The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF International)

When you are looking to buy restaurant supplies and equipment, you will see that little round blue NSF certification mark next to some of the products. You know it's a good thing, but what does it mean and what does NSF International do, exactly? Here's just a little history and some things you should know when shopping for NSF Listed products.

What is NSF International?

NSF Logo

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF International) is an independent public health and safety organization whose influence and stringent standards for developing public health regulations, certifying equipment and products, and educating people about public health reach around the globe. They are also known internationally for providing risk management for public safety.

Their motto is "the public health and safety company," and it is a testament to their prominence in the fields of food service, healthcare, and more. There is no other company better known for strict public health standards and rigorous testing of products. NSF International is dedicated to leading the industry the world over in providing public health education and safety-based risk management solutions.

Where did NSF International come from?

The National Sanitation Foundation emerged in the town of Ann Arbor from the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan in 1944. Their mission was to standardize food safety and sanitation protocols to promote public health. Still based in Ann Arbor, the company has since grown to a point where they have helped to establish more than 80 American National Standards in the areas of public health and safety through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI is the organization that accredits NSF International.

By 1990, the company had grown beyond its original mandate to create standardized food safety policies in the United States and had moved into international markets. At that time, they changed their name to NSF International. Today, NSF International serves as a testing, inspection, education, and certification organization in 155 countries around the world.

How Do Products Become NSF Listed?

Much of the contact that foodservice professionals have with NSF International will be through products that they certify. NSF International is accredited as an independent, third-party certification company that tests and analyzes products to make sure that they meet high safety standards. When a product is approved by NSF International, it will be associated with the familiar round certification mark.

Third-party Certification

In order to accomplish this, the organization reviews material choices, manufacturing processes, manufacturing facilities, and the final product to confirm that all phases of production meet their standards. After a product is certified, the organization may perform regulatory inspections of the facilities or retest the product to maintain that certification.

  • It demonstrates that they are complying with national (and sometimes international) safety standards and regulations
  • It shows that they are committed to safety and quality in their products
  • It increases credibility with retailers and end-users
  • It allows them to benefit from the added product safety


The Certification Process
Certification Process for NSF NSF International looks for foodservice equipment to be nonabsorbent, smooth, corrosion-resistant, easy to clean, and resistant to damage, among other things. In order for products to be tested to meet NSF criteria, products go through a seven step process: 

1. Application and submission of information to NSF International 

2. Product evaluation 

3. Product testing in a lab 

4. Manufacturing facility inspection with confirmation of production and product sampling 

5. Review of test results 

6. Sign a contract and list the products 

7. Annual plant inspections and retesting to maintain certification

After these steps have been completed, the product is associated with the NSF symbol to help buyers know which products have been certified. If you are not sure if a product is NSF Listed, or if the certification may have expired, you can look items up on the NSF website to check the certification.

The NSF Symbol
NSF International has developed the symbol associated with their name over the last 70 years, changing it from a more intricately designed blue logo to the simple logo that they use now.

NSF Original

The basic NSF International logo is the round blue mark with white lettering. This logo simply means that a product has met basic NSF certification standards.

US/Canada NSF

The NSF logo with a C and US underneath it indicates that a product has met the safety standards of both the United States and Canada.

Why Should I Buy NSF Listed Products?

In addition to the fact that NSF International does their best to help maintain food safety standards, they promote public health by certifying many of the products you use in your commercial kitchen or home business from condiment squeeze bottles to pitchers. Making sure the products you use to serve your guests are completely safe and sanitary is important to keeping your business open and in the health inspector's good graces.

Restaurant Food Safety

NSF Food Safety
Since the company's foundation in 1944, it has grown to include seven different divisions that handle different aspects of safety and quality regulation. These different divisions test products, educate people, and standardize safety regulations in a variety of industries, from automotive to dietary supplements. However, the one that most foodservice applications are aware of is NSF Food Safety.

This division of NSF International has become the leading standard for food safety when dealing with restaurant equipment, agricultural operations, or retail applications. They provide certification and education for every step that your food takes from the farmer all the way to the end user with the goal of keeping consumers safe. Continued consulting, auditing, and training even after products or facilities are certified helps to maintain NSF International's high standard and keep their reputation in the foodservice industry pristine. Facilities that manufacture products certified by NSF International often need to be inspected every year to maintain their certification.

Health Codes
Many health codes at the local, state, or national level require that specific equipment you use in your restaurant be approved and certified by NSF International. For instance, some health codes require that that the 3 compartment sinks in restaurant kitchens be NSF Listed. These sinks have smooth welds, covered bowl corners, and specially designed drain-boards that reduce the ability of harmful bacteria to reproduce in them.

Since some of this equipment like the 3 compartment sink is necessary to your business, it's important to know what your health codes require and keep that little round mark in mind when you are shopping for new equipment.

It is also important to note that NSF Listed products are nearly guaranteed to at least meet the health codes in your jurisdiction, if not exceed them. If you are undecided between two products while shopping for new restaurant equipment, it is better to be safe and go with the NSF Listed product so that you have the added safety benefits.

Benefits of NSF vs. Costs of Foodborne Illness

CDC (Centers for Disease Control) 2011 estimates showed that approximately 48 million Americans contract foodborne illnesses each year. Though not all foodborne illnesses are contracted in restaurants, it is worth putting in the time and money, even beyond what is required by law, to reduce the risk that your customers could become ill at your establishment. The costs of foodborne illness are often more insidious than we realize, costing you money and your reputation.

Foodborne illness can cost you:

  • Customers and sales
  • Negative media exposure and inspection reports
  • Lowered staff morale
  • Time and money to retrain staff
  • Possible lawsuits
  • Higher insurance premiums going forward

Though many consumers may be worried about a little added cost when they look at an NSF Listed product versus a non-NSF product, the benefits certainly outweigh the extra cost.

  • Choosing NSF Listed products may help boost your overall inspection scores
  • Making sure that the products you use to serve your customers are NSF Listed reduces the chance of foodborne illness
  • Cleaning NSF Listed products is often easier and more efficient, saving your employees time and therefore saving you money

So, keep these benefits in mind when you are shopping for new restaurant equipment. You may find that having NSF Listed products in your kitchen is the best choice you have ever made for your business!

Related resources:

Following Food Safety Temperatures

Restaurant Equipment Testing Agencies

Food Allergy Overview