ARLINGTON, Va. — Beginning in 2008, food retailers will have real-time, Web-based access to a database of detailed food-safety audit and certification records of growers and suppliers of food products from around the world.
The database will contain food-safety audits conducted under the auspices of the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI), a four-year-old service that is a division of the Food Marketing Institute here. SQFI has partnered with two technology companies, Muddy Boots Software, Herefordshire, United Kingdom, and Agentrics, Alexandria, Va., to upgrade the quality of its audits and make them more accessible to food retailers.
SQFI's third-party field auditors will use Muddy Boots' Quickfire software to enter detailed information on compliance to food-safety standards into handheld computers at audit sites. They will transmit the data to a secure online database hosted by Agentrics, where retailers can review audit and certification records of suppliers in the SQFI program. The database will be available at www.sqfi.com.
“There may be a fee to help support and maintain the database, but it will be open to all retailers,” said Jill Hollingsworth, FMI's group vice president of food-safety programs. Currently, retailers can obtain audit data from SQFI's website, but Hollingsworth said that it is “not user-friendly” compared with the new database.
The database will be tested in early 2008 and rolled out in April or May, according to Jeremy Whinnett, manager, product lifecycle management solutions, Agentrics.
The SQFI program “allows retailers to buy from suppliers with confidence without having to visit and audit the suppliers themselves,” said Hollingsworth. The standards established by SQFI meet government requirements for every country a supplier operates in or ships to, she said, adding that most use the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) program. In addition, the suppliers “must have a recall plan so that they can trace ingredients one step back.”
SQFI has issued more than 9,000 certificates to suppliers in more than 20 countries verifying that they comply with SQFI standards. In the past year a number of large U.S. manufacturers have been certified, including Hormel, Sparboe Farms and a number of private-label apple orchards in Washington state, said Hollingsworth. “Because of the attention to food safety, it's taken off,” she said.
The Muddy Boots software will allow auditors to use the same format in collecting food-safety data from different suppliers, Hollingsworth said. That will allow retailers to compare the food-safety capabilities of different companies. While a supplier's certification status will be publicly available on the SQFI database, more detailed information will be available by permission from the supplier.
The new software will enable auditors to detail the reasons a supplier may be out of compliance. “Then an auditor can work with a supplier to monitor whether a deficiency was corrected, and adjust their score,” she said.
Hollingsworth said retailers such as Hannaford Bros., Food Lion, Lund Food Holdings and Price Chopper are asking their suppliers to become certified through SQFI. Suppliers who find that multiple retailers want them to meet the SQFI standards are pleased to know that the same audit will be acceptable to all of them, she noted.
SQFI audits are conducted by third-party certification companies that are accredited by international organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The program is endorsed by the Global Food Safety Initiative, an international consortium of food-safety experts and companies.