The firm said HCV EU (HAACP Compliance Verification) is the first compliance verification program to cover hygienic quality of commercial food equipment following European guidelines and legislation.
It is aimed at equipment used in commercial kitchens of restaurants, hospitals and schools, catering services etc and not industrial machines used to produce or process food, covered by the standards of EHEDG.
HCV EU covers food contact materials, cleanability and hygienic design, and equipment performance such as the capability to hold food at safe temperatures and to verify efficiency of cleaning in place (CIP), the automatic cycle to clean and sanitize closed and pressurized inaccessible systems.
NSF International based the program on existing European legislation and regulations such as EC 1935/2004 for food contact materials and EN 1672-2, the European standard that establishes a general code of practice for cleanable design.
It offers specifiers, including US-based restaurant chains and retailers, the ability to define basic food safety principles and translate them into equipment requirements.
Specifiers (an organization that buys commercial food equipment) can then check for these requirements when buying and selecting equipment. This helps to minimize risks such as contamination, food poisoning and an unhygienic environment, so protects the brands, said NSF.
Dan Fone, business development director for NSF International’s Global Food Division, said the number of questions received at the European office, for example from quick service restaurant chains with headquarters in the US, operating internationally, was increasing.
“They asked us how to specify requirements to assure the same hygienic quality that they can rely on inside the US as a result of the NSF Food Equipment certification program (which covers requirements in the FDA Food Code),” he told FoodQualityNews.
“We can only guess why the number of questions we received was increasing. It might have to do with the overall growing interest in food safety and related subjects in Europe, and with the fact that compliance with the European Regulation for materials in contact with Food, EC 1935/2004 is increasingly enforced.”
Fone said a second reason to launch the program was the increasing focus on HACCP.
“The hygienic quality of food equipment plays a major role in controlling risks and therefore should play a major role when checking HACCP pre-requisites. Yet the majority of official references to the hygienic aspects of food equipment in documents such as the Codex Alimentarius, are phrased in very general and multi interpretable terms, such as 'cleanable'.”
The program does not cover any aspects related to the health and safety of personnel (such as electrical safety of the equipment) or any verification or certification of good manufacturing practices, or quality management.
Uptake and expansion
“It’s early days, so not yet possible to predict the uptake, but we expect to be able to announce that several of them will ‘’adopt’’ the program for their restaurants in Europe later this year and that a large number will adopt it in the longer run,” said Fone.
“Other stakeholders which are studying the program are food equipment distributors; or platforms offering food equipment from many different sources, eager to include information on the hygienic quality or to even require it.
“On the manufacturers’ side we had already been working with several manufacturers prior to the launch. Their primary wish is to independently prove the hygienic quality of their equipment to their customers and to increase the value of their brand.
“Of course we expect a major increase in the interest once HCV compliance will be required by major specifiers such as the international quick service restaurants we are currently in touch with.”
Fone said it had the intention to extend the program to other regions.
“The strength of the program will lie in the fact that the basic requirements – with regard to the hygienic design, cleanability and hygienic performance - will be the same worldwide,” he said.
“The only aspect that will or can be different in any of the regions where we (will) offer the program, will be the local legal material requirements. These requirements are not only a very important aspect of the hygienic quality but are also enforced in most regions, therefore they need to be included.
“In case the program will be offered in a region without any local food contact material requirements, there will be a choice of requirements to include, e.g. the European (EC 1935/2004) requirements or the US (FDA 21 cfr) requirements.”
Products which are verified and found to comply will be registered in the online public HCV database on the NSF website, and the manufacturer receives a formal confirmation letter of compliance.
The annual procedure to maintain the registration includes the requirement to provide a statement in which the manufacturer confirms that the equipment covered has not been modified.
Any equipment that is used in a commercial kitchen is covered including items used to prepare, display or store food. It can also include equipment not used for these purposes and/or is not in contact with food, such as extraction hoods, light fixtures etc., of which cleanability is of importance as it can lead to risks in a HACCP controlled environment.
Ann Willems, unit manager, food equipment Europe at NSF International, said: “The main challenge in assessing the hygienic quality of food equipment, is to verify whether the design and construction of a machine is ‘cleanable’- this is typically very open to interpretation and therefore requires a specialist service to ensure the correct judgement calls are made.”