In the world of industrial equipment manufacturing, 3-A Sanitary Standards, Inc. (3-A SSI) is well known for developing sanitary standards for equipment and processing systems used in food, beverage, and some pharmaceutical manufacturing applications. 3-A SSI also licenses the use of a registered mark, the 3-A Symbol. For a piece of equipment to bear the coveted 3-A symbol, it must undergo a third-party verification inspection to ensure it meets the provisions of the applicable 3-A Sanitary Standard. Based in MacLean, Virginia, 3-A SSI was originally founded by regulatory sanitarians, equipment fabricators, and processors to create sanitary standards for the design of equipment intended for use in the dairy industry. Today, 3-A Sanitary Standards are commonly recognized and specified throughout the food industry. A third party, non-profit organization, 3-A SSI has a sterling reputation as a resource for hygienic design information and educational materials, for developing and maintaining 3-A equipment standards and 3-A Accepted Practices, and for administering a rigid verification program to authorize the use of the 3-A Symbol on conforming food manufacturing equipment.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous manufacturers have recently begun counterfeiting the 3-A symbol and manufacturing unauthorized equipment while claiming it meets 3-A SSI’s rigorous standards. Much of this knockoff equipment has been found in the craft brewing industry, likely due to the sector’s recent boom and the fact that many new craft brewers are new to the world of industrial manufacturing. They may not realize what is actually required for equipment to display the 3-A Symbol prior to purchase, and trust the manufacturer to provide them with accurate and honest information. This has resulted in many misinformed or deceived customers, and thanks to the power of the internet and social media, their experience has made it to the ears of 3-A SSI committee members.
Upon hearing of this counterfeit activity, 3A SSI researched the claims made through marketing information on web sites to determine the validity of the claims. Once that was established, the organization set out to document the faulty items. To their dismay, they discovered the fakers have run rampant, and are so daring as to claim 3-A accreditation on some equipment for which the organization has never even developed a standard. This has caused concern with 3-A SSI leadership that wants to assure that the integrity of the 3-A Symbol is maintained, and the organization has added a “buyer beware” section to its website to warn equipment purchasers of known counterfeit activities. This resource can be found at http://www.3-a.org/3-A-Symbol/Buyer-Beware-False-or-Misleading-Claim. 3-A SSI is actively pursuing various means to shut down the counterfeit operations, as well as focusing on bringing awareness to the issue through marketing campaigns and their website. You can expect some major announcements to the trade in early 2018.
This issue is even more pressing with the release of updated versions of the GFSI-approved CPOs (certified program owners) such as SQF Version 8, which requires that equipment be objectively and demonstrably fit for purpose. Companies that use SQF as the framework for their food safety management system will be looking to purchase equipment they can rely on to pass muster at an audit, and for which the manufacturer is willing to provide documentation of evaluation by an independent third party such as 3A SSI. But cost is always a factor, and because the counterfeit equipment is manufacturing using unverified materials and methods for equipment that comes into contact with food, the price point is much lower than truly compliant equipment. Some purchasers fall victim to these unscrupulous sales tactics out of a misguided desire for value.
Buyers should know that any certification can be verified with the body that performed the evaluation and issued the certificate of conformance, and 3-A SSI is no exception. When considering a piece of equipment for purchase that claims to conform to 3-A Sanitary Standards, be sure to look up their certification status on www.3-A.org. Review the 3-A standard for the equipment you are purchasing to ensure their evaluation considers the properties that are important for your situation. Finally, remember that if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is – always remember to trust, but verify!
Many thanks to Dr. Ron Schmidt for his assistance with research and editing for this article.