Who is NSF?
NSF International is often confused with the government organization NSF (National Science Foundation), but the two are not related or affiliated in any way. NSF International is a non-profit company founded to increase public health and safety. Formerly called the National Safety Foundation, NSF International changed their name as the company began collaborating with the World Health Organization (WHO) more and more.
NSF has developed standards and testing practices for a variety of products and services ranging from bottled water to swimming pool equipment. In many of these cases the standards are simply an application of existing FDA (Food and Drug Administration) requirements. For example, NSF's Food Service Disposable Glove Certification ensures that gloves carrying the seal are made with FDA approved materials, do not leak, and are manufactured in a clean and controlled environment. In this example, the FDA does not have specific standards set for disposable gloves for food service use (they have standards for medical use), but they do have standards for materials for use in food preparation. The NSF certification ensures that a third party has authenticated the product as meeting those standards.
However, many products do not carry the NSF mark. Are these products that have failed NSF certification and are less safe than products that carry the mark? Not necessarily. NSF certification is a voluntary process and NSF International charges a fee to the manufacturer to have the product certified. Many products are manufactured that meet or exceed the NSF safety standards but are not inspected or certified by NSF.
To find out if a product has been NSF certified, go to http://www.nsf.org/Certified/Food/
Does NSF certification matter?
In most cases, if you are not a food service professional, NSF certified products are not an issue. For the home or amateur chef, product performance and quality are of higher importance than the guarantee of product safety since almost all major brands of cookware and kitchen equipment self-regulate and maintain at least the minimum level of safety standards in their choice of materials and manufacturing processes.
For the professional kitchen, NSF certification is very important. For many restaurants, the use of NSF certified products is a necessity to show the company has done their job in protecting their customers by selecting products known and tested to be safe. Supermarkets butcher their meats with NSF certified equipment and fast food chains cook with tool bearing the NSF mark to protect themselves as much as their customers.
Do you need NSF certified kitchen equipment?
In general, it doesn't hurt to have tools bearing the NSF mark, but I wouldn't use it as a deciding factor when purchasing gear for your kitchen. Recently a salesman we saw at Costco pushing and claimed that the Ameriware pans were "more durable and safer because they are government certified for professional kitchens which is why Ameriware can claim their cookware to be Professional". (While saying this, the salesman flipped the pan over and showed the NSF mark etched into the bottom of the aluminum pan.) The salesman then went on to use the certification as one of the reasons why the pan's high price was justifiable as professional cookware is expensive. (That last statement is usually not true. Cookware designed for the professional kitchen is often cheaper than those designed for the home because they are replaced on at regular intervals. For example, Vollrath, a reputable restaurant equipment manufacturer who happens to manufacture Ameriware for Cook's Warehouse, makes a 12 in. non-stick aluminum pan that can be bought from a restaurant supply store for $25 while the comparable Ameriware pan was over $80 with the "show discount". Of course, the Ameriware pan has a space age titanium-ceramic non-stick surface... but no one has given me the opportunity to test a traditional non-stick against the Ameriware non-stick, yet.)
The only time I look specifically for the NSF mark is when purchasing a product (like a plastic cutting board) from a company that I have never heard of. In those cases, I can't "trust" the company (since I know nothing about them), and find some assurance from the NSF certification.}?>