The first standards for the hygienic design of equipment used in the dairy industry were introduced in the 1920s.  These standards became known as “3-A standards” for the three groups that cooperated to improve equipment design and sanitation: regulatory sanitarians, equipment fabricators and processors.

Many packagers—particularly those in the produce, meat, poultry and seafood markets—require the highest levels of sanitation available. Long before the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed, these forward-thinking companies provided information on how to improve bagger sanitation to meet their needs.

Whether you’re planning to purchase a new VFFS bagger or would like to evaluate your existing equipment, it’s helpful to know what to consider in terms of sanitation, maintenance and reliability. To aid in that process, here are 10 things to know about sanitary equipment design for VFFS baggers.

  1. Look for design features that prevent puddling, standing water or product build-up. Are there surfaces on the top of the machine where water or product can collect? Are there sharp edges that can lead to product build-up? Baggers should be sanitary by design. Cross members, for instance, can be turned 90 degrees, and all edges should have a finished edge that is ground smooth. These features facilitate water and product shedding, as well as ease of cleaning. Bagging machines should also feature pitched surfaces, such as the top plates and control box, to enable drip-drain-draw.
  1. Avoid crevices or “sandwiched” metal. You can’t clean between sandwiched surfaces. For this reason, a welded frame is more sanitary than a frame that is bolted together. Welds should be designed with an open radius and ground smooth to be wiped clean. There are no crevices and no ribbing or pits that are difficult to clean. If there is sandwiched metal on the machines, food-grade silicone can be placed between the parts prior to assembly to provide a sanitary gasket. 
  1. What are the advantages of electro-polished stainless steel? On Triangle’s X-Series VFFS baggers, all stainless steel is electro-polished. This “super passivation” process first acid washes the material to remove any impurities, and then brings the nickel to the surface, which makes the surface smoother so it is easier to clean. This process also reduces the opportunity for bacteria to collect on the surface.  
  1. The use of aluminum should be kept to a very minimum. Be sure that aluminum does not come in contact with your product and is only used where necessary. Any aluminum should be anodized or specially treated to 3-A standards or above to withstand cleaning agents.
  1. Look for easy access not just through the machine, but beneath it. The lowest cross member on our 3-A–certified bagger is six inches off the ground. This allows for easy accessibility and cleaning under the machine.
  1. Can you conduct a quick visual inspection of the machine? Remember, if you can’t see it, you can’t clean it. Machines should be able to be visually inspected within minutes without having to remove any covers. With an easily accessible design, you don’t need high-pressure water to access the parts you can’t reach. In fact, high pressure water just scatters and redistributes the debris. Guard doors should allow visibility of the machine in operation and be easy to clean.
  1. Look for sealing jaws and back seal components that can be easily removed for cleaning. The forming tube, sealing jaws and back seal components ought to be quickly removed without the use of tools for easy cleaning. Even code dater assemblies can be easily removed for offline cleaning.
  1. What is the significance of 3-A certification? With 3-A certification, manufacturers have gone through a rigorous approval process and have had their equipment reviewed by an independent third party. For more information, visit
  1. Verify all certifications. It’s important to note that not all 3-A claims are true, so this is one area where the advice “trust but verify” should definitely be followed. 3-A regularly posts lists of companies who promote counterfeit 3-A certifications. 
  1. Most importantly, remember that sanitary design is a worthwhile investment. It not only reduces control points, cleaning time and the chance of product recalls, but reduces the chance of severe illnesses and even death. Any consumer incident can be detrimental to your company and the entire industry.

Triangle Package Machinery offers vertical form fill seal baggers in three levels of sanitation: stainless steel, stainless steel washdown and USDA/3-A models. The company also has combination weighers, horizontal cartoning/bag-in-box systems and tray loading/depositing systems. Founded in 1923 and headquartered in Chicago, Ill., Triangle is celebrating its 95th anniversary this year.

For more information, visit