Certification by NSF International Explained and What Certification Means For You
Like any other health and wellness product, the quality and safety of a nutritional supplement begins with good manufacturing practices. So Thorne is proud to announce that we recently received – again – the prestigious “A” rating for NSF International’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) registration for our new South Carolina manufacturing facility.
But what exactly does NSF certification mean for you as a consumer? To understand how our NSF International certification protects you, it is important to understand NSF’s history and how NSF’s rigorous certification process works.
Who is NSF International?
NSF International is an independent non-profit corporation that operates in many more industries than just nutritional supplements. In fact, NSF International oversees the development of many health standards and certification programs around the world that help protect food, water, and consumer products.
NSF traces its origin to 1944, when it began at the University of Michigan as the National Sanitation Foundation for the purpose of standardizing sanitation and food safety requirements. NSF initially established safety standards for things like soda fountains and cooking equipment, but eventually expanded beyond sanitation standards to test and certify products in multiple industries to verify that an industry’s products were meeting NSF-developed health and safety standards.
As to quality in the nutritional supplement industry, NSF International has long set the gold standard. NSF's nutritional supplement certification program comprises ingredient and product testing, independent plant inspections, and ongoing audits to ensure product protection for consumers. The NSF’s ongoing auditing function is the key difference of their certification program. Other third-party programs might only audit a company once, so there is no guarantee to consumers that the company’s product will consistently be made with the same standards. These “one-off” audits won’t catch a subsequent decrease in quality or manufacturing standards.
This is why NSF International has an ongoing certification and auditing program. NSF certification also requires batch testing for the purpose of ensuring that each and every batch of a product continues to adhere to NSF’s strict quality standards.
NSF International, Thorne, and the Need for Certification
The nutritional supplement industry has been growing exponentially. In 1994 there were 4,000 nutritional supplement products in the U.S. market; by 2014, there were more than 90,000.1 According to NSF, there are now more than 15,000 nutritional supplement manufacturing facilities, with more than half of these facilities being located outside the United States.
According to a recent report of nutritional supplement manufacturing facilities registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), less than three percent of these facilities are audited annually.2 And when these facilities are audited, two-thirds are found to have significant quality deficiencies, with many having multiple severe violations.
That is why independent third-party testing is important. Thorne believes every nutritional supplement company should retain independent third-party companies to audit their manufacturing processes and test their products to ensure compliance with the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP’s) regulations.
NSF International independently certifies nutritional supplement manufacturers as meeting cGMP requirements (as listed in Section 8 of NSF/ANSI 173, which is the only American National Standard in the nutritional supplement industry developed in accordance with Part 111 of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the FDA’s cGMP’s). In addition, NSF also offers its Certified for Sport® program. Here is what NSF Certified for Sport means for everyday consumers and athletes in all sports.
What NSF International registration means for everyday consumers
The first type of registration – the one Thorne’s South Carolina manufacturing facility received our “A” rating for – is NSF’s GMP auditing program. NSF conducts a facility-wide GMP audit two times a year to verify that the FDA’s cGMP’s are being complied with.
cGMP’s are a set of federal quality standards that must be implemented to maintain proper controls in manufacturing processes so nutritional supplement products are consistently processed, manufactured, and labeled in accordance with these standards. Earning GMP certification from NSF International verifies that Thorne’s manufacturing facility has the appropriate methods, equipment, facilities, controls, and trained employees in place to manufacture high-quality nutritional supplement products.
This means a consumer can have real peace of mind when taking a Thorne product, because our South Carolina manufacturing facility has been certified as meeting the highest quality standards set for nutritional supplement product safety and quality.
What NSF International certification means for athletes
Professional athletes strive to only use nutritional supplement products that are free of banned substances. There is simply too much at stake and too many hours of dedication invested by these elite athletes to risk taking a contaminated nutritional supplement product.
That is why, in addition to NSF’s cGMP registration, Thorne also participates in NSF’s Certified for Sport program. NSF Certified for Sport provides the certainty for an athlete, as well as a consumer, to know that he or she is taking a safe, high-quality, uncontaminated nutritional supplement.
Brian Jordan, CSCS, RSCC*D, has 20 years of experience working with professional athletes and organizations in the field of strength and conditioning. As the Technical Manager for NSF’s Certified for Sport program, Brian explains that the importance of this NSF program should not be overlooked.
“For many years now, the NSF Certified for Sport program has been the best way to protect athletes against potentially harmful supplements because of its rigorous product testing requirements and facility inspections that certified products must undergo to achieve the Certified for Sport certification. This includes verifying label claims, as well as testing for unsafe levels of pesticides, heavy metals, and contaminants, and for 273 athletic-banned substances.
“The NSF Certified for Sport certification is recommended by major professional sports leagues, including organizations like the NFL, NBA, NASCAR, UFC, WTA, PGA, and LPGA. It’s also the only independent certification program recognized by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and the Canadian Football League.”
To be considered for the NSF Certified for Sport program, the manufacturing facility must first participate in and successfully pass the NSF’s cGMP auditing program, as explained above. Thereafter, any product that achieves NSF Certified for Sport status must go through a rigorous review process that confirms that:
- The product does not contain any of the 273 substances banned by major athletic organizations
- The contents of the product totally match what is printed on the product label
- There are no unsafe levels of recognized contaminants in the tested product
- The product is manufactured at a GMP-certified facility that is audited twice annually for quality and safety by NSF International.
Who can use Thorne’s NSF Certified for Sport product line? You can.
In addition to being an NSF International GMP-certified facility, Thorne has the most extensive line of NSF Certified for Sport products. And our NSF Certified for Sport products are not just for the pros – they are for everyone. We believe the professional athlete, the casual competitor, and everyday individuals alike should have access to nutritional supplements free of banned substances.
So when you see that a Thorne product has been NSF Certified for Sport, it means the product has met the most stringent standards when it comes to safety and quality. These Thorne products are not just for elite athletes, they are for the athlete in all of us.
- Starr R. Too little, too late: ineffective regulation of dietary supplements in the United States. Am J Public Health. 2015;105(3):478-485. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302348
- Kapoor A, Sharfstein J. (2016) Breaking the gridlock: Regulation of dietary supplements in the United States. Drug Test. Analysis, 8:424-430. doi: 10.1002/dta.1892.