Inspection and grading services assure the quality of dairy products and are offered to the dairy industry on a voluntary basis. Official approval of a manufacturing plant is a prerequisite for grading. 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. It does not necessarily apply to all manufactured products, but only to the specific product on which it appears.
Only after an inspection shows that a plant has substantially 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.
This inspection tells a plant manager about the quality of raw material, sanitation, condition of plant and equipment, and processing procedures--factors affecting the quality and wholesomeness of the finished product. The plant manager may use the inspection findings to assure customers of safe, uniform, high-quality products.
A dairy inspector conducts each plant inspection. Each inspection is tailored to the nature of the plant. The inspector meets with the plant manager to review the survey results. If any deficiencies exist, the inspector explains to the plant manager the steps to be taken before approval can be granted.
After corrections are made, the inspector makes another inspection before granting an "approved" status. Once approved, a plant does not automatically keep its status. A plant must be inspected at least twice a year to maintain its eligibility.
- 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 - June 2001 (pdf)
- 3-A Sanitary Standards & Accepted Practices
- Membrane CIP Systems (pdf)
- General Specifications (pdf)
- Changes to General Specifications (pdf)