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The Challenges of Food and Drink in Lab Areas

Does your facility struggle with how to keep food and drink out of laboratory areas?

Consuming food and drinks in laboratories and storing food in laboratory equipment increase the chance of contamination and accidental ingestion of hazardous materials.  Regulations and best practices clearly prohibit food and drink in laboratories, which includes storage in laboratory equipment such as refrigerators or freezers.  Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) states that eating, drinking, or storing food for human consumption is not permitted in any laboratory area.  29 CFR 1910.1450, Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories, requires employers to develop and implement hygiene measures to reduce employee exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Most facilities are able to physically separate office space from lab space, however the layout of some buildings presents unique challenges for the safety considerations of food and drink.  Some facilities have desks in lab space, where researchers want to enjoy a cup of coffee or drink water while working on the computer at their desk.  Other facilities have cubicle areas that are not well defined or separated from lab space, or offices with the door leading directly into the lab.

In situations where desks are located within the lab space, a very clear policy prohibiting the consumption of food or drink in the lab must be implemented and enforced.  When offices or conference rooms are adjacent to lab space, a clear policy stipulating that food and drink must be covered during transport should be developed.  Supplies needed to cover food and drink should be readily available in the kitchen to promote compliance with the policy.  As with any EHS policy, it is critical to obtain input from the end users so the policy can be followed as written.  In all situations, it should be made clear in manuals and new employee training that food and drink are not permitted in labs, including storage.

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