SQF Audit Tip #5 Creating a Supplier Questionnaire

It is required in all GFSI standards that there is a documented approval process for all suppliers of packaging, raw materials, ingredients and services. Within this section of the code is a specific requirement that there is a documented process for selecting, approving and monitoring suppliers.
Another requirement in the code is that past performance of the supplier be detailed and the risk level of the material or service supplied assigned.
To comply with this section of the code, there must be a procedure for the supplier approval process, an approved supplier register, and a methodology for approving suppliers. The method, can be in the form of a supplier approval checklist, which can be completed during an on-site inspection, and include the requirement that specific food safety documentation be provided. Another method calls for a questionnaire to be completed by the supplier and returned with supporting documentation.
On-site inspections are a good methodology because it allows the customer to actually see that GMPs are being followed. Suppliers have been known to prepare for their 3rd party audit, and run a somewhat “tighter ship” on audit day, but the day their customer comes may not warrant the same amount or preparation and perhaps allow for a more representative view of the day to day goings on in the operation. On-site inspections are recommended for high risk and high impact suppliers.
Most food processors have a multitude of suppliers and they are often located throughout the country and often overseas. For most of them, it is not economically feasible to visit each one every year. Using the supplier questionnaire allows you to remotely evaluate them and fulfill the requirements of the standard.
When developing a vendor approval questionnaire, you should ask the basic questions like:
• Their name and address.
• Their 3rd party food safety certification standard, level and body.
• Contact information for QA, customer service and emergency contacts (including after hours).
It is also common to ask basic questions about their quality systems, and their HACCP plan.
• What are their critical control points and critical limits?
• Do they have a site diagram and a flow diagram that they can provide you?
• Would they provide you with their personal hygiene policy?
• Would they describe their product/environmental testing program, including information on the laboratory that they use for testing the samples?
Some questionnaires are very elaborate. If any Nestle suppliers are reading this, you know what I mean. The questionnaire is a tool to get a picture of what you would see if you were on site, you can add any questions that you feel are necessary. Just remember, that frivolous questions will frustrate your supplier and increase the likelihood of non-answers or non-conforming answers, which will require additional work on their part and your part. I am an advocate of K.I.S.S (keep it simple stupid). Questionnaires with fewer and more meaningful questions will get turned around more quickly and will be complete more fully.
It is common to use the questionnaire to ask for supporting documents to comply with the standard. The questionnaire process can include a request for copies of:
• Specification
• Most recent 3rd party audit certification
• Continuing guarantee
• Allergy Policy
Finally, it is a good idea to add a “customer only” section to the questionnaire. The procedure must dictate, who, how and when the supplier is evaluated and what criteria is used to determine if a supplier is approved, not approved or conditionally approved. To that end, the returned questionnaire can be used as a supplier evaluation document. A customer review section would include:
• The date that the questionnaire is returned.
• The date assessed.
• The supplier risk rating.
• Signature line for the reviewer and the senior person verifying it.
• Comments and details of the evaluation process.
o Non-conformance’s
o Corrective actions
o Planned improvements
o Review of complaints
Once the questionnaire is reviewed, the approved supplier register could then be updated. A date for re approval can then be scheduled.