Not So Fast
About NSF Certification. What it is and what it isn’t.
If you’ve been exploring available hot dog carts, you’ve probably heard the term NSF certified. A few cart manufacturers offer NSF certified carts or components, often at a substantial additional cost. Let’s review the facts about NSF certification.
Who are they?
The NSF was formed in 1944 to meet the need to standardize requirements for equipment and processes in a number of industries, particularly food service. The original name – National Sanitation Foundation – was shortened to NSF in the 1980s. NSF is a for-profit company as is not directly affiliated with any US government agency or department. Basically, the company certifies that products meet standards established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). This is very similar to the role the better known Underwriters Laboratories (UL) plays in a number of industries. In addition to food service, the NSF also certifies standards for products and processes in a variety of other industries, including automotive, aerospace and medical devices.
Most hot dog cart manufacturers do not have their products certified by the NSF. This is because NSF certification is a lengthy, labor intensive and costly process that may include testing the materials used to manufacture a product, along with the facilities and processes involved. For that reason, NSF certified products – including hot dog carts – can be much more expensive. The higher price, however, does not mean the product itself is any better or safer than a non-certified version. Hot dog carts sold by the USA Trailer Store, for example are high quality, reliable and long-lasting products at a reasonable price.
Do you need a certified cart?
The answer depends on the requirements in your area. Health and safety requirements are controlled by state and local governments and they can vary a great deal. If you are considering purchasing a hot dog cart for use in a specific area, it is imperative that you understand and adhere to the codes that govern that location. They may require that specific components must meet ANSI standards, such as pans, water tanks and pumps.
The county health department is likely to have resources available to help you meet their specific requirements. Printed copies of the local codes will be available on their website or by request in their offices. Some health departments offer online or live courses in how to create a foodservice business. You should explore these options and understand the requirements before purchasing a hot dog cart.
What is a commissary?
A commissary is a restaurant or other commercial food service business that agrees to provide a health department approved location for you to store food and clean your equipment. Some commissaries will even handle basic food preparation duties, such as chopping onions and preparing condiments for use on the cart. In some places, the use of a commissary is mandatory.
Whether it’s required or not, using a commissary can make it easier to meet local health department requirements and help reduce your food preparation time. There are often rules that govern the selection of a commissary, such as the distance it can be from your cart location. The local health department, other vendors and the Internet are excellent places to begin looking for a commissary in your area.
The bottom line
The key to getting the right cart for you is to find one that meets your business requirements, complies with the necessary health department rules and is available at a reasonable price. By taking the time to research local codes and regulations, you can make an informed purchase. Paying a premium price for an NSF compliant hot dog cart is a waste of money if it is not necessary to meet your local requirements. A high price cart means it will take longer for your business to become profitable and that’s really what it’s all about.
Health Guide USA has links to local health departments here.
You can visit the NSF website here.
RoadFood.com has a very good primer on starting a hot dog vending business here.