NSF International and Foodservice Product Certification
What is NSF?
Founded in 1944 as the National Sanitation Foundation, NSF International adopted its current name in 1990 to reflect a global approach to public health and safety that extends far beyond sanitation. Over the past few decades, they have become a leading health and public safety organization, and are accredited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Standards Council of Canada (SCC), and the International Accreditation Service (IAS), among others.
NSF International currently operates in more than 150 countries, but is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich., where its OSHA Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory is also located. Although the organization has expanded to the global stage, their standardization efforts began in the United States and their presence is still most prevalent in the American market.
What Does NSF International Do?
NSF is involved in a number of industries, such as consumer products including kitchen items and water filters, and dietary supplements. On the food safety and quality side, it evaluates commercial food equipment; meat and poultry processing equipment; processed foods and beverages, including bottled water. More widely in the commercial realm, it deals with plastics; sustainability and environmental impact, including eco-efficiency validation and verification of sustainable products; and waste and wastewater handling, including water treatment chemicals and plumbing system components.
Its services for these industries include lab and testing services, management systems, standards and publications, auditing and inspection, and, of course, product certification. Participation in that testing is entirely voluntary. The blue-and-white NSF logo, which signifies what is NSF certified, carries weight internationally, but obtaining that certification is practically a necessity for companies that want to release products into the American market.
NSF International, through a number of industry-specific programs, is also capable of handing out other organizations' certifications. They are an EPA-recognized certifier for the ENERGY STAR program, which means they can provide testing and certification for consumer appliances and commercial foodservice equipment, from dishwashers and refrigerators to fryers and ovens, and even vending machines. They are a leading certifier for Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recognized food safety management schemes, which aim to create stricter food packaging processes and materials, storage and distribution requirements. The organization can also ensure compliance with Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and good manufacturing practices standards.
How Does Certification Work?
Certification specifications vary from product to product, as each one has its own unique requirements, but the process generally includes the following steps: application and information submission, product evaluation, product testing in a lab, manufacturing facility inspection, production confirmation, product sampling, and test results review and acceptance.
After the product has been approved, the company signs a contract with NSF International, which adds the model to its extensive list of certified products and allows its logo to be added to the packaging.
NSF certification isn’t given for the lifetime of the model. Rather, companies that produce items that carry it must undergo an annual plant inspection and product retesting. If a model no longer meets the standards, the agency may perform enforcement actions, such as revoking the certification, or even issuing a product recall or public notice.
The organization's website includes a list of companies and products that have lost certification or have falsely claimed to be certified. Additionally, it allows the public to file complaints against products or companies, which are investigated by NSF, with corrective action taken if the complaint is verified.
Why is NSF Certification Important?
NSF works with numerous standards and public health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB), Conference for Food Protection (CFP), and International Food Protection Training Institute (IFPTI). The organization also works with several U.S. government organizations, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), Environment Protection Agency (EPA), General Services Administration (GSA), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The agency’s involvement with so many nonprofit and governmental organizations gives it unparalleled knowledge about current product standards and credibility when it comes to enforcement. Using that, it performs rigorous testing to ensure the safety and quality of a product, including the materials it’s made with. NSF standards are compliant with federal regulations, so products that are NSF certified are guaranteed access to the American market.
Why Should I Use NSF-Certified Products?
Because of its long-time commitment to public health and safety, both residential and commercial consumers can trust that products bearing the NSF logo are safe and produced to rigid standards.
NSF is one of the most recognized names in food equipment certification and assisted in developing nearly 80 standards and protocols that address the sanitation, construction, and performance of foodservice equipment. Its standards put forth strict requirements for food equipment like pantry units, counters, hoods, and sinks, as well as commercial warewashing, cooking, refrigeration, and ice making equipment.
Models that are NSF certified adhere to state, local, and federal laws. Products without the certification don't come with that assurance, which means those in the foodservice industry could be at risk of breaking some of those laws and compromising the health and safety of customers and employees by using uncertified products. Choosing NSF-certified products is the best way to guarantee compliance with regulatory laws in the United States.
How Do I Know What is NSF Certified?
Companies generally add the NSF logo to packaging once a product has been approved. The list of certified products is updated daily and available on the agency's website, where it is searchable by product or company. NSF International invites consumers to contact it directly when they are unsure about a product’s certification status. This can be done via an online complaint or feedback form on the organization’s website, or by contacting the Regulatory Affairs Hotline at 1-734-769-5105.