USDA Certified or 3-A, which is the best?
When purchasing equipment for facilities involved in the manufacturing or processing of dairy products, there is often confusion between the designations of USDA Acceptance Certified and 3-A Approved equipment. To help clarify let’s explain that the important factor for the equipment used in dairy processing facilities is the design of the equipment is such a way so the dairy material will not find places to hide, and that the equipment will be easy to disassemble, clean, and reassemble.
The organizations involved in the guidelines for the design of equipment utilized in dairy facilities are the 3-A Sanitary Standards Inc. (www.3-a.org) and the USDA. The 3-A, as it is known, is an independent corporation dedicated to education and the mission to promote food safety through hygienic equipment design in the rapidly changing food, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries. To this end the organization makes its standards available for purchase, administers third party verification, and allows the 3-A logo to be utilized for an annual fee.
The USDA is the U.S. Federal Executive Department responsible for developing and executing federal laws and guidelines related to food. The Dairy Grading branch, which regulates the certified dairy facilities, provides a Certificate of Acceptance to those companies which complete an exhaustive and expensive certification process verifying that their equipment is manufactured under the stringent guidelines set forth for equipment used in the certified dairy facilities. A list of the companies who have attained the level of Certificate of Acceptance with the USDA can be found by clicking here.
As to which one is best for your facility, is up to you to decide. If your facility is a certified dairy facility you will find it advantageous to utilize equipment from the list of Acceptance Certified manufacturers. If you are simply looking for equipment that follows the established sanitary standards, a 3-A manufacturer would be sufficient. Keep in mind that a USDA Acceptance Certified manufacturer will provide equipment that also conforms to the standards issued by the 3-A organization. However, a company that is 3-A qualified does not necessarily conform to the stringent inspection requirements as set forth by the USDA.