Refrigerators. Cabinets. Drawers. Countertops. If employees store, prepare, or eat their meals on them or in them, they're
off-limits to lab samples, toxic substances, and anything that could carry pathogenic organisms. If you want to meet OSHA
regulations, the break room is not where you keep a box marked "hazardous chemicals," and the treatment area is not the place
for tea and crumpets.
Because you can't completely control the movement of dangerous pathogens in the air currents of your veterinary facility,
you must control the places where food is stored, prepared, or consumed to prevent unintentional contamination. This means
team members need to be extremely careful about where they take breaks or meals. Lunch is never allowed in the treatment area,
exam rooms, kennel, or bathroom.
The rules are a little more lenient with pet food, however. It's acceptable to store processed diets near people food if there's
no chance of contamination with pathogens. That means you can keep packaged dog or cat food in the refrigerator with staff
meals—but you need to find someplace else for the raptors' and reptiles' diet of unprocessed chicken and rodents.
Keep in mind that it's easy for food to sneak in where it doesn't belong. Any food preparation must take place in a safe and
sanitary area. Salt and pepper shakers and the extra packets of hot sauce and mustard don't belong in a drawer near the microscope.
And a coffee pot below a cabinet or shelf that holds hazardous supplies is also a no-no.
Now, what about that Starbucks you're carrying around? In my experience, OSHA seldom cites or fines hospitals for team members
drinking beverages from closed containers in the treatment areas or the kennels. Cups or bottles with a lid—such as soda bottles
or travel mugs—are normally considered safe as long as they're kept away from the medical activities in the room and are kept
covered when not in use. But even lidded beverages—and any food—are always inappropriate in chemotherapy or lab areas.
Maybe it's most helpful to look at the issue like this: Animals prefer to eat far from where they eliminate, so why should
your team member's sandwich sit next to a fecal sample in the fridge?
Phil Seibert, CVT, is an author, speaker, and consultant with SafetyVet in Calhoun, Tenn.
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