43rd Annual Meeting – Collection Care Session: Beyond ‘No Food or Drink Allowed in the Gallery:’ Best Practices for Food in Cultural Institutions by Rebecca Newberry, Fran Ritchie, and Bethany Palumbo

Does the thought of blue martinis, smelly hot dogs, and live penguins in your exhibition space make you gag? The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections has sponsored a survey and development of best practices to help mitigate the risks posed by food service (and inebriated guests) in collections storage and display areas. This presentation summarized the survey responses, and illustrated them with a number of entertaining and apt case studies. The best practices document will be posted on the NHPRC website in the next few months.
The survey was initiated by Cathy Hawkes in 2011. In addition to answering questions, the survey also solicited written food policies from the respondents to reflect current practice. The top result of the survey was concern about not having a written policy; and 40% of respondents reported pest-related activity related to food in the building.
The best practices that came out of the survey have been well-proven through the experience of the survey respondents and the authors, and are generally agreed upon. The key is to develop a written policy on food management and get buy-in from all stakeholders to enforce it (e.g. administration, vendors, facilities, café/store staff, curators and collections management staff, security). The policy should address preparation, consumption, and disposal of food. It should explain the housekeeping and integrated pest management implications of food in collections areas. Staff should be well-trained in how to interact with the public to enforce the policy. And risk mitigation should be part of contracts signed with vendors; the contract can also reflect a “This event never happened” clause (i.e. leave no trace).
Some specific tips discussed include:

  • Clean up immediately after an event
  • Put out extra tables for dirty dishes (so they don’t go on top of exhibit cases)
  • Provide space for staff to eat with proper waste containers
  • Make clear signage for where to eat and not; include a simple educational message like “Food attracts pests which can damage our collections.”
  • Determine the path that food and waste will take in and out of the collections space.
  • Menu should consist of food that is tidy when eaten: no popcorn, red wine, ice cream, or round things that roll under exhibit cases like grapes
  • Ventilation and fire suppression need to be accounted for

Following these steps will help you to avoid getting ketchup on your dinosaur (yes, it really happened!).
SPNHC Food Survey Report 2014