Food Management

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Statement of Purpose

In 2014, the Conservation Committee of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) conducted research identifying a need for professional recommendations regarding the management of food within institutions. The results of this research are summarized in the report 2014 Food in Institutions Survey Results.
Food is a significant part of the visitor experience in many collection-holding institutions. While this can be beneficial economically and is pleasing to visitors, the safety and preservation of the collections are often compromised due to pest activity, damaged exhibits, and collection staff time spent on extraneous food-related duties. For this reason, it is advised that institutions create policies and procedures especially for the responsible maintenance of food. This document aims to provide guidelines to support staff in developing and improving institutional policies and procedures for effective food management and, as such, will be reviewed and updated periodically.

Breakdown of survey respondents' food options


All institutions that deal with food in any capacity should have a written policy on food management as standard preservation practice. The policy document defines the overall aims while a procedures document further details how the policy can be realized. The procedures ensure the policy is enacted and that collections are adequately protected. Management should require the creation and enforcement a food management policy. It must be agreed upon by all staff that deals with food and with collections. Balance is required in all circumstances.

Food Management Policy & Procedures

When writing a food management policy, the following points should be considered.

The policy and procedures should:

  • Restrict food from collection storage and work areas and from collection display areas.
  • Include clear instructions on food preparation, consumption, and disposal for in-house and external food vendors, institutional staff (both collection and non-collection employees) as well as contractors. The policy and procedures should especially address individual responsibilities for the staff, visitors, vendors cleaning after special events and for contractors disposing of all waste in appropriate areas. All staff should be well informed regarding the policy and procedures and effectively communicate them both internally and externally.
  • Include an agreed list of areas in which food can be prepared, consumed, and disposed. Annotated floor maps are a useful addition to the policy.
  • Highlight how housekeeping and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) are affected by food management negligence, and how incurred issues will be resolved and costs covered.
  • Include clear guidelines on how staff should interact with the public to explain and enforce food regulations.
  • Be upheld in all situations, even when faced with special requests. If the policy or procedures must be compromised to accommodate special situations then correspondingly extraordinary collection risk mitigation measures should be enacted.

In addition:

  • The procedures could include a list of ‘trusted’ caterers who have agreed to the criteria of the food management policy and procedures. Contracts with caterers could include provisions for fines if caterers do not fulfill policy and procedure requirements and regulations.

Special events

It is recommended that special events are held in a specifically allocated space that is isolated from collection items. If possible, remove collection items from the allocated space. If special events must be held in the same areas as collection items, additional effort needs to be made to keep the two separate. Separation can include adding temporary walls or panels, redesigning the flow of visitors, or moving collection items inside secure enclosed cases. Consider also whether food and catering staff must pass through collection containing spaces to set up or serve.

The allocated events space should be well constructed and easy to clean and maintain. This could include having sealed hard flooring or covering historic flooring with temporary carpet, providing additional temporary waste baskets, and/or creating strategic positions to set drinks and plates away from collection items. Think also how housekeeping routines need to be altered to accommodate the events, such as extra waste disposal and cleaning directly after an event.

Case Study: Special events

The institution often has special events in the main galleries. However, no cleaning was completed directly after the events, instead it was left for the usual cleaning staff to do the following morning. Since the institution is located in a large city, the food remains rapidly attracted a rodent infestation, which spread to other galleries. As a result of the infestation, thorough cleaning now takes place directly after each event, and responsibility is shared between contracted vendors and institutional housekeeping.

Staff issues

The well-being of staff at your institution is extremely important. It is recommended that staff be provided with a designated space to store, prepare, share, and consume food that is safe and hygienic. Staff should to be trained on the risks associated with eating within collection spaces, both for their own health and safety and protection of the collections. All staff including contractors, part-time, and interns should be trained on IPM efforts and why food management is required. If applicable, consider applying incentives for eating in designated spaces, such as discounts for staff to use available canteens or vendors.

Case Studies: Staff issues

Another university museum did not provide a break room or designated area of food. The curators/professors ate in their lunch in their offices among the collections they studied, until a red-legged ham beetle infestation spread from one office to a whole floor of collections. At first not all of the staff believed a designated space was needed, but when a line of ants was also discovered marching through the museum’s front door and into a nearby trashcan, everyone was supportive of regulations.
One institution did not provide instructions for contractors regarding food in the museum, and did not require them to eat in designated spaces. Collections staff noticed that a moth infestation developed mysteriously a few months after electrical work had been done near collections. Upon further investigation, staff found that the electric contractor left part of his lunch in the electrical risers where he was working. The food attracted mice, and one dead mouse became the breeding ground for moths, leading to the infestation.

Visitor issues

If visitors are permitted to bring their own food into an institution, then designated food space should also be provided for them. Food management will be easier and more efficient if preparation, sale, consumption, and disposal are centralized into one allocated space. Signage for visitors needs to be clear and concise to demonstrate and justify why such rules are in place. Custodial, in-house food vendor, and other appropriate staff must be trained and authorized to enforce these regulations.

Case Study: Visitor issues

The institution, visited predominantly by families, was often experiencing visitors eating within the galleries, which was not permitted. While custodial staff were instructed to politely ask offenders to stop, complaints often followed due to a lack of understanding and clear explanation. New signage was designed, using photographs of pest infestations on objects as a deterrent. Along with an official statement, agreed by the institution, staff are now better equipped to speak to visitors and with photographic evidence of the potential for damage, all visitors so far have been compliant without complaint.

Vendor food location

Vendor food, such as vending machines, coffee or sandwich carts, etc., should only be sold in purpose-built areas and not ‘crammed’ into existing collection spaces or galleries. Placing vendor food in purpose-built spaces not only decreases the risk of damage (for example, leaks from carts or spilt coffee near collections) but also demonstrates to visitors an institutional priority and expectation for proper food management (i.e., if an institution takes it seriously, the visitors are more likely to take it seriously).

Case Study: Vendor food location

Despite objections from collections staff, a restaurant was located between two galleries in a new museum building. Access between the restaurant and the main catering kitchen and waste disposal areas requires passing through a carpeted paleontology gallery. After a serious ketchup spill on a dinosaur, a procedure for moving food, supplies and waste exclusively in covered carts was implemented, resulting in less risk and better relations between food vendors and collections staff.

Design of food

It is recommended that the types of food served within an institution are designed to take into consideration their impact not only on resources but also the mission of the institution. Consider offering food choices that are less complicated to prepare and simpler to consume, such as no deep-frying of food and serving hors d'oeuvres that can be eaten with one hand. Also consider prohibiting foods that stain or are difficult to remove, such as gum, red wine, ice cream, popcorn, etc.

Case Study: Design of food

One museum hires out certain galleries for special events and relies on that extra revenue. Although a full dinner is not served, a previous choice of complicated finger food still presented a problem for the museum--cocktail shrimp. Guests were required to use two hands to peel the shrimp, meaning plates and cups needed surfaces to rest upon. There were not enough tables, so guests opted to rest plates on object pedestals. The shrimp peels required additional bowls or plates for collection and disposal, and a few ended up on the gallery floor. The sticky hands of guests were not cleaned thoroughly enough and fingerprints were discovered around other areas of the gallery. At the next event, the museum served non sticky foods that can be eaten with one hand.

Food preparation areas

Food preparation areas for staff, in-house food vendors, and outside food vendors need to be hygienic and easy to clean and maintain. Considerations should address:

  • Frequency and responsibility of cleaning
  • Regimented waste disposal
  • Quality of packing and sealing food, especially for longer periods
  • Sufficient extraction for excess humidity, oil vapors or odors
  • Location far from collection spaces
  • Complies with local regulations for food preparation spaces

If possible, prepare food off-site so that food enters and leaves the building on the same day, thus decreasing pest risk.

Case Study: Food preparation areas

A museum featured two restaurants, one a full service cafeteria with a large kitchen located away from collection areas and the other a snack bar with limited food preparation and no ventilation located near the galleries. The snack bar’s original menu included hot dogs cooked on heated rollers. This cooking method produced strong smells. Collection care staff requested the removal of the hot dog roller, as the smell indicated that cooking oils were present in the air in the galleries and depositing on objects. Many visitors added complaints about the strong smell. The roller was removed and the hot dogs were then cooked in the main kitchen and held in warming trays in the snack bar.



Rebecca Newberry, Bethany Palumbo, Fran Ritchie

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