Do not place food in a refrigerator that contains lab specimens or medications.

The purpose of this fact sheet is to summarize why eating and drinking are not permitted in areas where chemical, radiological, and/or biological materials are used or stored.

Questions about this topic can be directed here. 

Definitions

The term “eating and drinking” refers to eating, drinking, smoking, applying cosmetics, adjusting contact lenses, taking/storing medicine, and other related activities. It also includes items and
equipment used for storing, preparing and consuming food and beverages.

The term “hazardous materials” includes biological agents, chemicals, radioactive materials, and waste from all of these materials.

Reasons for Prohibition

The main reasons why eating and drinking are not permitted in areas using or storing hazardous materials are personal safety risks and risks of non-compliance with regulatory or granting agency requirements that may impact an individual, a work unit, or the institution as a whole.

Personal Safety Risks

Personal safety risks can result from cross-contamination and ingestion. Contamination can result from contact with contaminated gloves/hands, airborne materials settling out or condensing on surfaces or utensils, or placing consumable items on a contaminated surface.

Prudent Practices in the Laboratory by the National Research Council includes these precautions for minimizing exposure:

  • Eating, drinking, smoking, gum chewing, applying cosmetics, and taking medicine in laboratories where hazardous materials are used should be strictly prohibited.
  • Food, beverages, cups, and other drinking and eating utensils should not be stored in areas where hazardous materials are handled or stored.
  •  Glassware use for laboratory operations should never be used to prepare or consume food or beverages.
  • Laboratory refrigerators, ice chests, cold rooms, ovens, and so forth should not be used for food storage or preparation.
  • Laboratory water sources and deionized laboratory water should not be used as drinking water.
  • Laboratory chemicals should never be tasted.
  • A pipette bulb or aspirator should be used to pipette chemicals or to start a siphon; pipetting should never be done by mouth.
  • Hands should be washed with soap and water immediately after working with any laboratory material, even if gloves have been worn.

Regulatory Compliance

The main compliance and grant risks summarized below include regulations (either federal or state laws), consensus standards, and granting agency requirements. These mandates are also included
in University programs for occupation health and safety and radiation protection.

The OSHA Lab Standard and the University Chemical Hygiene Plan prohibit eating/drinking in areas where hazardous chemicals are in use.

The OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard and the University Exposure Control Program prohibit eating/drinking in areas where a reasonable likelihood exists for exposure to blood or other
potentially infectious materials.

The University Biological Safety Program states that eating, drinking, smoking, handling contact lenses, or applying cosmetics are not permitted where rDNA research is done, or where there is
reasonable likelihood of exposure to potentially infectious material. This is based on National Institutes of Health Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules and on Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories.

The Iowa Department of Public Health, Bureau of Radiological Health and the University Radiation Protection Guide prohibits eating/drinking in areas where radioactive materials are present.

EPA regulations focus mainly on materials management and environmental impacts. However, regulatory inspectors may refer issues regulated by another agency to that agency. Therefore, EPA
may refer occupational issues to OSHA.

Granting agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense require that both the unit receiving the grant and the institution as a whole to be in compliance with their
guidelines and the regulations of other agencies such as OSHA, EPA, and IDPH.

Based on the information cited above, it is the University’s policy that eating and drinking are not permitted in areas where chemical, radiological, and/or biological materials are used or stored.

Refrigerator Storage - Reagents and Specimens

Any examples are for illustrative purposes only.Yes. Laboratory reagents may be stored in the same refrigerator as laboratory specimens. In both cases, there should be distinctly marked and separated areas in the refrigerator to minimize any risk of contamination from spills. Laboratory reagents should be stored on upper shelves with laboratory specimens on lower shelves. Temperature monitoring and security requirements should be followed in accordance with manufacturer's instructions for use, accepted laboratory standards of practice and any regulatory requirements.  

NOTE: Medications may NOT be stored in the same refrigerator as reagents and specimens. 

Manual: Behavioral Health

Chapter: Waived Testing WT

Do not place food in a refrigerator that contains lab specimens or medications.

Q: What would be the OSHA fine for storing workers’ food in the same refrigerator as medications and specimens waiting for lab work?

A: Concerning storing employee food in a refrigerator with medications, this is not an OSHA violation. It is considered substandard infection control and vaccine storage integrity practices, so it could possible a concern with your department of health or your accreditation organization but not necessarily with OSHA.

It is a violation to store employee food with specimens. According to 1910.1030(d)(2)(x):

“Food and drink shall not be kept in refrigerators, freezers, shelves, cabinets or on countertops or benchtops where blood or other potentially infectious materials are present.”

Last year healthcare facilities cited for this specific violation of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard averaged $422 in fines. Since this is a serious violation, OSHA could impose a fine of $7,000, depending on the circumstances.

It always irks me when I get a question from a healthcare facility about using a refrigerator for both employee food and medical supplies.

Seriously, would you want to admit this practice to your patients? What would they think of your shoddy infection control practices.

If you can make a reasonable case for this practice, let us know in the comment section below, but I doubt I will be sympathetic.

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