Chemical Hazards and Storage
December 2, 2008
We use chemicals in our homes and in our foodservice operations every day. Chemicals make life easier by helping us to clean and sanitize our dishes and equipment, keep our bathrooms shiny and clean, and to polish our fixtures and furniture. They help to keep our equipment lubricated and running smoothly and they repel and kill those unwanted pests such as roaches and flies. Even personal items like medications are chemicals that we may have around, but that must be handled carefully in the foodservice environment. All of these chemicals can pose a real danger to our guests if they are accidentally consumed.
Chemicals also pose a danger to the foodservice employee if they are not used correctly. Using the wrong concentration of chemical or mixing of chemicals can lead to burns, respiratory problems and in some cases even death can occur.
Let’s focus on training team members to understand the dangers of using chemicals in the operation, and how to properly handle and store those chemicals to keep team members and our guests safe.
Why are chemicals a danger to food and to people?
* Ingesting food or drinks that have been contaminated with chemicals can cause an immediate and sometimes severe reaction. When this happens it is referred to as a chemical intoxication. The most common symptoms of chemical intoxication are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, but other symptoms such as rapid heart rate, seizures and paralysis can occur in severe cases.
* Chemical intoxication can be life threatening and all efforts must be made to properly use and store the chemicals in the foodservice operation.
The person using the chemicals must understand which chemicals to use for each task, how to properly use, label and store the chemicals and what protective equipment might be needed when using the chemical. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using chemicals to prevent injury.
* Cleaning and sanitizing chemicals can be highly concentrated and can burn skin and eyes if they are not diluted to the proper concentration. Never mix different chemicals together. Improper mixing of some chemicals can cause a significant chemical reaction and release of toxic gases. Inhaling these toxic gasses can damage the respiratory system and if released in a confined space with little fresh air, the gasses can cause death.
* Always follow the chemical manufacturer’s guidelines for concentration and dilution.
How can chemicals contaminate food?
* In the foodservice operation, chemicals can contaminate food in many ways. The most common way that chemicals find their way into food is through improper storage, where chemicals spill or drip into food products and ice. Employees using chemicals near open food can cause food to become contaminated by drips or overspray.
* Chemicals can also contaminate food and food contact surfaces if they are used at concentrations that are too high. An example of this would be sanitizer. In most cases, sanitizers are not meant to be rinsed off of dishes and utensils. If the concentration of the sanitizer is too high, a toxic chemical residue can remain on the dish and can be passed on to the guest who eats from that dish.
* Lubricants can also cause problems if they are not food-grade when used on food contact surfaces like electric mixers and frozen drink or dessert machines.
Where should chemicals be stored?
* Chemicals should always be stored away from food and food contact surfaces. This means that chemicals cannot be stored above food, food equipment, utensils or dishes, including single-use items like plastic cutlery and paper plates.
* Chemical containers should always be sealed and protected from direct sunlight.
* All containers of chemical must be properly labeled so that employees can identify the contents.
* Personal items like medication must be stored tightly sealed and in a designated area away from food and food contact surfaces.
How do we handle chemicals safely?
* Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using any chemical.
* Use chemicals only for their designed task.
* Make sure that the proper protective gear is provided for use with the chemical (safety glasses, gloves, apron, etc.)
* If concentrated chemicals will be diluted, provide the proper test strips or other means to check for the correct concentration.
* Clearly identify your chemical storage area with signs to make it easier for employees to know where to find and return chemicals.
* If a chemical is transferred from a bulk container to a spray bottle or bucket, that secondary container must be labeled with the name of the chemical.
How do we motivate the team to use and store chemicals correctly?
Everyone on the team should be educated about the hazards of chemicals and the dangers of using chemicals in foodservice. They should know which chemicals are used in the operation, what each chemical is used for and where it should be stored. To make this easier, consider providing a wall chart listing all the chemicals in your operation and their uses.
Remember, Food Safety is in Your Hands!
This information is provided as a general guideline and is not intended to be, nor does it, constitute legal or regulatory advice. Additional Federal regulations may apply to your particular circumstances. State, regional and local laws, ordinances and regulations may also apply.