Auditor Frequently Asked Questions


What is the scope of the Sustainable Food Group Sustainability StandardTM?

The Sustainable Food Group Sustainability Standard™ is a private scheme developed by the non-profit IPM Institute of North America that incorporates best practices for environmental and social sustainability, and product quality, for production and processing operations worldwide.

Who is AzzuleTM?

Azzule is a database management company and the owner of the PrimusGFSTM audit scheme.

What is the Sustainable Food Group?

The Sustainable Food Group is a part of the IPM Institute of North America, providing credible, science-based sustainable agriculture and IPM standards and audits to leading food companies worldwide.

How long is the certification period?

Certification is valid for 36 months from the certification date. To maintain certification, a renewal audit must be scheduled within 36 months of the date of the prior audit to avoid a lapse in certification. A lapse in certification would prompt the supplier to restart the process from the beginning with a certification audit, which incurs additional costs and time commitments in comparison to a renewal audit.

What is the audit frequency for participants?

Auditees are site audited on a triennial basis. The due date for the subsequent audit is 36 months from the date of the previous audit and not from the previous certificate issue date.

How long should an audit take to perform?

The audit duration should be approximated by the CB when scheduling audits and adjusted as needed with the following considerations:

  1. Type of operation(s) to be certified (e.g., producer or processor)
  2. Number of operations to be certified
  3. Size of the operation(s)
  4. Number of products and similarity of production process
  5. Complexity of the production and/or handling processes
  6. Participant level of preparation

Audit duration includes the entire on-site process, from introductions to the closing summary of findings and any non-conformances. Auditors should be prepared to explain any substantial deviations from estimated audit duration if requested by the certification body.

How is this standard and certification different from other programs?

The Sustainability Standard was designed to address a comprehensive set of environmental, social and quality best practices for agricultural producers, packers and processors. Self-assessment and certification to the Standard evaluates the extent to which a product has been produced in a sustainable way from planting to distribution. Audits may also be combined with food safety audits, with potential to save participants time and money.

How long does it take to become certified?

Certification will typically take a maximum of 45 days after a successful audit.

Who do I contact if the answer to my question is not listed in this document?

Contact your supervisor at your certification body. If necessary, they can pursue additional information from the Sustainable Food Group or Azzule if they are not able to answer your question.


Minimum Requirements

When scoring Minimum Requirements, if there are minor deficiencies, do I score the item as a Pass or a Fail?

Minimum Requirements must have 100% compliance – all elements on all acres – to be scored as a Pass. For example, if participant B keeps legible, well-organized pesticide and nutrient application records for three years, but has not included wind speed and direction for pesticide applications, score the item as a Fail. Record the specifics about the deficiency in your notes.

When the audit refers to keeping records for three years, is that for the land or the crop?

Pesticide and nutrient application records should be available for the past three years for the crop regardless of where they are produced. In addition, these records should be available for any piece of land where new production is established, or where production is returning as part of a crop rotation. These records may not always be available or complete due to a change in ownership or inability of the supplier to control practices on that land when not in production. If that is the case, rate the item as a Pass and explain the deficiency in your notes. Maintaining good records is an important stewardship practice and is a legal requirement in many locations, but legal requirements vary by location and extenuating circumstances will understandably occur.

Do all of the expectations listed under a question need to be in place to earn the maximum score?

No. The expectation box items are examples of what to ask about and look for. Some items may not be applicable and there may be additional items that are not included as an expectation item.

For example, in Question 1.03.03, the intent is to score the participating operation on how adequately sensitive areas are protected, not on the number of protective measures in place.

Auditors are advised to use their own discretion and to score based on performance on meeting the intent of the question rather than the number of options implemented. If additional expectation box options or other potential practices are not needed to meet the intent of the question or are impractical for the specific operation, an auditor may award full points. Similarly, the auditor may award only partial points if the intent of the question is not met, regardless of how many practices are implemented. I.e., in the example above, if sensitive areas are being negatively impacted by ag operations and practical opportunities to reduce impacts are not in place, award zero or partial points.


Crop-Specific Standards

Does a separate sustainable ag/IPM team need to be in place for each crop?

No. The supplier may use the same team for all crops. If so, the team should include experience in each crop to earn full points.