Rules for Sneeze Guard Use

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Sneeze guards are required on most buffet lines.
Sneeze guards are required on most buffet lines. (Image: buffet dessert exotique image by Melisback from Fotolia.com)

A sneeze guard is a barrier placed between people and food to protect the food from bacteria and other germs, especially those spread by sneezing (which can propel bacteria outwards at a speed up to 40 miles per hour). State and national health requirements require sneeze guards in restaurants and other situations.

Who Should Use a Sneeze Guard?

Any restaurant or fast food outlet that offers food in a buffet or cafeteria line must usually have a sneeze guard protecting the food from the customers. In addition, salad bars must have sneeze guards, and school cafeterias as well. Portable food stands should also employ sneeze guards to protect the food from airborne contaminants. While you do not always need to have sneeze guards on hand, portable ones exist to help ensure the purity of their food. Offering food in covered serving dishes--including "roll-top" chafing dishes which also protect the food from bacteria when closed--constitutes a viable alternative.

Sneeze Guard Placement

Caterers and restaurant owners should place sneeze guards in a position to protect the food from contaminants coming from the mouth of a customer of average height, usually an average mouth height of 4 1/2 feet to 5 feet. You can alter height requirements in special circumstances, such as athletic training facilities, where the customers may be taller, or school cafeterias, where they may be shorter than average. In general, the sneeze guard must extend out in a 30-inch radius from the location of the customer's mouth. According to National Sanitation Foundation standards, the sneeze guard must block the direct line between the customer's mouth and the food, while still allowing the customer to reach under the sneeze guard to access the food farthest from the serving line. You should always secure sneeze guards so as to make them immovable by customers. At cooking stations, such as buffet lines where a chef makes omelettes or pasta to order, install a sneeze guard to protect the ingredients used for cooking, but the actual cooking station does not require a sneeze guard between the customer and the food. Check your own state's regulations for specifics on sneeze guard placement.

Sneeze Guard Materials and Cleaning

Sneeze guards are generally made of plastic, acrylic or safety glass. Because glass doesn't scratch as easily, it makes for a more durable sneeze guard. All sneeze guard materials must be easy to clean, and kept sanitary and clean when in use. Any exposed edges of the glass or plastic surface must be rounded or beveled, or encased in a protective material. You can custom design sneeze guards to meet all these requirements and blend in with a restaurant's decor.

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