Why would a manufacturer of commercial catering equipment need third party food safety certification?
It’s a question that Sarah Krol, global program director at NSF, the independent food assurance and certification organisation, is accustomed to hearing, as you would imagine. The answer, she explains, can ultimately be traced to two key factors: regulatory requirement and market demand.
The former is especially pertinent — unavoidable even — for any manufacturer planning to sell their product into the US or Canadian markets, where NSF certification is a way of life.
“In order for commercial equipment to be accepted, to be installed and to pass a Health Department inspection here in the US it is almost universally required that the item has a third party certification,” says Krol. “An NSF certification mark is by and large the most recognised mark today. We certify upwards of 90% of the equipment that goes into the North American market for the sanitation, so there is a very large regulatory driver in the US.”
Of course, not every manufacturer has aspirations to target the US, but if you think that renders NSF certification pointless you would be sorely mistaken. As an increasing number of European brands are discovering, testing, auditing and certification can bring a whole raft of business benefits beyond facilitating US market entry.
“As far as the local markets go there are a lot of additional advantages and drivers,” insists Krol, giving the theoretical example of a refrigeration manufacturer that secures a multi-country order to supply equipment for a restaurant chain expanding in Europe.
“The retailer might specify NSF because they have adopted it as their global brand standard. So, irrespective of the geography or the market, the chain sees a very prescriptive value in having an independent third party look at the design, construction and performance of that equipment.”
Krol insists NSF is always learning of new and interesting ways that clients and manufacturers are deriving value from the service it offers, but certainly the growing inclusion of certification within the end-user specification process is making manufacturers in Europe sit up and take notice.
Chris Pratsis, business development director EMEA at NSF, can vouch for that, having witnessed manufacturers from across the continent, including the UK, strengthen their engagement with NSF over the past 12 months.
The value of quotes for certification in EMEA during 2013 has soared almost 90% to date versus last year, a tremendous rise given that the previous three years were relatively flat. Today, NSF has more than 350 certified food equipment manufacturers based in the EMEA region.
“We have seen a real increase in the level of interest in certification and indeed the uptake of certification, which is very strong in itself because it shows that quite possibly we are seeing a resurgence in export opportunities for manufacturers in the region,” suggests Pratsis.
Like Krol, Pratsis says it is impossible to ignore the role that branded foodservice operators and leading quick service restaurants are playing in making catering equipment suppliers appreciate the value of third party testing and certification.
As these operators evolve and expand they invariably want to make sure the equipment they purchase meets the highest independent safety and hygiene standards. Manufacturers, consequently, need to demonstrate their compliance if they have any aspirations of securing that business.
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Certification isn’t just a means for manufacturers to make themselves eligible for certain contracts, however. Suppliers are also using it as a form of differentiation, to make themselves more competitive, to enter new international markets, and to demonstrate the quality of their output.
NSF currently offers 22 separate standards globally, some of which are specific to particular types of foodservice equipment and others which apply on a much broader level.
And through a partnership with Germany-based VDE Testing and Certification Institute, NSF can now offer electrical certification for the European Union as well.
The good news for manufacturers is that product certification is effectively an investment for life. As long as the item continues to be made to the same standard for which it gained the mark in the first place, the certification and listing remains valid.
“I think the interest is still stronger from the more traditional markets for export manufacture in Europe at the moment,” says Pratsis. “But in the UK market we are now starting to build the education, the awareness and the understanding of the value of the certification process for manufacturers’ businesses.”
NSF certification: What’s involved?
NSF has the technical capability to be able to certify everything from individual materials and components all the way through to elaborate cooking and refrigeration technology. And the programme of engagement for manufacturers follows a uniform structure, irrespective of the item.
The process essentially starts with the company asking a series of pertinent questions to establish the manufacturer’s intentions, such as whether it wants the mark for entering a particular market to whether it carries out the design and production of the equipment itself or uses a contract manufacturer.
“The one really great thing about NSF, and the way that we have managed this over the years, is that all of our clients have a single point of contact, someone who understands them from day one and walks them through the certification process,” says global program director, Sarah Krol.
Once NSF has gained the basic details it needs, it will seek to obtain drawings, design sheets, factory information and, most importantly, a sample of the actual item for inspection. If a company is certifying a family of equipment, such as refrigeration, and the only thing that differentiates each machine is the size of the compressor, for instance, only one sample would need to be provided.
NSF’s technical staff will examine every element of the product in accordance with food safety criteria, including the surfaces, the materials and the way it is fabricated. They will even assess things such as the screw heads, ease of cleaning and whether parts described as removable are actually that.
Assuming a product gains the NSF mark (and the process can take anything from three weeks to a couple of months if further testing is required), manufacturers are added to the certification listings and can begin marketing it on their product.
“Following that we will visit their facility and conduct an inspection to make sure they are actually producing the same item that we evaluated, tested and recorded in our laboratory. We will then visit that production facility once a year, and on an annual basis thereafter, to maintain that certification,” says Krol.