The 3-A Symbol — A Mark of Excellence in Food Processing

May 9, 2017 | By Ray Carroll

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When we are ready to make a sizeable investment in equipment, many of us value certifications, from the UL stamp to ISO.

These marks are easy-to-understand signs that the products we are purchasing are endorsed for a given task. For those of us in the food-processing industry, the most sought-after certification is the 3-A symbol issued by 3-A Sanitary Standards, Inc. (3-A SSI), which ensures the attainment of sanitary standards for design and fabrication. It’s important to review why this mark is significant and how your business can benefit from it.

History of the 3-A Symbol

In the 1920s, a group comprising processors, equipment fabricators, and regulatory sanitarians collaborated to develop the first standards for hygienic design of equipment in the dairy industry that came to be known as 3-A standards (in reference to the three associations involved). Today, nearly a century later, 3-A SSI has evolved into an independent corporation, and its singular mission is to promote safe foods through the design and manufacture of hygienic equipment in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries.

Why the 3-A Symbol is Important

According to 2011 estimates by the CDC, 48 million Americans get sick each year by consuming contaminated food or beverages. Of them, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. The standards developed by 3-A SSI take a holistic approach to hygienic design, considering every stage of the process; from farm and storage to transportation and through processing and packaging. The entire processing facility is addressed, with a focus on eliminating opportunities for bacterial growth and cross-contamination.

When applied to processing equipment, the coveted 3-A symbol quickly communicates that it has met 3-A SSI’s demanding standards for cleanliness and food safety, and it has passed inspection by an independent, third-party agent. Purchasers of food and beverage processing equipment will know right away that they will be able to fulfill all applicable sanitation codes, and that their equipment inspections are likely to proceed without interruption or incident.

The 3-A symbol quickly communicates that a food processing machine has met 3-A SSI’s demanding standards for cleanliness and food safety, and it passed inspection by an independent, third-party agent.

Additionally, the 3-A symbol on your own equipment can be a powerful marketing tool that can influence sales by showing how it meets regulatory requirements and guidelines. Food equipment is subject to inspection for general sanitary design and installation, and inspections are routinely conducted by appropriate federal, state and local agencies. Complying with 3-A sanitary practices can help a food processor comply with such standards as the current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) used in FDA inspections, as well as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations.

The goal of 3-A sanitary standards for equipment is to protect food from contamination, defining the appropriate materials for construction and requiring that all of the surfaces that come in contact with food products can be mechanically cleaned. It also requires that the equipment can be disassembled easily for inspection, and for manual cleaning where necessary. Areas that are not potential direct product contact surfaces are governed as well, providing hygienic design guidelines to prevent cross-contamination into product zones. The wide range of sanitary standards (70 of them) are applied to vessels, fillers, valves and fittings, pumps and mixers, heat exchangers, conveyors, and other mechanical components.

Purposes of Using the 3-A Symbol

Voluntary use of the 3-A symbol on dairy and food equipment serves three important purposes:

• It assures processors that equipment meets sanitary standards.
• It provides accepted criteria to equipment manufacturers for sanitary design.
• It establishes guidelines for uniform evaluation and compliance by sanitarians.

So what does this all mean to us who are industry-leading, competitive food producers? There are important ethical and business reasons to achieve the 3-A standard. Consumers of processed foods rely on processors, equipment fabricators, and regulatory sanitarians to assure food safety. For this reason, we want to do all we can to meet and exceed strict hygienic requirements. Here at Fres-co, we have built 3-A certified machines to our customers’ specifications to help achieve that goal. But the 3-A symbol is also a sign of leadership in a world where standards are often needlessly overlooked. It is a standard that elevates not only our individual organizations, but our entire industry.

Ray Carroll is a seasoned food and beverage executive with more than 35 years of experience in research & development, food process engineering, and quality. His numerous accomplishments, both domestically and globally, have included the development and implementation of new processing technologies, the creation and launch of new, unique products, management of pilot plant operations, and food safety.

Topics: Food Processing

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