The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) performs a valuable service to the food service industry, evaluating restaurant equipment for both design and performance sanitation standards. The American National Standards Institute

(ANSI) is often linked to NSF; ANSI sets up objective certification standards.

When you see the NSF seal on your equipment, you can be sure the equipment has undergone rigorous laboratory testing. (If you’re ever planning a trip to Ann Arbor, consider a tour of NSF). NSF also checks equipment manufacturers to be sure these standards are consistently satisfied at the factory. In the event these field audits aren’t satisfactory, the seal can, and has been withdrawn. It’s good insurance to check NSF listings before you purchase equipment, especially old or secondhand items, to be sure an attached seal is still valid. (Check the NSF listings at this address https:/ search by the equipment’s manufacturer)

There are two parts to an equipment’s approval: design criteria and performance conditions. Design criteria concern the equipment’s cleanability. For example, most food codes stipulate that food contact surfaces must be smooth, durable, light in color, nontoxic and easily cleanable. Performance conditions, however, go a step further, and state how the equipment should be used.

Take refrigeration equipment as an example. In addition to a light colored (dimly lit or dark colored areas hide unclean areas), smooth and durable construction (cracks and crevices prevent easily cleaning), all refrigerators are not used in the same way.

Performance conditions assume conditions for use, conditions which are stipulated as part of a seal of approval. It’s important to know this before you buy.

Looking at refrigerators, a walk in box is evaluated differently from an upright or display unit. They are used for different purposes and are evaluated by different criteria. You would not expect to cool hot foods rapidly in a short term, service line display cooler. You’d use a walk in box but, even then, you’d need to remove heat using shallow containers and stirring frequently.  You might expect to store foods for longer times in a walk in box; therefore, NSF standards expect the unit to hold lower temperatures with a food load and still have some reserve compressor capacity. NSF performance conditions will stipulate that food will be stored for a short period in a service line cooler, usually a meal run, with the minimally acceptable air temperature. The expectation in that standard is that the food will be removed to the walk in box after a meal run and not stored in the service line unit indefinitely.

Equipment as innocent as a cutting surface might also carry operating conditions. A cutting board might be approved only for assembly or minor types of preparation, depending on the materials or sealant used. For example, some cutting surfaces are approved for assembly and no cutting while others carry no use limitations. It depends on the construction and the surface sealant.

So, while the NSF seal is a tremendous assist when outfitting a restaurant or replacing equipment, be aware of equipment limitations and research the conditions of seal approval before making your purchase. As one NSF old timer put it, ‘if you’re planning a mountain trip with a trailer, you wouldn’t drive a Pinto, you’d drive an SUV’. The Pinto would be saved for short trips with a lesser load. The moral of the story is, know what the equipment will, and won’t do for you, and make your purchase accordingly.