Great tasting food and safe food should be simultaneous—the consumers of today want and deserve this. That may not be achievable though, without a disciplined focus on food safety. Food manufacturers are responsible for creating safe food consumers can trust, and making sure products are carried through the distribution channel seamlessly. There is an adept approach to deliver safe food, and that is by having the appropriate food safety systems in place.
One such system is Safe Quality Food (SQF)—a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)-based food safety and quality management system. This process verifies that products were produced under high standards, accepted globally.
The SQF Institute was created by the Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va. The goal was to define requirements necessary to deliver safe quality food through the distribution system to the end consumer. That certification system, known as the SQF 2000 System, addresses the procedures necessary to implement a comprehensive food safety program. In addition, the SQF 2000 System outlines rules for certifying bodies and auditors to regularly evaluate a food manufacturer’s food safety practices.
But SQF isn’t just a certification—it is a systematic approach to drive a culture of continuous improvement in food safety and quality. When implemented and maintained correctly, SQF is a lifestyle. The more SQF becomes a standard, the easier it becomes for a company and its people to make continuous improvements.
The root of SQF is identifying and managing risks to protect your customers and your business. This means following practices that enable you to provide consumers the safest food products possible.
One of the greatest values of SQF begins with benchmarking your company against the SQF code. This drives a company to document and standardize what they are doing well, and helps identify opportunities for improvement. With this system in place, manufacturers can easily verify and validate the production of safe food.
Adhering to the SQF system also helps to drive cultural change. SQF becomes a way of life that supports an organization’s commitment to excellence, outstanding customer service and food safety by maintaining, reviewing and constantly improving. Bottom line—consumers can be confident the food they eat is produced with the highest level of food safety practices in place.
To help flourish this SQF lifestyle, a company-wide commitment and resources of time, talent and funds are required—investments that can help improve the overall satisfaction of your customers.
SQF requires senior management to prepare a policy statement that outlines their dedication to safe food production. Beyond having this plan on paper, management must follow the commitment with action—they must be unwavering and prepared to support, lead and model this routine for fellow employees.
Examples of this company-wide commitment may include establishing an SQF manager position, responsible for directing all personnel in developing, maintaining and improving the food safety system. Additionally, it can be constructive to form a food safety steering committee that meets regularly to discuss food safety improvements. This team can involve the CEO, president, directors, managers and other top executives. Having this level of leadership advocate food safety will convey a strong message to all employees on the importance of SQF. This magnitude of dedication can be enforced by management through extensive yet ongoing training.
Training is one of the most important fundamentals for an organization to completely embrace SQF. In order for training to be successful, the whole company must live and operate by the SQF philosophy every day. Preparation starts at the top with executive management and middle management championing the concepts. It then proceeds to front-line leadership and employees. This is completed through awareness, exercises and ongoing education to enforce consistency.
Food safety training should begin at new employee orientation where employees are taught good manufacturing practices. Beyond the initial knowledge sharing, monthly or weekly refresher classes should be carried out to cover a broad range of topics on improving safety and quality. Regular on-floor huddles with supervisors and employees are another training method to keep food safety skills fresh.
For a more concentrated training, preparation can include department-specific exercises for SQF categories related to each area of the plant (i.e., purchasing, receiving, shipping, sanitation, etc.). As a follow up to this, the qualified middle management and line leadership can perform condensed monthly audits. Theses “checks” can aid in evaluating progress and areas that need improvement.
Lastly, hanging large, visible posters around the plant and providing pocket cards containing key SQF message points can serve as a daily reminder of the importance of SQF.
SQF is a process and product standard—an HACCP-based food safety and quality management system providing assurance that products were produced under high standards, accepted globally. When implemented and executed daily, SQF becomes a regime—a company culture that employees can embrace.
Fostering an SQF lifestyle entails more than employee commitment, though it requires a heightened focus and drive from upper management and extensive ongoing education.
Investments in training are a way to empower employees to improve the quality of products. From first-day employee orientation to courses throughout the year, employees should always be exposed to new information and ways to improve processes and products.
When these high standards are met and food safety is achieved, manufacturers can be proud to provide consumers what they want and deserve—safe, great tasting food they can trust with their families. Having support from the top down, continuous education and good manufacturing practices make SQF more than a certification, and it’s your people who make SQF a lifestyle.
Lynnea Jodway is the marketing coordinator for Sandridge Food Corp., Medina, Ohio. Contributors to this article include Ken Schafner, quality assurance manager; Joel Riegelmayer, senior director of food safety and quality; Keith Hoyt, SQF and label technology manager; and Ahmad Tahajod, senior quality assurance technical manager. Sandridge Food received Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ 2010 Refrigerated Foods Processor of the Year award, and is a member of the Refrigerated Foods Association.