June 17, 2019
Transparency is the new black. Meaning, everyone wants to look good in it! However, being transparent about your food safety and quality processes isn’t something that is achieved overnight. If truth and candor were systematic in corporate practice and in the regulatory protocols, your buyer could make informed decisions about purchasing your product. It takes a strong food safety culture followed by effective training and engaging communication, to tell the story to your stakeholders that you’re committed to food safety. By volunteering in the SQFI Select Site program, it communicates to your stakeholders that you are committed to food safety and the transparency of your processes.
I’m happy to announce our newest site in the SQFI Select Site program, Night Hawk Frozen Foods. Below is an interview I did with Michelle Anselment, VP/COO of Night Hawk Frozen Foods, Inc. about why they decided to volunteer for the program.
- Why did you choose the SQF Program?
- SQF was the right choice for us for several reasons. Recognized Audit CPO (Certification Program Owner): Since SQF is the number 1 GFSI Certification Standard in North and South America it is well recognized in the food industry. I haven’t come across any of our customers who are not familiar with the SQF Program.
- Lots of Resources: Because SQF Certification has been available for so long, and is also the number one CPO here in the US, there are countless resources available (SQFI approved training you can purchase, free training and webinars from CB’s, free best practices information on-line , etc., etc.).
- Scheduling the Audit: For our initial certification we wanted to complete the audit before a certain date. With it being a popular standard that means there are a large number of available qualified auditors. Having a choice of many auditors and certifying bodies (CB’s) for which to do your audit means you have more flexibility to schedule your audit within the desired timeframe.
- Cost Effective: With some other standards, grouping of audit locations for auditor route efficiency may be more difficult to do because there might not be a large number of audited sites for the auditor to visit. Since there are so many SQF Certified locations CB’s can more easily try to group audits by location to reduce travel durations for their auditors -and SQF auditors typically like that too. The benefit for us is that often flight costs can be split between our site and another site the auditor will be auditing either before or after our audit. Additionally, with so many CB’s available to do your SQF Audit that means there is competition for your certification audit which helps to keep the cost for the audit competitive.
- The Standard: The detail of the standard itself and the continual updates and revisions to make sure that the SQF standard meets not only the GFSI requirements but also what is needed in our industry. SQFI continually moves the program forward with the goal of ensuring safe and high-quality foods for consumers. While some may not be terribly excited about SQF Code changes, these changes and revisions help to ensure we are current with what is happening in our industry with the intention to protect both our customers and our brand. Additionally, the SQF Program helps us to organize our information in a searchable way. At our facility, we categorize the supporting documentation in reference to the SQF Code Numbers. Doing this helps to ensure that we haven’t missed anything and also is incredibly helpful not only when looking for specific procedures and documentation during the audit process, but also when making updates as needed.
- Why achieving an SQF Certification is important to your business?
- Safe Quality Food isn’t just important to us here at Night Hawk, it’s important to our retailers and our customers as well. Having the SQF Certification is just one way we show the world that they can be sure that there is nothing that is a higher priority to us than the safety of the food we produce.
- Why did you elect to become an SQFI Select Site?
- I feel that everyone should always be audit-ready every day. Being audit ready every day means your staff knows what is expected of them and strives to adhere to all policies and procedures all the time, not just when they are preparing for an audit. Committing to this program shows that we are confident in our facility, process, and staff. It is part of our DNA and a top priority in everything that we do.
- What advice would you give other suppliers in your industry who are not as passionate about transparency and preparing for an unannounced audit?
- I think it’s human nature to have a little bit of fear of the unknown. But what message are you giving to your customers when you “don’t” participate voluntarily in this program? Are there some areas where you know you need to do some work? Do you have all your employees on the right positions for their skill sets? Do you provide your employees with the right type and frequency of training to support a food safety first culture? Do you invest in continual improvement at your facility? Do you inspire your employees to be passionate about Safe Quality Food? When you feel confident that you do those things you will welcome someone coming unannounced to “help you find any gaps” in your programs.
- How has the SQF Program helped protect your brand, buyer, and bottom line?
- Brand: The primary purpose of becoming SQF Certified was to ensure we had the correct programs in place to produce a safe product. There is a phrase in the advertising business that people have said: “there is no such thing as bad advertising”. But this may be the one exception, as nothing can destroy a brand quicker than having a foodborne illness outbreak.
- Buyer: Buyers definitely love that we are SQF Certified! It’s one of the boxes they can quickly check as they evaluate whether they want us to produce or supply product to them. And it’s even our first stop to go directly to the SQFI Website and search for an SQF Certified Supplier that has the specific ingredient I’m looking for.
- Bottom Line: People often say, “time is money”. The SQF audit is accepted by all of our customers making the audit requirements significantly easier to manage. In the “old days,” audit criteria were all over the place. Each auditing company had slightly different audits that they offered and sometimes customer companies had an entire audit just for them. This meant that sometimes you might get several audits in the same year from a multitude of auditing firms, each with audit criteria who might want you to do something in a slightly different way. Having one audit that satisfies all our customers is definitely more efficient and has made it easier to streamline our documentation process. Additionally, SQF Certification has helped us to grow our business. When our customers know that we are SQF Certified they feel confident in recommending us to new customers who are also in need of a co-packer or supplier. And of course, and most important of all, while it’s impossible to know what error could have been made that the program prevented by its very nature of existing, you can be sure that food safety and quality has been improved. And that in itself is priceless.
- Anything else you’d like to talk about regarding the SQFI Select Site Program?
- Even when you know you have your programs properly developed and in place, that you have a well-trained and passionate team, that your facility is properly constructed and maintained, and that you are well versed in the code it can still be a little daunting the very first time you have your unannounced audit. We took the leap and I have absolutely no regrets at all in doing so. The brands for whom we supply and co-pack were definitely pleased to see our participation in the “SQF Select Site Program”. But, for our team here, nothing was more exciting and rewarding than having an unannounced auditor show up, evaluate our entire process and confirm that we are doing it right!
About Night Hawk Frozen Foods:
Night Hawk Frozen Foods began over fifty years ago when the Night Hawk steak houses that started operating in Austin, Texas in 1939 started producing dinners for local grocery stores. The restaurants produced the first frozen Night Hawk “TV dinner” in 1964 and was the 2nd company in history to successfully manufacture frozen dinners. Night Hawk Frozen Foods is a 2nd generation ownership and WBENC Certified Woman Business Enterprise. Night Hawk’s supreme quality is due to the continued dedication of its employees, many of whom have been with the company for over thirty years. Their pride and expertise show through in every product Night Hawk produces.