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Nsf International Business Information, Profile, and History

organization standards national testing

P.O. Box 130140
789 North Dixboro Road
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48113-0140
U.S.A.

Company Perspectives:

NSF International, an independent, not-for-profit, non-governmental organization, is dedicated to being the leading global provider of public health and safety-based risk management solutions while serving the interests of all stakeholders.

History of Nsf International

NSF International is a world leader in the testing and certification of products that affect the safety of water, food, and air. NSF develops standards, tests products, certifies compliance, educates the public, and provides risk-management services for business. Fees charged for testing comprise its main source of income. The company's clients include the makers of Evian spring water, nutritional supplement chain GNC, and the National Football League. Its educational efforts include "Scrub Club," a print and Web-based program that promotes better hand-washing among children. The NSF is a designated World Health Organization Collaborating Center for water quality, food safety, and indoor environment health standards. Headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, NSF International and its subsidiaries have offices in several American cities and in Belgium, Brazil, and Japan.

Beginnings

NSF International was founded in 1944 as the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Its three founders, Walter Snyder, Henry Vaughn, and Nathan Sinai, were two professors and a health department official from nearby Toledo, Ohio.

The NSF was created to make advances in the field of sanitation through the promotion of research and collaboration. Its bylaws stated that the organization would "be operated exclusively for charitable, educational, and scientific purposes and for the purpose of testing for public safety ... as a nonprofit corporation." Funding would come from foundation grants and businesses.

At this time, the United States had no national sanitation standards, with each municipality developing its own, often conflicting, set of regulations. This lack of consistency was particularly troublesome for manufacturers, whose products might be salable in one area but not in another. Executive director Walter Snyder and his colleagues sought to develop standards for sanitation by reaching a consensus of the parties that had a stake in the outcome, namely the public, the business community, and government agencies. By involving all three, each could feel invested in the process and would work to achieve a common goal.

In 1948, the NSF sponsored its first clinics to discuss sanitation education, supervision, and administration, as well as ordinances for eating and drinking establishments, dishwashing, installation of food-service equipment, vending machines, rodent and insect control, and other topics. In 1952, the organization published its first consensus sanitation standards and introduced its official mark of recognition. The same year saw the launch of the Food Equipment Program, in which the organization would certify products for manufacturers. Testing would be performed in the former Federal Mogul Corp. laboratory on the west side of Ann Arbor.

During the 1950s, NSF executive director Walter Snyder spent much of his time on the road promoting the organization's standards around the United States. As they were adopted, more product testing work was generated. In 1959, an agreement was reached with the Society of the Plastics Industry to establish health effects testing and certification standards for plastics, and in 1963 the organization opened its first regional offices.

Expansion in the 1960s

In 1965, the NSF launched new plastic piping and wastewater treatment programs, which brought the organization additional testing work. That year, Walter Snyder died of a heart attack, and the job of leading the organization was given to Dr. Robert M. Brown.

In 1966, the growing NSF built a two-story addition to its Ann Arbor testing facility, and in 1971 the organization spent $1.5 million to buy part of the former home of McDonnell-Douglas subsidiary Conductron. The 65,000-square-foot building was located on 20 acres of land on the east side of Ann Arbor. At this time, some of the organization's research was still being conducted at the School of Public Health, but it was moved to the new building, along with most other NSF operations, a few months later. A wastewater test site was maintained on the nearby Huron River, with another small office and testing facility in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In 1975, a national survey of public health departments found that 90 percent of responding agencies had adopted the organization's standards for food-service equipment. NSF was now responsible for evaluating the food service products of more than 1,000 manufacturers in the United States. A range of different tests were performed, including measurements of the effectiveness of dishwashing equipment in removing bacteria and the cleanability of various materials used in dispensing food.

Other NSF programs at this time tested water quality in rivers where wastewater was present; sewage treatment plants; swimming pool equipment such as pumps, valves, chemical feeders and test kits; and plastic water pipes. In the latter category, more than 240 firms in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan were using NSF standards. The organization was also sponsoring educational programs that taught food sanitation through seminars and via audio/visual training materials. They were used by managers of food service establishments throughout the United States.

In 1976, the NSF received an award from the National Institutes of Health to set standards for hospital cabinets. The organization employed 65 and had annual revenues of more than $2.5 million.

The year 1980 saw the NSF initiate a program to set standards for the purity of drinking water as well as name a new president, Nina McClelland. She had joined the organization in 1968 as the head of its water resource program. That year also brought victory in a ten-year court battle that had made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It involved a lawsuit filed by a Kalamazoo, Michigan, company whose refrigeration unit had been tested, but not approved, by the NSF. When a store refused to buy one of its coolers because it did not bear the NSF mark, the manufacturer sued the organization, several of its officers, four public health officials, six other manufacturers, and the National Restaurant Association, alleging restraint of free trade. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, letting a Federal Appellate Court ruling stand.

Work for EPA Begins in 1985

In 1984, the NSF started a bottled drinking water program and established a body called the Health Advisory Board. The organization scored a major coup a year later when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave it the task of developing national health standards for products that came in contact with drinking water. The assignment involved a wide range of items including pumps, pipes, gaskets, faucets, and paints. The historic move of delegating regulatory work to a private agency had come as the EPA was seeing a growing backlog of products to be tested and as its funding was being cut by the Reagan administration.

The EPA would supervise the NSF's work, which would be performed in cooperation with other bodies, including the American Waterworks Association Research Foundation and the Conference of State Health and Environmental Managers. Funding would largely be provided by the companies whose products were being tested, with the EPA itself paying just $85,000. This assignment would become one of the NSF's leading sources of income. At the time, the agreement was reached, the NSF had 100 employees and annual revenues of $5 million per year.

The organization's first foreign office was established in 1985 in Brussels, Belgium, and the following year the NSF began a testing program for household water filters, which, like drinking water product certification, would become a major revenue source for the firm. The year 1986 also saw the organization begin inspecting cruise ships that docked in the United States for sanitation after the Centers for Disease Control stopped performing the work. The NSF would perform work for 15 cruise lines that operated 48 ships.

In 1987, a new testing laboratory was opened in Sacramento, California. Regional offices had been established in Pennsylvania and Georgia by this time as well. Projects the firm was now involved with included testing materials for Kimberly-Clark to develop a way of making compostable disposable diapers.

In 1990, the National Sanitation Foundation and the National Sanitation Foundation Testing Laboratory were merged and the organization renamed NSF International. In 1991, the firm was accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for its product certification programs, and NSF established agreements with organizations in the Netherlands, Japan, and Taiwan to cooperate on performing plant inspections in each country. Similar agreements would later be signed in Canada and Mexico.

In 1995, the NSF's board appointed Dennis Mangino to head the organization. The first NSF president who had not come up through the ranks, Mangino had a degree in ceramics sciences and had worked as an executive at several companies, most recently as vice-president in charge of research and development at Weirton Steel in West Virginia.

NSF-ISR is Founded in 1996

In 1996, a new, for-profit subsidiary of the NSF was formed. NSF International Strategic Registrations, Ltd. (NSF-ISR) would audit automotive suppliers to assure that they met International Organization for Standardization (ISO) environmental and quality standards. The year 1996 also saw the NSF chosen to be a Collaborating Center by the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop drinking water standards. The following year, this relationship was expanded to include food safety.

The NSF's payroll was now expanding rapidly, reaching 260 in 1997. The fall of that year saw ground broken on a new 150,000-square-foot headquarters and laboratory and the opening of a new office in Nairobi, Kenya. Offices were added the following year in Sydney, Australia, and Tokyo, Japan. The organization had also opened an office in Washington, D.C., by this time. The year 1998 also saw the NSF recognized by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a Nationally Accredited Testing Laboratory for electrical certification.

In March 1999, a joint venture was formed in the United Kingdom called WRc-NSF with the British research and consulting firm WRc, plc. It would offer testing and certification services to a variety of international clients. In April, the NSF's new headquarters opened, and the organization sponsored its first conference on indoor air quality, in Denver. A new trademark, "The Public Health and Safety Company," was introduced at this time as well. The organization also formed a new division during the year called The Center for Public Health Education and a subsidiary called The Toxicology Group, LLC. NSF was now working on its first standard for safety of a food product, involving baked goods containing soft cheese or vegetables that could be stored at room temperature.

New CEO Mangino was guiding the NSF through a period of rapid growth, but it was not without controversy. Six months after taking the top job, he had fired two vice-presidents and an assistant vice-president, and in the following months a number of other top personnel left or were fired. Mangino was also accused of sexually harassing several women in the organization. One alleged victim later sued him and the NSF, while a fired vice-president sued for age discrimination and received an undisclosed settlement.

Mangino's reported focus on increasing revenues led to additional controversy, as allegations surfaced that a program manager on the firm's staff had directed that a relatively high level of a probable carcinogen be allowed in a well-drilling equipment standard. Later, complaints were made by rival testing firm Underwriters Laboratories over the NSF's lack of cooperation in sharing information. Standards coordinating body the ANSI audited the organization and put it on probation in 2000, nearly costing the NSF its lucrative drinking water work. The company soon implemented changes recommended by the ANSI, including allowing greater access to outsiders during the standards-setting process, and the NSF retained the contract.

Round of Acquisitions Starts in 2001

In June 2001, the organization acquired Cook & Thurber, LLC, a six-year-old auditor of product safety and quality for the food, beverage, animal feed, and packaging industries. It would operate as a division of NSF and remain headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin. In the fall of the same year, NSF bought the Institute for Nutraceutical Advancement (INA), which developed and validated analytical methods for testing botanical ingredients, and formed a strategic partnership with the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA), the largest trade association in the United States for manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers of natural products, to provide a certification program for dietary supplements. NSF would verify that ingredients were as listed on labels and test for contaminants. Several other organizations, including U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) and the Good Housekeeping Institute, were offering similar programs, but NSF was the only one to be accepted by the ANSI and the Standards Council of Canada. In 2001, the NSF also reached an agreement with the government of Taiwan for that country to adopt the agency's standard for drinking water purity. The company was now expanding its efforts in a number of areas, including mechanical plumbing, mobile food truck, and plastic conduit certification.

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the NSF sponsored a conference on bio-terrorism in early 2002 in Ann Arbor. This was done in partnership with the Water Quality Association. The two organizations had begun working jointly to develop standards that assured the nation's water supply would be guarded against bio-terrorist attacks.

In 2002, the company acquired FreshCheck, which provided microbiological testing and sanitation audits for the supermarket industry, focusing on perishable foods made on-premises. The NSF also realigned its operations during the year to focus on its two major markets of food and water. The firm employed 350 and had revenues of $52 million.

In 2003, CEO Mangino retired and was replaced by Kevan Lawlor, an 18-year veteran of the firm who had served as chief financial officer and head of the NSF-ISR subsidiary. During the eight years of Mangino's leadership, the organization had quadrupled in size. The year 2003 also saw the NSF's work with the WHO expanded to include indoor air standards.

In October 2003, the NSF launched its first-ever advertising campaign, which was budgeted at $2 million. Print advertisements using the tagline "Live Safer" appeared in national publications including People magazine, Time, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. These were intended to raise awareness of the organization among consumers. Several months later, the NSF also launched a national educational campaign called Clean Hands Across America, which utilized cartoon characters of the "Scrub Club" to encourage children to wash their hands properly and regularly. A Scrub Club Web site was launched as well. The NSF's own Web site offered information about the standards it had developed and the products that it tested, as well as serving as a client interface.

In December 2003, General Nutrition Companies (GNC), the largest supplier of nutritional supplements in the United States, signed an agreement with NSF for the organization to certify its products. This agreement was followed in January 2004 by one with the National Football League. NSF would certify that nutritional supplements adhered to the football league's standards, which banned products containing steroids and related substances.

March 2004 saw the firm acquire Quality Assurance International, Inc. (QAI), a leading international provider of organic certification that was operated on a for-profit basis. QAI had been founded in California in 1989 and provided certification services to growers, manufacturers, and retailers. An estimated two-thirds of organic products sold in stores were QAI certified. In 2005, NSF began preparations to enlarge its headquarters facility by 82,000 square feet, a project that would largely be funded by an issuance of $10 million in bonds. The organization was now serving clients in nearly 80 countries.

After more than 60 years, NSF International had grown into the world's leading non-governmental organization dedicated to testing and certification of products that affected the safety of water, food, and air. It was working to cement its position as the leader in its field through strategic acquisitions and new marketing efforts.

Principal Subsidiaries: NSF International Strategic Registrations, Ltd.; Quality Assurance International; The Toxicology Group, LLC; NSF International Strategic Registrations Canada Co.; NSF do Brasil.

Principal Competitors: Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.; Intertek Group Plc; SGS SA; The United States Pharmacopeial Convention, Inc.; ConsumerLab.com, LLC; The Canadian Standards Association; The Good Housekeeping Institute.

Chronology

  • Key Dates:
  • 1944: National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) is formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
  • 1952: NSF Testing Laboratory is chartered; Food Equipment Program starts.
  • 1965: Plastic piping and wastewater treatment programs begin.
  • 1971: NSF buys a 65,000-square-foot building for its laboratories and headquarters.
  • 1985: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asks NSF to help set drinking water standards; a Belgian office is opened.
  • 1990: The organization changes its name to NSF International.
  • 1996: NSF International Strategic Registrations, Ltd. subsidiary is formed.
  • 1996: NSF begins working with the World Health Organization.
  • 1999: The Toxicology Group LLC and Center for Public Health Education is founded; a new headquarters building opens in Ann Arbor.
  • 2001: Cook & Thurber and Institute for Nutritional Advancement are purchased.
  • 2002: FreshCheck is acquired.
  • 2004: Organic certification firm Quality Assurance International, Inc. is acquired.
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