Understanding SQF Edition 9 Changes from a Hygiene & Sanitation Perspective

Safe Quality Food (SQF) is a GFSI-benchmarked food safety and quality management system standard. As a globally recognized certification program that covers the food supply chain (from primary production to foodservice), it is a popular standard with at least 80% of SQF-certified global sites located in U.S. and Canada.

According to SQFI, SQF Edition 9 Code audits will begin on May 24, 2021. Prepare for these changes by reading the major sanitation-related updates from SQF Edition 8.1 to Edition 9, listed below:

1. SQF Edition 9 food safety code books have become more sector-specific:

Previous Edition 8.1 Codes

NEW SQF Edition 9 Codes

GMP Modules Covered

 

  Primary Production

 Primary Plant Production

 Primary Animal Production

Aquaculture (Seafood Production)

7, 8, 10, 18

5

6

 

 

Manufacturing

(Processed) Food Manufacturing

Pet Food Manufacturing

Animal Feed Manufacturing

Animal Product Manufacturing

Dietary Supplements Manufacturing

11

4

3

9

17

Food Packaging

Manufacture of Food Packaging

13

 Storage & Distribution

Storage & Distribution

12

Food Retail

N/A (Still Under Edition 8.1)

15

Food Service

N/A (Still Under Edition 8.1)

  16

  • By referring to relevant code books, a site should be better able to address specific food safety aspects such as hygiene and sanitation GMPs, and other programs specific to their industry sector(s).

Note: In the subsequent points, we’ll focus on key changes in SQF Edition 9 Code: Food Manufacturing.

2. There is a significant transformation of GMP module sections and elements. As a key example of this, some of the following Module 11 (GMP for Processed Foods) sections have been reorganized and/or updated:

 11.1 Site location & premises

 

11.1.1 Premise location and approval

11.1.2 Building materials

11.1.3 Lighting and light fittings

11.1.4 Inspection/quality control area

11.1.5 Dust, insect, and pest proofing

11.1.6 Ventilation

11.1.7 Equipment and utensils

11.1.8 Grounds and roadways

11.2 Site operation
 

 

11.2.1 Repairs and maintenance

11.2.2 Maintenance staff and contractors

11.2.3 Calibration

11.2.4 Pest prevention

11.2.5 Cleaning and sanitation

 

11.3 Personnel hygiene & welfare

 

11.3.1 Personnel welfare

11.3.2 Handwashing

11.3.3 Clothing and personal effects

11.3.4 Visitors

11.3.5 Staff amenities (change rooms, toilets, break rooms)

  • These changes have promoted more structural clarity in sanitation and related GMPs, and further reduced redundancies within the codes.

3. There’s an enhanced focus on cross-contamination prevention. Module element 11.6.1.2 further states that: “… Unprocessed raw materials shall be received and stored separately from processed raw materials to avoid cross-contamination risk.

  • We’ve been saying consistently over the years that color-coding is a preventive control strategy that can work to significantly reduce contamination incidents within food facilities, whether we are designating distinct hygienic zones or separating color-coded tools in raw and ready-to-eat zones (RTE) to help avoid cross-contamination, or allocating identifiable cleaning tools for food-contact surfaces and non-food contact surfaces.

4. Module element 11.7.1.2 on air testing requirements for high-risk processes states: “Ambient-air [in such areas] shall be tested at least annually to confirm that it does not pose a risk to food safety.

  • This requirement points to the need for maintaining air hygiene in high-risk zones such as RTE prep rooms or exposed product handling areas. Microbes or allergens may aerosolize and contaminate food and other surfaces. One way of controlling these hazards is through the right choice of mechanical tools and methods to ensure effective cleaning while preventing/minimizing contamination spread over time.

5. Foreign matter contamination control has become more relevant. Module element 11.7.3.1 further requires that inspections must be performed to ensure “… plant and equipment remain in good condition, and [that] equipment has not become detached or deteriorated, and is free from potential contaminants.

  • Sanitation requires buildings and equipment be cleaned based on risk assessments and that only durable tools that can withstand operating conditions (i.e., varied temperature, chemical use, and mechanical stresses) over time are used. A common query we get is: Do metal detectable bristled brushes really work in reducing foreign matter contamination? A reliable technical study has shown that such kind of bristles do more harm than good since they tend to be more brittle and difficult to detect due to their size. A better solution would be color-coded, hygienically designed brushes with the right type of bristles secured onto the block.

6. Greater accountability of non-conforming site and equipment is now required. System element 2.5.4.3 on internal audits and inspections states: “Regular inspections of the site and equipment shall be planned and carried out to verify GMP and facility and equipment maintenance are compliant to the Code requirements. The site shall also take corrections or corrective and preventive action, and maintain records of inspections and [on] any corrective action taken.”

  • Tools, as material handling or cleaning equipment, have the potential to easily become vectors of key contaminants, e.g., microbial biofilms, allergens, and foreign matter, and therefore, a contaminated tool should be treated like a non-conforming environmental surface that’s capable of creating a food safety hazard. Hence, cleaning tool maintenance becomes absolutely critical, and these implemented preventative actions should also be accounted for.

7. There’s a widened focus on the review of specifications critical to food safety. System element 2.3.2.10 requires that: “Specifications for raw materials and packaging, chemicals, processing aids, contract services, and finished products shall be reviewed as changes occur that impact product safety… A list of all the above specifications shall be maintained and kept current.”

  • Tool specifications, in our view, can also impact food safety. Tools and utensils used in food processing operations must be compliant with 21 CFR FDA or equivalent regulatory requirements. Remco offers a range of FDA-complaint cleaning and material handling tools to our clients. Our FDA-compliant tools all have up-to-date technical specifications, declarations of compliance, guidance, and technical support, where required.

8. Expansion of hygienic design requirements for sites and equipment should be expected. With the alignment of SQF Edition 9 Codes to the new GFSI Benchmarking Document 2020, hygienic design industry scopes (i.e., JI and JII) should prominently feature in the near-future-standards. Moreover, benefits of ease in accessibility, inspection, cleaning, and maintenance of newly designed and installed sites and equipment shall eventually be realized by stakeholders through proper adoption of these scopes.

9. Food Safety Culture is a new component in the Edition 9 Codes. System element 2.1.1.2 on management responsibility states that “senior site management shall lead and support a food safety culture within the site…” Food safety culture is defined as a set of food safety-related attitudes, values, and beliefs that are shared by a group of organization members.

  • Remco’s sales and support team can help by offering cleaning and material handling tools that meet the site’s food safety objectives by offering and recommending viable color-coding solutions in tool selection, usage, cleaning, storage, care, and maintenance requirements, which has been shown to strengthen food safety culture in an organization. To schedule a complimentary site visit with one of our trained and experienced business development managers who understand the SQF Codes and other food safety requirements, click here.

Please note: The author has sampled just the significant changes in SQF Edition 9 Food Safety Code for Food Manufacturing (assuming a transition from previous Edition 8.1 to new Edition) that support our company’s relevant viewpoints and best possible industry advice on key sanitation and hygiene requirements. Refer to the SQFI website as the best resource for comprehensive information on understanding and preparing for the SQF Edition 9 Code certification standard requirements for a site. For any queries on the advisory information above, feel free to email us at edtech@remcoproducts.com.

 

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