Skip to main content
Top of the Page

NSF's Guide to Commercial Refrigerator and Freezer Standards

By Mike Kohler
Technical Scheme Lead, Product Certification, Food Retail

Commercial food equipment must comply with the principles of hygienic design to keep users and consumers safe. In the 1950s, the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) introduced NSF Standards 1 and 2, the first food equipment sanitation standards in the United States. Since then, it has developed more than 75 standards and protocols for sanitary food equipment and certified thousands of products for use in restaurant and commercial kitchens. NSF’s food equipment standards include requirements for material safety, design, construction and product performance.

In this recurring column, manufactures and dealers can learn more about an NSF/ANSI food equipment standard and how it supports food safety. This issue will look at standards for commercial refrigerators and freezers.

NSF/ANSI 7: Commercial Refrigerators and Freezers
NSF/ANSI 7 – Commercial Refrigerators and Freezers establishes minimum food protection and sanitation requirements for the materials, design, manufacture, construction and performance of commercial refrigerators and freezers and their related components. This includes storage refrigerators and freezers (e.g. reach-in, undercounter, walk-in, roll-in); rapid pull-down refrigerators and freezers; refrigerated food transport cabinets, buffet units and food preparation units; display refrigerators; beverage coolers; and ice cream cabinets.

NSF/ANSI 7 was first published in 1966. It initially focused on enclosed storage refrigerators and freezers such as reach-in and walk-in types used in commercial food service applications. Over the years, several other types of commercial refrigerators were added to the standard, including rapid pull-down, transport, open-top buffet and preparation units. The scope of the standard further expanded in 1999, when open or closed-display refrigerators and freezers intended for use in applications such as grocery or convenience stores were included.

Determining Requirements
Due to the variety of refrigerators and freezers covered by NSF/ANSI 7, the standard is structured by the type of unit being evaluated and tested. The first step to navigating NSF/ANSI 7 is to identify the type of refrigeration equipment being reviewed and then find the applicable sections for that type.

  • Sections 4 and 5 cover requirements for all types of refrigerators and freezers.
  • Section 6 includes requirements specific to storage refrigerators and freezers.
  • Section 7 includes requirements specific to open-top refrigerated buffet and food preparation units.
  • Section 8 includes requirements specific to walk-in refrigerators and freezers.
  • Section 9 includes requirements specific to display refrigerators and freezers.
  • Section 10 includes requirements specific to rapid pull-down refrigerators and freezers.

NSF/ANSI 170 – Food Equipment Terminology is a separate document that provides definitions of the different types of refrigerators and freezers as well as other key terms used within NSF/ANSI 7. NSF/ANSI 170 can also be referenced for technical terms used in the standard.

NSF/ANSI 51 – Food Equipment Materials is referenced in NSF/ANSI 7 for general material requirements. NSF/ANSI 7 also contains requirements for materials specific to refrigeration equipment within the applicable sections for the various equipment types. In general, materials used in the construction of commercial refrigerators and freezers are required to be smooth, easily cleanable and corrosion resistant. Furthermore, if the materials are in a food zone, they are required to be non-toxic.

The types of foods a refrigerator or freezer is intended to store or display also determine the applicable requirements. Refrigeration equipment designed and labeled with “This equipment is intended for the storage and display of packaged products only” will have less stringent requirements for the interior storage compartment than refrigeration equipment with no restrictions that can be used for unpackaged products. The interior storage compartments for refrigeration equipment designed only for packaged products must meet the requirements for splash zones. The interior food storage compartments for refrigeration equipment designed for unpackaged foods must meet the requirements for food zones.

Another factor to consider is whether the food being stored requires temperature control for safety. Some types of refrigeration equipment are designed for bottled and canned products only. Therefore, such equipment does not require temperature control for safety. An example of this is a beverage cooler, where a cool temperature for the beverage is desirable from a product quality standpoint but not necessarily from a food safety perspective. These types of equipment are exempt from performance testing and required to be labeled with: “This equipment is intended for the storage and display of non-time / temperature control for safety foods bottled or canned products only.” All refrigeration equipment intended to store or display foods that do require temperature control for safety must meet the temperature performance testing requirements of NSF/ANSI 7 applicable to the equipment type under review.

Although refrigeration equipment intended for foods that require temperature control is performance tested to ensure its capability of maintaining food temperatures, NSF/ANSI 7 requires each refrigerated storage compartment to have a temperature-indicating device (such as a thermometer) that displays the air temperature in that compartment. Temperature-indicating devices are required to be accurate to ± 2 degrees Fahrenheit (± 1 degree Celsius) and are checked for accuracy as part of the testing process. Note that NSF-certified components in refrigeration equipment, such as thermometers, do not require any further evaluation or testing of the component itself.

There are several other NSF-certified materials or components that may be used in refrigeration equipment that can reduce the overall amount of evaluation or testing necessary for the unit to complete review. These include NSF-certified materials, shelving, doors, casters, legs, food shields, and other hardware (e.g. hinges, latches, handles). By using such materials or components, the manufacturer can save both time and cost.

Back to Top