Plant survey inspections and official grading services are offered to the dairy industry on a voluntary basis. These services assure the quality of dairy products being manufactured. If you are interested in applying for dairy services, please visit: How to Apply for Services.
A plant survey inspection reviews the quality of raw materials, sanitation, the condition of plant equipment, and processing procedures that affect the quality and wholesomeness of the finished product. A trained dairy inspector will perform each plant inspection, which is tailored to the nature of the plant. The inspector will meet with the plant manager to review the survey results once the inspection has concluded. After a successful plant inspection, the approved facility will be listed on the Approved Plant List. A plant must be inspected at least twice a year to remain included in the Approved Plant List.
Official plant survey approval of a manufacturing plant is a prerequisite for all commodity grading. Only after an approved plant survey inspection shows that a plant has met the requirements outlined in USDA's General Specifications for Approved Dairy Plants can the plant qualify for the other services of grading, sampling, testing and certification of its product.
Therefore, a consumer can tell if the products were produced in a USDA-approved plant by looking for the grade shield on products such as butter, Cheddar cheese and instant nonfat dry milk. The shield means that every lot has been certified by an inspector as meeting the grade requirements.
For more information on commodity grading, please contact:
National Field Office
Supporting Documentation for Grading Programs:
- Dairy Plants Surveyed and Approved for USDA Grading Service
- USDA-Dairy Accepted Equipment List - April 2009 (pdf)
- USDA Guidelines for the Sanitary Design and Fabrication of Dairy Processing Equipment February 2022 (pdf)
- 3-A Sanitary Standards & Accepted Practices
- Membrane CIP Systems (pdf)
- General Specifications (pdf)
- Changes to General Specifications (pdf)