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Food Safety Tips: Understanding NSF and UL

You’ve probably seen the NSF and UL labels in your restaurant or commercial kitchen before.  And you probably already have an idea what these organizations do and what that label means.  But fully understanding what the NSF and UL do to make sure restaurant equipment and tools meet food and personal safety standards is worth your time, so here’s a brief explanation:

NSF Logo

NSF International (formerly known as the National Sanitation Foundation) is an independent, non-profit organization that certifies food service equipment and ensures it is designed and constructed in a way that promotes food safety. NSF is internationally recognized and most food service equipment is NSF certified.

What does that certification mean?  Equipment certified by the NSF must complete the following process:

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  • The facility where the product is made is thoroughly audited by an NSF representative.  This ensures the product is constructed in a sanitary manner and that the standards for sanitary design elements are actually met during construction and assembly.
  •  A physical evaluation of the product is carried out to ensure it meets food safety standards.
  • Testing and evaluation is done on the materials used to make the product to make sure they meet standards.
  • The facility and product must also undergo annual follow up audits to maintain certification.

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NSF certified products have therefore passed a stringent set of evaluations to ensure food safety requirements and standards are met. Some common food service equipment that is certified by the NSF include: commercial dishwashers, cooking, hot holding, and transport equipment, dispensing freezers, commercial refrigerators and storage freezers, automatic ice making equipment, and food and beverage dispensing equipment.  Many restaurant and commercial kitchen utensils and cutlery also get NSF certification.

As a restaurateur, purchasing NSF certified equipment and small wares ensures that your business is promoting food safety.  The power of NSF’s reputation means that most equipment you buy is already certified, but understanding what that certification means is important when you look to buy new equipment or during your next health inspection.

UL Logo

Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL)

Millions of products, from consumer electronics to commercial cooking equipment in your restaurant, carry the UL symbol.  UL certification means the product and its components meet a set of safety and hazard standards that ensure the safety of the product’s users.

Over the last 100 years, UL has become the primary authority on product safety.  The UL label on the equipment in your kitchen means it has met a set of standards that ensure your equipment operates in a safe manner.  This includes electrical, design, and structural elements of restaurant equipment.

UL conducts ongoing analysis of products to make sure they continue to meet safety standards.  And UL also has a sanitation certification for equipment that is important to food safety.  Look for this label when dealing with such equipment:

UL Sanitation

As a restaurateur, it’s important to understand the stringent process certified products must go through to bear the NSF and UL labels.  These products have gone the extra mile to ensure the food and personal safety of their equipment.  Purchasing NSF and UL approved products shows you the manufacturer has taken the time to create a quality product, and that can lend you a little peace of mind.

About Greg McGuire

Greg has blogged about the food service industry for years and has been published in industry magazines, like Independent Restaurateur and industry blogs like Restaurant SmartBrief. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two sons and enjoys reading, live music, and the great outdoors.

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17 comments

  1. Does NSF & UL use the same safety standards ?

  2. If you are dealing with used equipment and a county health reviewer accepts you NSF equipment but then tells tells you the specs submitted do not reflect it to be UL “sanitation”. How can I get the eq. to comply?

    • Hmmm… I’m not sure. I think the best thing for you to do would be to ask the health inspector for clarification on what exactly he/she means. Usually an inspector will be able to tell you exactly what is out of order and what you can do to get your equipment into compliance.

  3. If, for example, say, a smoker or other cooking apparatus (not used & direct from the manufacturer) is NSF approved for commercial use…is it automatically CAN/ULC approved as well?

    • I don’t think so Jody. Look for the UL symbol on the piece of equipment you’re asking about or you might also want to check their website.

  4. Hi,
    Must the equipments be NSF certified to be used in America? For example, a bakery oven.
    Thanks!

    • Hi Anthony,

      Equipment is not required to be NSF certified but I would definitely recommend that you buy NSF certified equipment as that will help you with the health inspector and improve your kitchen’s food safety. To be absolutely sure I would call your local health department and ask them.

  5. I need to put a grill in the food truck I am building. Does it have to be NSF and UL, or if it is just UL or just NSF labeled I can buy it and install it?

    • Hi Jean,

      I would consult with your local health department on this one. Regulations tend to vary and the only way to get a clear, definitive answer is to ask the people who are going to be certifying your operation anyway. Getting that conversation going with the health department early is always good.

  6. Curious about NSF thermometers that are sold. Can you buy one them and use it in a “commercial” refrigerator or freezer that doesn’t have the NSF label to make it more appropriate for use in a small commercial kitchen? What’s with of all of the appliance companies marketing some of their models as “commercial” if they can’t be used commercially. I’m so confused. I’m a neat-freak and wonder why I can’t buy one of the commercial freezers and an NSF thermometer and call it good since I would keep it so clean the inspector could come everyday and I wouldn’t care. Sorry, just frustrated at the prices of these NSF models when I don’t need a freezer that big. It’s hard spending $1300 when there’s one half the price and not NSF certified but still bigger than I need. Suggestions or advice?

    • Rachel,
      You will need to know the retail food regulation that applies to you. In Colorado, for example, thermometers are included in the definition of “equipment”, so they then need to be what the Colorado regulations define as “of commercial design”. “Commercial design”, in Colorado, includes NSF approved, but is not limited to NSF approved.

      I recommend contacting your local heath department so you know exactly what is required. That way there are no surprises.

  7. Im so confuse.
    Some people tell me that i need to get the NSF approved and then buy the equipment.
    And otheres tells me that inspectores go and and give u the NSF ones the equipment its install. Help please?!!

    • Hey Teo,

      It can be pretty frustrating since these kinds of things can even vary from county to county sometimes. I suggest questioning your local health department on their requirements for the best answer.

      – Paul

  8. If I need to install the equipment in my restaurant. Nsf must need a certification? You know some foreign machine is no nsf certification. That I can not use it? Because I need to open a foreign restaurant, and I need to bring in equipment from those countries.

    • Tundra Restaurant Supply

      Hi Fred,

      You’ll need to check your local health regulations since they change from state to state, county to county. Most kitchens in the states utilize NSF-certified equipment due to its safety and sanitary standards. Check with your local health code requirements on what equipment you can use.

      – Tundra Team

  9. We have a Oliver Products Company bread slicer model 711. It says it’s UL 805X listed. Our county inspector has informed us that this may not meet County sanitation requirements. Does anyone know what the 805X might meanm

    • Hi Jon,

      In your situation I would reach out to the manufacturer and tell them what the inspector is asking for. They might be able to provide you with the evidence and documentation you need to satisfy the inspector.

      – Paul
      Tundra Team

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