Hazardous Chemicals and Restaurant Safety


Chlorine, quaternary ammonia and iodine are the three chemicals commonly used in commercial kitchens for cleaning and sanitization practices. Unfortunately, these chemicals can cause serious harm to employees. Chemical burns and skin irritations are the most prevalent adverse reactions to these substances. There are several steps restaurant employees and managers can take to reduce the risks involved when working with hazardous chemicals.

Potential Hazards

Regular cleaning tasks are designed to protect customers from foodborne illnesses. Unfortunately, the chemicals used to clean and sanitize can pose a threat to restaurant workers.

  • Skin irritation. Soaps and detergents can cause skin irritation.
  • Infections. Broken skin can be infected or burned from hazardous chemicals.
  • Burns. Chemicals like oven cleaners, drain openers and grill cleaners can cause burns to the skin and eyes.
  • Respiratory harm. Chlorine and ammonia can cause respiratory, skin and eye irritation and death, especially if they are mixed together.
  • Latex AllergiesLatex gloves are often worn to protect the skin from hazardous chemicals. However, some workers may be allergic to latex, so non-latex gloves are recommended to prevent any allergic reactions.

What Employees Can Do to Protect Themselves

  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE). Dishwashing gloves or splash aprons should be provided by your employer to protect your body from hazardous chemicals.
  • Mix chemicals to recommended concentrations. A solution that is too strong can be dangerous and will waste chemicals.
  • Never mix chlorine and ammonia. Mixing these chemicals will create a poisonous gas.
  • Read the labels. Chemical labels provide proper handling and mixing instructions. Also, familiarize yourself with the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) which provide more in-depth handling information.
  • Label cleaning bottles. Indicate what cleaning solution is in the bottle to avoid the risk of accidentally mixing the wrong chemicals together.

What Employers Can Do to Protect Employees

  • Use eco-friendly cleaners wherever possible. They are safer for your guests, employees and the environment. » Learn More
  • Use automated chemical dispensers. Automatic dispensers ensure employee safety and appropriate chemical concentration.
  • Provide PPE for all employees. Common personal protective equipment for commercial kitchen employees include goggles, chemical gloves and dishwashing aprons.
  • Store non-compatible chemicals separately. Non-compatible chemicals, like chlorine and ammonia, can create a poisonous gas if mixed. Store them separately to minimize the chances of them mixing if spilled.
  • Use lower shelves to store chemicals. Store liquid chemicals on lower shelves to avoid the risk of spills.
  • Train employees. Properly train employees in the correct use of cleaning chemicals and what to do in case of an emergency.

OSHA Standards

OSHA standards that relate to hazardous chemicals employees from chemical burns and ensure that commercial kitchens have emergency procedures in place should an employee require immediate medical attention.

  • Standard 1910.132. Employers must provide personal protective equipment (PPE)to all employees that handle hazardous chemicals, like dishwashing detergents and floor cleaners. PPE can include gloves, goggles and splash aprons.
  • Standard 1910.151(c). Employers must provide facilities to quickly flush the eyes or body in areas of the restaurant where an employee may be exposed to hazardous chemicals.
  • Standard 1910.1200. The Hazard Communication Standard requires all employers to train employees on hazardous material handling as well as provide access to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

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    • Nicole Castellano
      Nicole Castellano on

      Hello Danny- Good question! There is no agency that prevents someone from using a cleaning chemical in a kitchen. (With-in reason).
      Other important things to know…
      1. The health department will ask that all caustic cleaners be stored in a locked area away from food areas.
      2. OSHA/Insurance will require employees wear the proper protection when using cleaners.

  1. hello we have a outside company that come in to a deep cleaning of the sore at night. today I grab a window and multi surface cleaner called glisten, to clean up a spill on the floor. it came 0ut to smell like bleach and it was. I was wounding if its against the law to this action or rules?thanks.

    • I’m no expert, but I believe the answer there is emphatically “yes”! Cleaners are to be properly labeled with appropriate warnings, especially in restaurant facilities where food and drink are being ingested and cleaners are being used by an array of different people who need to be aware of the proper way of handling individual cleaning products.

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