· 8 min read
Designing Robotic Food Equipment? Talk to NSF.
Hygienic design plays an incredibly important role in the development of products that handle food, especially food equipment. As demand for automated and robotic food equipment continues to grow, NSF recommends taking hygienic design principles into consideration as soon as possible.
Our team of food safety experts is here to help. Read on for tips on design and food equipment certification, as well as our thoughts on recent trends in the industry.
New to designing food equipment or to the world of robotics? Speak with an expert. NSF has a team of food safety and hygienic design experts, ready to work with developers from the conceptual phase to manufacturing. From reviewing CAD drawings to walking through a prototype of the actual equipment to examine, we can provide input as you show us what you’ve developed so far.
Start With a Standard
The standard NSF/ANSI 51: Food Equipment Materials can be a great place to start. Download a copy of the standard to familiarize yourself with the basic material requirements. This can save you a lot of time and extra work, especially if you start the path of sourcing acceptable materials.
Look to the Listings
If you are looking to source components in addition to your materials, then our freely available NSF Certified Food Equipment listing can be a great reference tool. The listing provides access to NSF-certified materials and smaller components (gaskets, valves, legs, casters, etc.) that are suitable for use in food equipment. Selecting products listed here can give you peace of mind that they’ve been checked by NSF.
Consider NSF certification
For many companies entering the market and developing robotic food equipment, NSF certification is a new process. Here, we seek to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
Are NSF Standards the Same Worldwide?
The NSF/ANSI standards for commercial food equipment are based on the US FDA Food Code. NSF's other food equipment programs are based on the same hygienic design requirements, while requirements may vary depending on the country and region.
Is NSF Certification Recognized Globally?
NSF is a globally recognized brand, and our clients span the world. Food equipment sanitation certification for the North American market is a legal requirement and is based on US FDA requirements. We also have voluntary programs for other regions such as Europe and India. Each program covers hygienic design principles that are global.
How Long Does the Testing and Certification Process Take?
This depends on the complexity of the product and where you are in the process. Typically, pre-evaluation takes about two to three weeks. The final certification takes about 90 days, but this can depend on several factors. To help the process run smoothly, we recommend speaking with NSF as early as possible.
Is a Physical On-Site Visit Involved?
What we have learned over the last two years is that for some prototypes, the evaluation portion can be done via a virtual inspection instead of in-person. However, some products still require in-person and/or physical lab testing. If this is the case, we will work with you to determine whether this needs to take place at an NSF location or elsewhere.
How Do I Check if Something Is “Food Safe”?
For equipment being placed on the market in the US, we perform a formulary review check against the FDA requirements on materials that contact food. If an NSF/ANSI 51-certified material is used, that means NSF has already verified the formulation requirements are met.
What Makes Working With NSF Special?
We’ve been in the food equipment certification business for nearly 80 years, and we pride ourselves on providing a single point of contact throughout certification. Our clients tell us this is especially valuable, as it helps with both the technical aspects of certification as well as managing the process itself.
Trends in Food Equipment
As robotic food equipment becomes more common, particularly in food service outlets, here are some of the trends our experts are seeing.
Hygienic Design Is Top of Mind
Suppliers and consumers alike want to know that the equipment being used to prepare food does not put their health and safety at risk. We’re seeing more examples of features such as beverage dispensers that have their own cleaning cartridges. While most machines aren’t entirely “self-cleaning” yet, we are seeing increased demand for effective “CIP” (Cleaning-In-Place) designs in equipment. NSF is not required to check if an antimicrobial surface is effective, however EPA listings do cover this.
What’s great about NSF’s standards is that they are written to address the hygienic design principles of equipment old and new. Our standards are “living documents” and are continually evolved and updated to reflect today’s landscape. We work with industry stakeholders, regulators and manufacturers to help our standards to remain relevant with everything from can openers to robotic pizza machines.
Supply Chain Challenges Continue To Impact Certification
New and existing clients are finding themselves in situations where they need to change suppliers or source multiple suppliers for one or more of the equipment components. As a result, this can impact certification. The best thing to do in this case is to contact us. We understand that manufacturers need to have alternate components available and we can review these to allow for maximum flexibility while helping to ensure that the final assembly meets all certification requirements.
The Pandemic Has Fueled Innovation
The pandemic has certainly influenced the foodservice equipment landscape. As people looked to limit human interactions, we saw increased use of guards on equipment, robotics and automation in the process of making food. This has continued, especially as recruitment remains an industry challenge.
We are also seeing more equipment with touchscreens. These screens should be easily cleanable by hand, with crevices eliminated so that there’s nowhere for dirt to hide. And while aesthetics is important, equipment still needs to be made in line with hygienic design. Remember, while NSF certification checks that the equipment is capable of being cleaned effectively, it still must be cleaned in the field.
Robotics in Commercial Equipment Is Growing Faster Than in Consumer Products
Although there are some innovations in home food equipment, with consumers interested in showcasing new technology and gadgets in their kitchens, we’re seeing the greatest growth in robotics in commercial foodservice equipment.
NSF/ANSI 169: Special Purpose Food Equipment and Devices is a standard that supports innovation and robotics. As its name suggests, it includes robotic equipment and establishes minimum food protection and sanitation requirements for the materials, design, fabrication, construction and performance of special purpose food handling and processing equipment and devices not fully covered by other individual standards.