What Is SQF Code?

The SQF Code is a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmarked Food Safety Management System standard which is recognized worldwide. SQF certification program is managed by the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI), a part of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) which represents food retailers and wholesalers and has annual collective sales of over $600 billion.


The SQF Code is a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP)-based food safety and quality management system standard based on CODEX Alimentarius Commission HACCP and National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Food (NACMCF) Principles and Guidelines. In 2012 SQF Code Edition 7 replaced SQF 2000 Code edition 6 for Food Manufacturing & Distribution and the SQF 1000 Code edition 5 which was for Primary Producers.


The Global Food Safety Initiative provides a framework for assessing the compliance of food safety management certification schemes based on ‘benchmarking’ the scheme against a model of essential requirements produced by group of food safety experts. GFSI officially announced that the SQF Code 7th Edition Level 2 had been successfully re‐benchmarked against GFSI Guidance Document Edition 6 on 15th October 2012. There are a number of benchmarked standards recognized by GFSI but SQF is the only program recognized by the GFSI that is headquartered outside of Europe.


The current edition of the SQF Code (edition 7.1 July 2013) covers all sectors of the food industry from primary production to transport and distribution.

SQF Code is current recognized by GFSI for certification to the following scopes:


  • Al: Farming of Animal Products
  • Bl: Farming of Plant Products
  • C: Pre-Processing of Animal Products
  • D: Pre-Processing of Plant Products
  • El: Processing or Animal Perishable Products
  • Ell: Processing of Plant Perishable Products
  • Elll: Processing of Animal and Plant Perishable Products
  • ElV: Processing of Ambient Stable Products
  • L: Production of Biochemicals
  • M: Production of Food Packaging

All Farming of Fish and Bll Farming of Grains and Pulses are to be submitted as scope extensions when 10 accredited certificates are in place.


Unlike most GFSI benchmarked standards the requirements for all organizations in the food chain are covered by a single standard, the SQF Code. Organisations do not need to comply with all of the SQF Code as it has relevant sections based on SQF food sector categories. For example, organizations in Food Sector Category 2 Growing and Harvesting of Animal Feeds need to comply with Module 2: System elements and Module 3: GMP for animal feed production and organizations in Food Sector Category 10 Dairy Food Processing need to comply with Module 2: System elements and Module 11: GMP for processing of food products.


The SQF Code covers a broad range of categories, overall there are 35 Food sector categories defined ranging from primary production to brokers and agents.


There are a range of food sector categories related to primary production and preparation including production, capture and harvesting of livestock and game animals, growing and production of fresh produce, fresh produce packhouse operations, harvest and intensive farming of fish and slaughterhouse, boning and butchery.


There are a range categories for the processing of food products and for foods manufacture based on the type of food, then there are other sector categories including transport and distribution of food products, food wholesaling and manufacture of other food related items such as dietary supplements, pet food, agricultural chemicals, animal feed and food sector packaging.


In order to achieve certification all organizations need to Module 2: SQF System Elements of the SQF code then depending on the food sector category comply with Food Safety Fundamentals defined in other relevant modules such as Good Agricultural Practices for Farming, Good Manufacturing Practices, Good Aquaculture Practices for Farming of Fish or Good Distribution Practices. Normally an organisation will need to comply with the SQF System Elements and one of the Food Safety Fundamentals modules although there are occasions when more than one will be applicable for instance when an organisation has primary production and food processing.


There are mandatory Elements in SQF Code Module 2 that must be complied with in order to achieve certification; these are summarized in the table below:


SQF Mandatory Elements /Clause

Management Policy 2.1.1

Product Release 2.4.8

Management Responsibility 2.1.2

Validation and Effectiveness 2.5.2

Food Safety & Quality Management System 2.1.3

Verification and Monitoring 2.5.4

Management Review 2.1.4

Corrective and Preventative Action 2.5.5

Document Control 2.2.1

Internal Audit 2.5.7

Records 2.2.2

Product Identification 2.6.1

Food Legislation 2.4.1*

Product Trace 2.6.2

Food Safety Fundamentals 2.4.2

Product Withdrawal and Recall 2.6.3

Food Safety Plan 2.4.3

Food Safety Plan 2.4.3

Food Quality Plan (at level 3) 2.4.4

Training Program 2.9.2

* Compliance with legislation regarding Allergens (2.8.2 Allergen Management not mandatory – may be not applicable)


In the table you will see that Food Quality Plans are included, this is because certification to the SQF code is at three levels:


  • Level 1 Food Safety Fundamentals: An entry level for new and developing businesses covering only Food Safety Fundamentals and basic food safety.
  • Level 2 Certified HACCP Based Food Safety Plans: Requires a food safety risk analysis, documented Food Safety Plans and compliance with Module 2 Food Safety Elements and the relevant Food Safety Fundamentals Modules.
  • Level 3 Comprehensive Food Safety and Quality Management System: As per Level 2 but also requires a food quality risk analysis and documented Food Quality Plans.

Level 2 certification is benchmarked by GFSI and therefore a recognized food safety certification scheme whereas level 1 certification is not recognized by GFSI.


Level 2 certification is benchmarked by GFSI and therefore a recognized food safety certification scheme whereas level 1 certification is not recognized by GFSI.


Unlike some GFSI benchmarked standards, the SQF code and practical guidance documents are free, this means you can review the SQF Code and decide if it suits your organisation without any financial outlay. In addition to this the SQFI have Licensed Training Centers which offer SQF related training courses including:


  • Implementing SQF Systems
  • SQF Levels 1 & 2 - Food Safety Fundamentals and Certified HACCP Food Safety Plans
  • SQF Level 3 - Comprehensive Food Safety and Quality Management Systems
  • SQF Practitioner Training
  • Auditing SQF Systems

Being recognized by GFSI, the SQF Code and SQF Certification are widely accepted by retailers, foodservice providers and regulatory authorities around the world. SQFI also provides online access to a list of suppliers which buyers can access and identify relevant SQF certified suppliers.






By Tony Connor - Managing Partner. (Google+)