Understanding 3-A Sanitary Standards

Vat bin washer to clean large bins

Table of Contents

Ensuring food safety requires food and beverage processing and handling equipment to be designed, constructed, and installed according to sanitary design principles. The equipment is hygienically designed so it can be adequately cleaned and sanitized. Guidelines require that surfaces in contact with food must be corrosion-resistant, made of non-toxic materials, and impervious to contaminants and pathogens to protect consumers from potential risks of food contamination. 

3-A Sanitary Standards, Inc. is an independent, voluntary standards organization aiming to advance food safety through hygienic equipment design. Various interest groups representing regulators, processors, and equipment manufacturers established the organization with the goal to: 

  • Protect food from contamination
  • Ensure all food product contact surfaces can be mechanically cleaned.
  • Equipment can be dismantled easily for manual cleaning or inspection.

In particular, the organization is comprised of three groups of volunteers who develop and update all 3-A Sanitary Standards and 3-A Accepted Practices: 

  1. Government agencies such as the USDA and FDA 
  2. Food processors and manufacturers 
  3. Equipment manufacturers that build equipment used in food processing 

The 3-A criteria help companies comply with USDA requirements and develop the required written food safety plan and preventive controls to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). 

Additionally, to receive 3-A certification, processing equipment must undergo a Third Party Verification process to ensure that it meets 3-A standards. Although 3-A has standards and certification for equipment, it provides Accepted Practices for complete systems comprised of separate equipment components. Equipment such as pumps and heaters have standards; however, when built into a system, that system is built into an Accepted Practice but needs to be certified. 

General Aspects of Sanitary Design and Construction of Food Equipment 

Food equipment surfaces are classified into 1) food product contact surfaces and 2) non-product contact surfaces. 

Food Product Contact Surfaces 

For sanitary design, food product contact surfaces should be: 

  • smooth
  • impervious
  • nonporous
  • non-absorbent
  • free of cracks and crevices
  • corrosive resistant
  • non-contaminating
  • non-toxic
  • durable
  • cleanable

Non-Product Contact Surfaces 

Non-product contact surfaces of food equipment can cultivate pathogens and harbor insects and rodents. For this reason, these surfaces must be constructed with appropriate materials and fabricated to be cleanable, corrosion-resistant, and maintenance-free. 

Materials of Construction – Metals 

Stainless steel is the preferred metal for food contact surfaces because of its durability and corrosion resistance. Generally, 3-A Sanitary Standards require 304 stainless steel for most surfaces. Manufacturers, however, typically use 316 as it is the most corrosion-resistant steel used in food and pharma applications. They only allow 304 stainless steel for utility usage. 

Materials of Construction – Non-metals 

Various non-metal materials (i.e., glass and rubber) used in equipment, such as probes, gaskets, and membranes, are also food contact surfaces. These materials should also meet the same sanitary design and cleanability requirements as metals. 

Internal Angles 

Internal angles should be covered or rounded; there is no seam.   

Permanent Joints 

All joints should be smooth and durable. Equipment standards generally stipulate that welded joints on stainless steel product contact surfaces be continuous. 

Connections and Attachments 

Connecting pipes, probes, thermometers, etc., must be combined in a way that does not create a dead-end or area where food particulates can accumulate. 

Better Engineering Washing Equipment 

Better Engineering designed our sanitary line of (316) stainless steel cleaning systems to the highest hygienic standards with industry-leading capabilities. These fully automatic machines are generally built to “clean design principles” and meet virtually all 3-A standards, although not 3A certified. Cabinets are sterile by design, with sanitary spray and dry manifolds, sloped floors to avoid standing water, and continuous inside welding (TIG). 

Except for continuous conveyor systems, all systems feature a self-cleaning work tank that can fill and empty with each stage. They have an “open architecture” for complete access. Options include an optional holding tank to reuse the wash solution, an optional hot water supply tank, and an optional drying stage. Furthermore, the systems can incorporate robotic integration, multi-lane, adjustable lane options, and steam or electric heating. 

Moreover, different food processing operations require other cleaning methods. With this in mind, available systems are tailor-made to the food and beverage industries and include: 

  • batch washers
  • bin washers
  • vat washers
  • rack washers
  • turntable cabinet washers
  • conveyor/tunnel washers
  • other custom-made solutions

Significantly, these highly versatile systems optimize production processes and ensure effective hygienic cleaning and sanitizing of various food and beverage processing equipment and parts. 

Our Promise to Quality 

Better Engineering’s sanitization machines offer the highest quality levels with trackable and repeatable results that don’t change over time. Our machines meet all regulatory food and safety standards SMA, HACCP, and GMP set. Furthermore, our research lab can demonstrate the full potential of our washing systems using your parts. Send us the items you want to be cleaned, and we will test them to find the best machine recommendation. Contact us for a free test parts cleaning. We guarantee we’ll find a solution that meets all your needs- it’s part of our commitment to customer satisfaction! 



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