NEW YORK -- For the third year in a row, Minneapolis-based Cargill took first place in Forbes magazine's ranking of the nation's top 400 private companies. McLean candy maker Mars Inc. ranked seventh, with $7.7 billion in sales.

Cargill had annual revenue totaling $32.4 billion, which put it in the top spot on the third annual list, which appears in the magazine's Dec. 14 issue. The commodities trading company outpaced sales of Safeway Stores, the No. 2 company, by nearly 60 percent.

Safeway, the grocery chain based in Oakland, Calif., that went private earlier this year to evade a hostile takeover, placed a distant second with sales of $20.3 billion.

Continental Grain, a commodities trading firm with headquarters in New York, was listed third by the magazine. Forbes ranks private companies based on their total sales during the most recent fiscal year.

Forbes defined a private company as one that does not have widely traded stock or has fewer than 500 shareholders, generally the cutoff point above which a company must file with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Also included were companies that have filed with the SEC but whose stock is not available to the public.

Private companies account for about one-third of U.S. production, Forbes said. About 7 million U.S. companies -- most of them very small -- are private. Only about 10,000 are public.

Fourth on the list of private companies was Koch Industries, with headquarters in Wichita, Kan., and $13 billion in sales. Apex Oil in St. Louis was fifth with $9 billion in sales.

The Forbes list included many familar companies, such as Goldman, Sachs & Co. (ranked 13th with sales of $4.2 billion); Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. (15th with sales of $4 billion); Levi Strauss (24th with $2.75 billion); Hallmark Cards (38th with $2 billion); Hearst Corp. (49th with $1.7 billion); Reader's Digest Association (62nd with $1.5 billion); Estee Lauder (72nd with $1.35 billion); and E&J Gallo Winery (97th with $1 billion).

Forbes said 80 of the largest American companies from last year's list have been displaced, the largest being Swift Independent, which ranked 12th last year with $4 billion in sales. The Chicago meatpacker became a 50 percent-owned subsidiary of ConAgra.

Thirteen companies from last year's list went private, including Allegheny Ludlum, Western Auto and Edgcomb, Forbes said.

Of this year's top 400 private companies, 69 have proprietors that show up on Forbes' list of 400 richest Americans, up from 64 last year. The 400 companies employ a total of 3.2 million people, up 14.3 percent from last year's 2.8 million.