What is NSF Certified Exactly?

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If you’re on the hunt for a water treatment solution for your home, it’s likely that you’ve come across the term “NSF certified”. Perhaps a product boasts an NSF certification; maybe you’ve noticed customers asking in a product’s Q&A section whether it’s NSF certified for a particular Standard.

With this certification appearing to play a big part in influencing customers’ buying decisions, you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about. In this short guide, I’ll be discussing everything you need to know about NSF certifications, sharing my own knowledge about:

  • NSF International, the independent testing body
  • How companies achieve NSF certifications
  • Why accreditation is important (but not essential)
  • Whether you should always look for an NSF certification

Let’s get started!

πŸ‘₯ Who Are NSF International?

NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) International is a worldwide non-profit organization that provides standards for public health and safety to protect human health.

Founded in 1944, the NSF International team tests, audits and certifies products, providing assurance to consumers and retailers that these products are designed to standards of quality that comply with all public health standards, sanitation and food safety requirements currently in place.

The NSF is a third-party organization not affiliated with any industry or company. Companies can’t pay NSF International to give them a certification, so testing and certification is done in a fair, unbiased manner.

With a staff of professionals across the world, including engineers, toxicologists, microbiologists, chemists and health experts, and global laboratories, NSF International is a reliable and competent body for conducting product testing and issuing safety standards for food service equipment and more.

Aside from approval for a set of stringent food safety and public health standards, the NSF also offers risk management, consulting, training and education.

πŸŽ–οΈ NSF Certification for Water Treatment Systems

NSF International product testing applies to a number of food & water applications, but I’ll be looking specifically at what an NSF certification means for water treatment systems.

When water filter manufacturers have NSF certified products, it indicates that the product has either met or exceeded NSF’s Standards for the type of treatment the system offers. These formal guidelines can’t be amended and apply to all products of a specific design or intended purpose.

Any company can pay to send their products for testing/material analysis (*note that they’re paying for the testing, not for the certification, and the NSF is under no obligation to certify an unworthy product). If successful, a company can achieve an NSF certified mark, which they can use in their product advertising.

When analyzing products and equipment to determine whether they meet NSF Standards, the following items must be considered:

  • Safety of the manufacturing facility
  • Durability & quality of build
  • BPA- and BPS-free approved plastics
  • Test results from manufacturing
  • Accurate labels and marketing claims

Simply put, having NSF certified products means that a company has undergone tests and met specific guidelines for food safety. This stamp of approval is incredibly helpful from the manufacturer’s standpoint – it gives customers peace of mind that they’re buying something that has been tested and certified by a legitimate, reputable organization.

It’s pretty easy for a company to exaggerate or even lie about their product’s quality or capabilities. But how do you truly know that a filter removes a certain contaminant if it hasn’t been independently tested to do so? When you buy a product that has been certified by the NSF, you’ll know that the product must have been tested by an expert that isn’t in any way affiliated with the company.

There’s a list available on the NSF website that covers all the Standards currently in place for filters.

πŸ“ Certification Process

To be certified by the National Sanitation Foundation, a company must undergo a rigorous certification process to ensure their product or equipment is constructed to meet NSF International’s standards.

To begin, a company will need to submit information about the product or equipment in question. The product or equipment will then be submitted for inspection and evaluation in one of the NSF’s accredited laboratories. Tests will be carried out to determine whether a product meets specific requirements for health and safety.

Finally, annual follow-ups and audits of the facility and product are required to maintain certification.

American National Standards Institute (ANSI)

If you see that a product is NSF/ANSI certified, that’s because the NSF has worked with ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) in the development of a set of certification programs for products in the commercial water treatment industry. The ANSI is another private, non-profit company based in the US that develops standards for services, products, equipment and processes.

βœ”οΈ Reasons Manufacturers Get Accredited

There are several benefits to having the trademark NSF logo on a food service item. These include:

Purchasing confidence

Manufacturing companies know that customers have more purchasing confidence when a product has an NSF certification. By having the NSF logo in their marketing materials, they can assure the consumer that their product has had evaluation to say it’s designed well and is safe to use.

Stand out from competitors

The water filtration industry is incredibly competitive, especially as many customers are now looking exclusively for products with the NSF mark, and will rule out any that don’t meet a particular design Standard based on that alone. Having proof of accredited inspection and approval can ensure companies can stay level with their certified competitors.

Validates new company claims

Starting out in the commercial filtration industry isn’t easy when there are already so many products and equipment to choose from. NSF tests can ensure customers that new companies are just as legitimate as their older competitors.

🚰 Are Water Filters Safe if They Are Not NSF Certified?

It’s not required to be NSF certified, and you might notice that some filters, including those offered by some of the biggest companies, don’t have the NSF label in their sales materials.

Some manufacturers are also pretty sneaky in their marketing – they’ll write things like “TESTED TO NSF STANDARDS” to make the average customer assume that their product has an NSF certification when it hasn’t. It’s common for companies to pay other companies to test their filters for them, following the NSF guidelines, to save money (the official NSF stamp is very expensive in comparison). This can be legitimate, but nothing gets more legitimate than a globally-renowned organization like the NSF – and a company may claim to have “independent testing to NSF standards” when they don’t at all.

If a company doesn’t have an official NSF certification for their products, but it does have “third party testing” in a private lab, you should be able to find evidence of this, such as an official report. Contact the manufacturer if you can’t, or you’re not sure about the legitimacy of what you find. While this won’t offer the level of assurance as an NSF certification will, it’s better than nothing.

If a manufacturer has no NSF approval and no private test evidence, it’s wise to be wary. Check out what previous customers are saying about the safety of the products you’re looking at. Nothing’s stopping you from contacting the manufacturer and asking why they don’t have certified consumer products, either.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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