When you operate a commercial kitchen, hygiene and safety are top priorities. You’ve probably implemented strict food safety practices, but when was the last time you evaluated your kitchen equipment? The design, materials and functionality of your refrigerators, water heaters and beverage dispensers can have a big impact on overall sanitation.
That’s where National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certification comes in. Buying NSF-certified food equipment is one way to ensure your restaurant kitchen meets the highest safety standards.
What is NSF International?
NSF International, previously known as the National Sanitation Foundation, is an independent certification organization. It develops strict standards for public health and safety. NSF officials use the organization’s safety standards to test and certify a wide range of food, water, and consumer products.
Why does that matter to restaurant owners? When you buy a piece of equipment with an NSF International certification, you can rest assured that it’s free of contaminants, banned substances and hazardous materials. Choosing NSF-certified gear is one way to increase food safety and stay compliant with the local health code.
Currently, NSF has 140 different standards and testing protocols. The organization certifies products ranging from supplements to water filters and commercial food equipment.
Other NSF-certified product examples include:
- Water heaters and water treatment units
- Commercial refrigerators
- Storage freezers
- Manual food and beverage dispensing equipment
- Oven mitts
- Disposable gloves
- Automatic ice maker
- Knives and other utensils used for food preparation in commercial kitchens
- Detergent for commercial dishwashers
NSF International is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The organization works in more than 170 countries to improve public health standards across the globe.
What does NSF certification mean?
NSF International offers an accredited third-party certification process that’s widely respected around the world. When your restaurant purchases NSF-certified consumer products, it indicates to diners and health inspectors that you’re serious about food safety and customer health.
The NSF is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited standards developer. In other words, it’s one of the select organizations that are permitted to develop American National Standards (ANS) — scientifically developed, thoroughly tested, and expert-approved criteria that ensure consumer safety.
An NSF certification is like an official vote of confidence in a product, so you can purchase it with peace of mind. Because NSF standards are developed to meet or exceed health codes and federal and state regulations, buying certified products is one way to maintain a high restaurant health score.
Before the NSF creates a certification, the standards are subject to a rigorous development process that includes:
- Input from industry experts, public health officials, regulatory officials, testing labs, consumers and other certification bodies
- Joint committee-based revision and review
- Public review and comment period
The goal of this intensive, time-consuming procedure is to create consensus and build confidence in every standard and testing protocol.
NSF certification process
The NSF certification comes with a high level of trust, in part because of the stringent development and certification process. Every certified product must pass the same series of steps.
- Manufacturer applies and submits detailed information about the product.
- NSF officials evaluate the product thoroughly.
- NSF officials test the product in a lab using approved protocols to make sure it meets NSF standards.
- Inspectors from the NSF inspect the manufacturing facility, confirm consistent production, and sample products randomly to ensure compliance with NSF standards.
- The NSF team reviews the product testing and facility inspection results and determines whether to certify the product.
- The manufacturer signs the NSF contract and NSF International lists the product in its certification database.
The fun doesn’t stop there — every year, an NSF inspector visits the manufacturing facility and retests the products. If the manufacturer maintains consistent practices and meets NSF International standards, the product maintains its certification. If not, the NSF can revoke the certification. When a product threatens public health, the NSF is allowed to recall the product.
NSF certification contracts also control how and when manufacturers can use the NSF certification mark. These strict standards help prevent brands from using the mark to mislead customers; they’re necessary to maintain the integrity of the NSF mark.
How does the NSF mark benefit your restaurant?
As you might guess, the NSF mark carries a great deal of weight. In the restaurant industry, this certification is considered the gold standard of food safety and public health — when a product carries the NSF seal, you know it’s been tested and approved by experts.
Other ways restaurant operators benefit from NSF-certified products:
- Buyer confidence. NSF-certified equipment is designed to be compliant with food safety laws. That way, you can invest in expensive kitchen products with peace of mind.
- Communicates a commitment to food safety. When a health inspector sees the NSF International certification, it validates your restaurant’s commitment to health-code compliance, overall safety and lasting quality.
- Builds trust. If your customers are interested in food safety standards, the presence of NSF-certified products creates trust and lends credibility to your brand. It also improves your reputation among food-industry professionals, including chefs, food reviewers and vendors.
- Improve your restaurant brand. The presence of an NSF International seal reflects well on your business. Given the volatility of the restaurant industry, this extra boost of positivity can strengthen your brand and help carry you through tough times.
The NSF International certification also benefits the food-service industry as a whole. When every business is held to the same high standards, it tends to improve quality across the board. Restaurants will experience fewer health code violations, which gives consumers more confidence when dining out.
If you’re a restaurant operator, food safety is a top concern. Using NSF-certified products in your commercial kitchen is one way to improve operations, protect your diners and stay compliant with health-department rules.