challenges. We are continuing to monitor the situation and will update you as new information becomes available.
What is Coronavirus and COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are part of a large family of viruses which is of concern as they cause illness in humans. They are named “coronavirus” from their appearance when seen using an electron microscope. These viruses cause respiratory illnesses such as the common cold. The most recently discovered coronavirus causes the illness COVID-19 which is considered a novel virus. This means that it is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified and is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness.
GFSI’s position on remote audits
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is a private organization that benchmark’s a certification program owner’s food safety standard. SQF is a food safety standard recognized by GFSI.
GFSI has updated their policy as of March 23rd and is allowing a one-time 6- month extension in certification, following the recommendations from the IAF Informative Document for Management of Extraordinary Events or Circumstances Affecting ABs, CABs and Certified Organization. In this document, GFSI does not authorize any type of non-standard type of auditing (i.e. remote, virtual, etc.). GFSI’s updated position can be found on their webpage.
SQF’s Policy on Extending Certifications
Please note, that this is our policy as it is written today; however, due to the fluidity of the situation an update could be made at any time. We will keep all our stakeholders updated if changes do occur.
SQF has in place a means to defer certification due to extenuating circumstances and has updated it’s procedure on approving date change requests and references the IAF Informative Document for Management of Extraordinary Events or Circumstances Affecting ABs, CABs and Certified Organizations. SQF’s policy has been updated to align with GFSI and allows for a one-time 6-month extension. It requires CBs to conduct a risk assessment to understand and determine if there is a need to in extend the certificate. This is also in line with other buyers and has been shared with our retailer members.
This policy includes a waiver to unannounced audits for all audits occurring on or before May 31st.
The SQF policy also requires the CB to assess the risk for continuing certification during an extraordinary event and request information from sites, as applicable. If you are seeking a delay in your site’s certification audit, then you should contact your CB to understand your options.
There seems to be many questions regarding the use of ‘remote auditing’, and it appears that term is being loosely interpreted. A more accurate term would be “remote activities,” which would include document reviews, interviews, etc. It is SQF’s policy that a risk assessment be conducted by the CB to understand the risk level to extending the certificate. If that risk assessment indicates that remote activities are to be conducted, then the CB should follow the outcomes of the risk assessment. Remote activities are to be used to maintain the site’s certification. If remote activities are conducted, this is not to be considered a replacement for the recertification audit.
Requesting Audit Extensions
Sites should reach out to their Certification Bodies to request for an extension. We have been informing our CB’s that they are responsible for communicating to the sites when certificate extensions are approved. Please contact your site’s CB to determine how they are providing confirmation of the certificate extension request. They should also provide you with how they are communicating the approvals, which could include an e-mail, letter or updated certificate.
Below is a list of questions that we have received and heard from many of our stakeholders. FDA has a list of questions and answers posted to their website. These questions focus on those in the food industry and what they should be done to prevent and control COIVD-19. These are the recommendations of the US FDA and CDC, requirements in your country may differ. Please check with your national authority.