Certificates – why is this kind of labeling actually good for us?
When buying, we are looking for certain qualities that will satisfy the needs of our business. So, we are looking for range or stove with enough burners, or ovens or some other quality. Or, we know we need the reach-in refrigerator with a certain amount of space and shelves inside. And if we run a tight space kitchen or a food truck, we definitely want to know the exact dimensions of the pizza oven, because if it doesn’t fit it won’t do us any good, no matter how fantastic that restaurant equipment actually is.
So, we know what we want, and we found the appliance with all the right dimensions and features, but what about the quality? We know our appliance is made of stainless steel, so it’s high quality, right? Although stainless steel provides excellent performance regarding durability and sanitation there’s more to it. Much more.
Every appliance is made of hundreds and even thousands of parts. Now, you can ask a salesperson for an info on something like the quality of cavity magnetron in the microwave you are interested in. But there’s every chance you won’t get it. That is not something sales need to know, and most of the manufacturers won’t share such information.
So how do we know that some of the restaurant equipment is good enough, and can withstand the extended use of all its features?
We know that by certification ALL the equipment sold in the US must have.
Ever since the first electrical appliances (light bulbs) began emerging, and with all the risk electricity posed in those days, certain companies developed tests which would say the consumer that a certain product is safe to use.
ETL and NSF
But what is the “social status” of some certificates in the certification world? How do they rank among each other? For example people often wonder if some product is good enough if it has ETL certificate while they are looking for NSF. Those two are interchangeable.
They have to fulfill the same standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
So, when you see ETL you can be sure that it is as good as if it was certified by NSF. You can’t have one piece of equipment that satisfy testing conditions of one certification company and fail the other. So choosing between two certificates in the same category, like choosing between NSF and ETL is not much of a choice, because you will get the same standard with both of them.
But why are there many different certification there? Here you will find more information on why there are different certifications and what does it mean for our work safety and food sanitation, so keep reading.
All these companies that do testing are impartial, third-party companies. They are not involved in the industry your appliance is in, and they are not government owned as well.
But they do have some rules to follow.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor defines the standards every testing company must follow.
In North America all the manufacturers must partner with certain Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), which is the official common description for, at this point, several third-party testing companies whose certificates are nationally recognized and accepted as applicable.
So, those certifications are proof of independent testing and evaluations of the products and appliances on the North American market.
But what all these companies do tests for, and why there are multiple certifications on a single product?
Like we mentioned earlier, there are several companies which are nationally recognized for testing and certification. And all of them fulfill certain conditions and follow directions enforced by the US law. Some of them do certification for one kind of safety, while other specialize in somehow different. The common thing they all have is that they are improving the food safety.
If you ever wondered how the testing procedures go…well it is not a pleasant sight. The products are actually destroyed during the testing. Every company has developed a standards for every product (and every part of that product), so they know what to look for and what to expect during the tests. For example, the refrigerator doors, are opened and closed a few hundreds of thousands times. That is the expected number of open/close door cycle during the life time expectancy for a certain type of door/refrigerator. And that testing alone lasts for several days.
All the appliances are tortured during the tests. Remember all the things your mother told you not to do while growing up? That is exactly what engineers do with the restaurant equipment. They hit it, and looking for malfunction after it, they burn it, turn it off and on again for thousands of times, they drop it, throw steel balls at it, and apply enormous pressure to it.
They pierce it and even shoot at it if it needs to sustain such kind of use. They pay attention to a very small detail on equipment and its supposed environment. They do all that to be sure that equipment you buy is safe to use. And because of that testing the manufacturer and seller can give you a proper warranty. Very important aspect of certification is follow-up inspection.
Certification companies do regular follow-up inspection to make sure the product is the same every time, and not just for the purpose of testing and certification.
What are the most common certificates?
ETL Intertek – Edison Testing Laboratories
The rising star in NRTL world is Intertek ETL. There are a lot of restaurant appliances already carrying various ETL’s marks.
ETL is very often interchangeable with UL. Both of them fulfill the highest standards regarding workplace safety and hazard risk.
The UL holds huge market share, but as they say at Intertek, their Product Safety Certification Program includes the same testing, listing, labeling, and follow-up inspection services as UL, and they’re accredited by the same organizations, agencies, and regulatory bodies. The standards they test for are ASME, ASTM, ANSI, CSA, NFPA, NOM, NSF, UL/ULC.
Why some product has the UL or ETL certificate, (bear in mind that a lot of products has multiple certifications), is just to the fact that the manufacturer has chosen that way.
ETL has several variations, just like UL certificates and therefore the variations of the marks.
ETL Listed – is basic ETL label, marking the product as tested to meet the requirements of product safety standards through independent testing laboratories and periodic follow-up inspections.
ETL Sanitation Listed – means that equipment is fit for use in the preparation of food for human consumption, or that equipment is safe to be used in the environment where the food is prepared. Since Intertek ETL is ANSI accredited body, ETL tests according to the ANSI/NSF standards.
ETL can issue concurrent ETL listed and ETL Sanitation marks which implies that your product is in compliance with North American safety and sanitation standards and that the manufacturer is subjected to the periodic follow-up inspections.
UL – Underwriters Laboratories
There are several certificates around there, and one of the most present is the UL.
The Underwriters Laboratory. They are easily recognized as UL and their mark.
The UL certificate is on several billion products, confirming they are safe to use. What makes them so popular? First of all, they are in business for quite some time, and they do a lot of testing.
Regarding the restaurant equipment, the UL tests and certifies it for safety and hazards risk. They have been around for over 120 years, and they have influenced the testing standards A LOT. Actually, many of their standards became the standards for the US government. And then those standards were imposed on other NRTL companies as well.
The UL mark means the product passed the tests for structure, electrical, and design standards.
UL Listed – means the product has been tested, and its samples have met all the detailed and specific requirements. If the use and environment of use require additional tests, the UL evaluates products for requirements such as functionality, energy efficiency, gas-fired environments, plumbing, etc. as well.
UL Classified – means the UL tested the product for certain properties of that product.
UL Performance Verified – Means the product has been tested for a certain performance standard.
NSF – National Sanitation Foundation
Foodservice industry depends a lot of sanitation. Nothing will close the business faster than poor hygiene and sanitation standards. Therefore one of the best-known sanitation certificates comes from the National Sanitation Foundation or NSF.
Founded in 1944, NSF was a pioneer in setting the food sanitation standards. At that time the United States had no such standards. In 1990 the company changed the name as they have gone far beyond the US food sanitation and become global public health and safety organization. On their standard list is now over 140 standards for food, water treatment systems, supplements, kitchen, and household appliances, to flooring and furnishing.
As their name says, they primarily focus on food sanitation.
The basic international sanitation certification mark is of a blue circle with white NSF letters, while the black circle/white NSF letters with C and US letters on each bottom side indicates the sanitation certification in accordance with standards in Canada and United States.
The NSF certification is about sanitation. They include smallware, cookware, utensils, or to give it a bit of a scope –it includes anything used for preparation and storing the food. Regarding the size of the appliances, they certify small appliances, like juicers, as a whole, but when it comes to the larges appliances they certify certain aspects, like the ability of dish-washer to remove 99.9 percent of allergens and microorganisms.
The latest and, at the same time a huge player in certification realm is Energy Star. This certification became available in 1990, launched by Environmental Protection Agency – EPA, and ran by EPA and U.S. Department of Energy. You probably remember the computer screens baring the blue star mark. That is because the first products certified by Energy Star were computers and computer screens/monitors.
But soon enough, every product we use become subject to the energy efficiency certification. As we became more aware of energy consumption, greenhouse gases, and how small difference in consumption of energy can make a huge difference in the long run (both for the environment and our wallets) the energy efficiency becomes a major concern.
The standards set in 1990’s are evolving, alongside the evolution of technology. As an example, since 2008 in order to pass the Energy Star testing, average refrigerator needs 20% savings above the minimum standard, while dishwashers need at least 41%.
CSA – Canadian Standards Association
CSA stands for Canada Standards Association, and it is primarily for the Canadian market. But since they use the same standards as ETL and UL, their mark is acceptable as a substitution for UL, and ETL.
CE – European Union
The last one we will mention here is CE certification. Existing since 1985 the CE mark states that importer and /or manufacturer of the product claims compliance with the European Union legislation. The target market for these products is the European Economic Area. So you can found it on the products sold outside EU as well, but which are made in EU or meant to be sold in EU. The CE mark, unfortunately, does not have the same weight as US-based NRTL markings, since the testing standards are different.
As you can see there are multiple certifications. Which is the best? They are all equally important. Why is that? Because of the standards. Standards are enforced by US law, so that you as a buyer and consumer can be sure that not only the product you bought is safe for use and sanitary for food preparation at the time of testing, but that the certification companies vouch for the products bearing their sign whenever you buy them.
These standards and certification make you sure that manufacturers maintain the highest quality during the production process so that every single part of the product that you bought is safe and sanitary. With these certifications, you know your food quality and your guest satisfaction depends only on you and your skills.