Effective, yet unobtrusive sneeze guards are an essential part of food safety and service. Since 1959, when an entrepreneur named Johnny Garneau first patented the sneeze guard to protect the foods in his smorgasbord in Pennsylvania, these are now required in all self-serve environments.

State and national regulations are in place to ensure food safety from airborne contaminants. Wherever consumers may have direct contact with foods on display, the risk of contamination is ever present. The correct type and placement of the food guard is essential.

The key elements for identifying the right sneeze guard for any situation are the presentation style or visibility, height of the structure holding the foods, and accessibility to the products.

For example, in a buffet or salad bar situation, the customers serve themselves. So the food must be clearly visible, yet accessible. In a cafeteria situation, the food is visible, yet is not directly accessible to the customer.

Regulations and Guidelines

Most local governing authorities have specific regulatory requirements for sneeze guards. Elements, such as barrier thickness, material, height regulations, and construction may be mandated. Being familiar with local laws and health regulations is critical.

According to Foodservice Equipment and Supplies Newsletter, food or sneeze guards should be replaced when they become cracked, scratched, or when the shield or supports show severe wear and tear.  A change in sneeze guards becomes necessary when a restaurant or food service changes the method of serving from full service to self-serve or vice-versa. The configuration of the guards for one is not the same as for the other.

NSF-2 is the industry-accepted standard for sneeze guards or food shields.


Foods on display must be clearly visible to the consumer so they can easily  make their selections. Unsightly or severely scratched and damaged sneeze guards project a negative impression of both the food and the establishment. Clear and unblemished acrylic sneeze guards permit an unobstructed view of the food and allows the consumer to select their food without external influences. (Note that the supports holding the sneeze guard in place should also be clean and untarnished.)

Height and Angle

The positioning of a sneeze guard considers the height of the typical customer, usually between five and six feet. This positioning also depends on the height of the structure that is holding the product.

The sneeze guard structure should be immovable by the customer since moving the barrier undermines the purpose of the guard.

The design, angle, and placement of a sneeze guard also depend on whether the customers are serving themselves or are being served.

Specifying Sneeze Guards

In summary, the operator must consider these factors when specifying a sneeze guard.

  • Design: The design should be functional while leaving space for people to plate their food.
  • Application: The sneeze guard should be appropriate for the use.
  • Installation: How will the guard attach to the counter? It must be structurally sound, yet not interfere with customer accessibility.

Central Plastic and Rubber Company

Central Plastic offers three basic configurations of sneeze guards. Each configuration comes with a high-quality clear acrylic shield. The shields may be supported by front, back, or center posts in black or white. Center support sneeze shields allow for access from two sides. The acrylic shields can be simply on the front or on the back and both sides for additional protection. These systems can be up to 96-inches wide and are custom made to the customers specifications.

Visit the Central Plastic and Rubber website or phone the experts for more information at 602.268.6368.