Ask the expert: Food, specimens, and refrigerators

By: June 17th, 2011 Email This Post Print This Post

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.


By Ajaz Fakhri on June 18th, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Fridge used for medication,should not shared staff food and patient foods.Food can be reservoir of gems,so fridge should be dedicated only for medication.Patient foods need to store in kitchen trolley,hot food should be served hot and cold food should be served cold.No reheating to be done.Practically each ward has two fridges.

So time you need to keep for short time,water bottle containing constrast,patient want to have cold water bottles,for new borne babies in maternity area keeps baby special water,Where do you keep these fluids,some time for orthopeadics procedure you store ice used for ice packing,If these items need to stored for short time,in which fridge it need to go Meication fridge or staff food fridge.probably all these items are used for therapeutic purpose,more likely medication fridge

By Bruce Cunha on June 21st, 2011 at 10:42 am

Big issue we have is with areas where they have one medication or a single vaccine that they give. Dedicating one refrigerator for one med is an issue.

We have allowed use of sealed plastic contaners to hold small quantities of medications.

I would be interested on how others deal with small quantities of meds?

I work at a hotel. We have an employee fridge, and a fridge we keep the guest breakfast items to serve in the morning. My co-worker likes to keep their food in the hotel fridge and not the employee fridge. I’ve mentioned it to them, and they seem to think its none of my concern. Is there some rule against this? Is there anything that i can show them to make them understand?

Hi Brian,

I don’t believe that OSHA law would apply in this case, as your coworker’s choice of refrigerator probably wouldn’t put any employee at risk. Whether it might put your guests at risk is another question; if, for example, the employee brings the food in a container that they brought in from outside and thus might not be clean, but again, I don’t think OSHA would apply here.

What might apply, though, are your local (city, state or county) board of health’s regulations, or the general rules and procedures of your hotel. Management might be the best place to start here– even if no laws are being violated, they may take a dim view of keeping guest food and employee food in the same place.

By Donna Tavani on April 12th, 2013 at 9:37 am

Is there any law regulating the placement of the refrigerator containing employee food and it’s proximity to the dedicated refrigerator containing vaccines? In other words, can we have the refrigerator containing vaccines in the office kitchen where the food refrigerator is also stored? No one eats in this room, it’s merely used for storage.

By Laurie Jonsson on April 19th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

In addition to Donna’s question on proximity, can the patient food fridge be located in the staff lounge? Can staff prepare patient food there as well (i.e. pull sandwich and unwrap to serve on plate, put wrapped sandwich and sealed jello cup on tray?)

By Lori Dunbar on July 19th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Can employee food in a lunch box be stored in a refrigerator containing medications which have not been reconstituted and are also in plastic bags. There are no vaccines or specimens stored here.

I’m with Bruce above. Mine is a small derm clinic, with me as the only provider, 2 other employees. We have 2 vials of vaccines and anywhere from 1-3 boxes containing syringes of medications.

We keep these in the same fridge as our food…in a sealed Tupperware container, in one of the crisper drawers. Nothing else in that drawer. All food elsewhere in the fridge is in sealed containers.

I have no problem with this and I would have no problems outlining this practice with my patients.

Good Day Sir, I appreicat eyour comments on the seperation of food and medications in seperate refrigerators.
I have been tasked to justify whey we should do this in our facility. We have a small clinic with a med frig and I stress that all meds requiring refrigeration should be in it and not in a food frig used by numerous employees.
I wish to set a presidence here but need something in writing to enforce my direction.
Do you have a reference or can you direct me as to where I can find such guidance?
Appreciate any info.

Tony Urban
Safety Specialist

The choices available in the market will definitely confuse even a knowledgeable consumer. Many products can be found at

Really, just purchase a $99 dorm refrigerator from Walmart for the food.

Why would you set yourself up for potential problems?

It is called “Risk Management”. Any reasonable and prudent individual would pony up the $99 to protect the patient, the employee and the drugs.

By jeanna Heidel on April 4th, 2016 at 5:25 pm

If you are storing vaccines, you need to check the requirements from the CDC Vaccine storage and handling toolkit. The dorm style refrigerators are not CDC compliant if the freezer door is not separate from the refrigerator. This is due to fluctuations in temperature associated with these types of refrigerators. Also, the vaccine should be in the center of the refrigerator and not in a crisper drawer; again an issue of temperature fluctuations.

Can orange juice used for DM’s when their BS drops be stored in the medication refrigerator.

I am a retired nurse and work now for a IV vitamin spa. They have a refrigerator dedicated for medication and an employee frigerator. One employee keeps insulin and syringes in the employee frigerator, I removed them and put them in the medication frigerator. They were moved back isn’t this a department of health code violation?

By Patsy Ladner on April 21st, 2018 at 7:10 pm

Can you keep insulin in the mini frig?

I started a job 3 days ago. First thing i notice was they keep the insulin samples with the employee refrigerator. I though that was a big no. Plus am noticing that they don’t log in the samples we get from reps. Also i asked if the thermometer is accurate since the readings are like 93.4 or 95.6 never a 97.8 or higher and even a patient asked me why they all off but the manager said it was fine that standard. So eirher i was trained wrong on my old job or the manager dnt know shit..

By Cindy Lou on May 21st, 2018 at 5:02 pm

Is it ok to have medication fridge in the employee lounge. We share the lounge with another entity as well.

After reviewing the CDC recommendations we have purchased a refrigerator that does not have a freezer inside it. We are a very small clinic and the only place to possibly put a separate freezer for vaccines is in the Nurse’s office area. Can we do that since food would not be stored in the freezer?

in storing vaccines and insulins in 2 separate small refrigerators, each with their own thermomitor, is it possible to stack the 2 on top of ea other in a locked medication room?

By Kelley, FNP on January 13th, 2019 at 9:48 pm

I work in an urgent care and have some concerns regarding storing unused lab test (flu cartridge for Alere) in the refrigerator with food. I have told them this wasn’t good practice but they usually just say because the flu swabs are sealed its okay. Need help and advice……

My lab director keeps her spare cup of McDonalds Diet Coke in the same lab fridge as the test cartridges used for CMPs, Lipids, etc. The blood specimens are also kept in that fridge in bio transport bags until the end of the day when it is put in the courier box. Is this allowed? She makes sure not to do this when she knows we have an inspection.

By Patricia Hodnett on September 30th, 2019 at 4:55 pm

In the ambulatory care setting can medication be stored in the laboratory?

Vet constantly places human foods and drinks where vaccines are kept. Freezer also contains frozen foods along with frozen bodies of pets. Counters often have foods and drinks where meds are denounced also where urine and decals are tested. Is this the way a vet facility is run?4V

I work in a hospital. What is the OSHA rule for storing unopened boxed dinners such as lean cuisines in a dedicated staff freezer? Can they be in there longer than 3-4 days? I can not find any rule except for refridgerators.

Is it acceptable to keep patient meds from home that need refrigeration in with other patient stock refrigerated medications?

I work at a physical therapy clinic, can we store food in a refrigerator/freezer where they keep cold therapy equipment for patients, like cold pads or vasopbeumatic compression pads?

Let me know, thnks, Kelly

I work for a manufacturing company. We have a refrigerator that is broken. Can we throw it away in the regular dumpster, or do we need a special pick up for disposal?


Refrigerators cannot be thrown in the dumpster. Find a recycling center. Call local facilities. Another place is 1800 got junk.

1800 got junk

I work in research (clinical trials). We want to have patients keep saliva samples double-bagged and stored in their refrigerator at home until they bring the samples to the clinic. Is this acceptable?

By SHERRIE L FOSTER on August 31st, 2021 at 11:59 am

My Post Master and Supervisor are storing filthy dirt streak covered medicine and perishable pkgs over night and sometimes for days to be delivered to customers homes inside our employee refrigerator in the employee lunch break room. It is Covid, I took pictures and videos, I’ve informed OSHA, The Mayor, The OIG, and our local food and health dept. The CDC told me they should not be doing that and gave me a Hazmat number 1-800-229-5252. I called them and they said they are a private company in KS. and they can’t do anything. Medicine vials do contain biological substances and animal protiens and such and anyhow USPS does not offer refrigerated storage so how is it justifiable? Safeway offers refrigerated storage for food and medicines, Walmart offers refrigerated storage for medicine and perishable items. The Employee refrigerator is not for storing clearly dirty packages inside and on employee food. We are not being kept safe and they are breaking the law. please advise. Also I have been experiencing crippling backlash since reporting this practice. No one will do anything.


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