Office kitchen biohazards: in pictures

[Inspired by the comments on Etiquette maven misfire: breastmilk is “seriously inappropriate”]

Biohazard

biohazard1

Not a biohazard

biohazard2


Biohazard

biohazard3

Not a biohazard

biohazard4

Biohazard

biohazard5

Not a biohazard

biohazard6

Biohazard

biohazard7

Not a biohazard

biohazard8

Breastmilk is not a biohazard, according to:

  • the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), possibly the foremost authority on infectious disease in the world;
  • the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA);
  • the American Academy of Pediatrics;
  • the American Public Health Association;
  • and the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.[1]

Universal precautions are not required even when handling breast milk directly (for example, when feeding children or cleaning up spills in childcare work). Human milk banks and some infant intensive care units may require gloves for handling, but this is primarily to protect the milk from the handlers, not the other way around.

Separate refrigerators and biohazard labelling are not required.

Let’s face it, fresh milk is probably the only intrinsically antibacterial and antiviral substance in that office fridge. Would you rather take a swig from the pasteurised homogenised cow’s milk left at typical office temperatures, or fresh breastmilk that’s had the same treatment? The answer might surprise you.

“Milk is a biohazard” is a common misconception, and it is not a benign one. It leads to harassment of mothers in paid work, who are already doing it tough pumping in breaktime as well as typically doing a second (and possibly third) shift childcaring and breastfeeding. It leads to obstructionism by employees, colleagues, and ignorant healthcare workers and childcare managers. It is tied up with the perception of breastfeeding and breastmilk as “icky” and “animalistic” and “unhygienic”, a major barrier to breastfeeding and to breastfeeding acceptance.

And it leads to absurdly discriminatory situations like the City Kids Day Care centre who tried to charge a family fifty dollars more per week because the child was breastfed. If anything, using purely utilitarian assessments, breastfed children are less of a biohazard, not more, as they are significantly less likely to be suffering from illnesses such as rotavirus gastroenteritis and bacterial meningitis.

But hey, how about we just treat all children equally, and support mothers who are doing their best?

So. Feel free to spread the word. If your co-worker is expressing milk, don’t ask her “Hey, how about getting your filthy gross milk out of my nice clean fridge?”

Instead, how about asking her, “Hey, can I get you a glass of water?” Let-down is thirsty work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] A local note:

I can’t find specific Australian guidelines addressing the “biohazard” myth. Are we, perhaps, less susceptible to it here? I found childcare guidelines talking about how breastfeeding should be encouraged and supported, how long breastmilk should be kept in the fridge and freezer, and that it should be heated in warm water, not in a microwave. There is at least one childcare handbook that recommends testing the milk temperature on the carer’s wrist before feeding – a long cry from “biohazard”!

I found Australian workplace guidelines that state that lactation breaks and private space and refrigerator space should be provided for expressing mums, and that milk should be clearly labelled before placing in the refrigerator. Oh, and a directive that employees who are breastfeeding are not to be subjected to any criticism, harassment or discrimination for breastfeeding at work. And there is, as tigtog noticed, more concern that the milk may be affected by an unsafe refrigeration environment than the other way around.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

References

Summary from LLLI

CDC

American Family Physician journal

OSHA

J Hum Lact 1997; 13; 267
Laurie Nommsen-Rivers
“Universal Precautions Are Not Needed for Health Care Workers Handling Breast Milk”
DOI: 10.1177/089033449701300401

[All photos courtesy of flickr and Creative Commons licensing.]



Categories: gender & feminism, health, work and family

Tags: , ,

13 replies

  1. Thanks for posting this.
    It angers me how many people are squicked by breast milk. Oh, they’ll drink milk from another species til the cows come home (ha, ha) but human milk is ‘icky’ to them. For the love of god, it’s food for babies.

  2. When I was breastfeeding, lo those many years ago, one of my friends used to express milk and freeze it in an icecube tray, then put the cubes into a plastic bag. One night she was out and her husband was serving his friends rum and coke with ice. There was great interest in the brands of both the rum and the coke, because everyone proclaimed their drink to be the sweetest they had ever tasted. You can guess the answer – he had used the wrong icecubes.

  3. Oh, those coffee cups. I remember those coffee cups, hiding in the corners of some of the places I did holiday temping. Shudder.

  4. It angers me how many people are squicked by breast milk. Oh, they’ll drink milk from another species til the cows come home (ha, ha) but human milk is ‘icky’ to them. For the love of god, it’s food for babies.

    I’m not squicked by the existence of or proximity to human milk, but I wouldn’t want to drink it. For one thing, it’s a level of intimacy I’m not comfortable with, and for another it’s ‘stealing’ from a baby. (I’m not sure either is a rational reaction, but they’re fairly firmly entrenched emotionally.)
    I can’t imagine why anyone would think it was hazardous, though. Anything that can be fed to babies has to be about as safe as any comestible. (Baby shampoo is gentler than regular shampoo, etc…)
    I had a problem at work for a while with my (cow’s) milk getting pilfered from the office refrigerator. One of my friends told me to transfer it to tupperware and label it “breast milk.” It might have solved the pilferage, but it would have opened up a lot of other issues. I suppose someone with more courage than I have could do something similar out of solidarity.

  5. At the risk of being very unoriginal, I add my heartfelt thanks for this post.
    I’m not at all interested in babies and parenting, and it still makes me furious that nursing mothers are picked on. And they are picked on.

  6. This whole thing just boggles my mind. How can something be a biohazard if it’s food for babies?

  7. This whole thing just boggles my mind. How can something be a biohazard if it’s food for babies?

    Well, it came out of nipples, and nipples are squicky girl parts.
    …yeah.

  8. Lauredhel, the first picture of the tea gave me a physical reaction at my desk.
    I can still now smell in my nostrils a weeks-old cup of (milky) tea I once cleaned up which had a solidified layer of mould on top, keeping the smell inside in such a way that it was odourless *until I tipped it out and splashed brown rotten milk on my hands*.

  9. Sorry, Liam! I remember once leaving a coffee cup to get like that. _Very_ unpleasant.
    Linking it back to the post topic, I once left a bottle of breastmilk in the centre panel of my car, in summer, for a week. Only discovered it because I was tidying the car up. Bizarrely, it didn’t even smell. I still threw it out bottle and all!

  10. just linked through from the latest post about Kelly Rutherford who “still” breastfeeds her bub
    this is a great post and i hope some women print it off and put it on the fridge at their work!
    however i worked in a NICU and we were always told to handle breastmilk like it was a blood product (which meant gloves and double-checking the right milk for the right baby with another staff member, or the mum).
    and of course when there were staff who expressed, nobody batted an eyelid if their milk was in the freezer!

  11. lyndal wrote:

    however i worked in a NICU and we were always told to handle breastmilk like it was a blood product (which meant gloves and double-checking the right milk for the right baby with another staff member, or the mum).

    In the NICU, the gloves are typically to protect the milk from you, not the other way around. It’s good that you were cross-checking the milk – imagine coming in and finding that all your liquid gold had been given to another and you were completely out!
    Glad you liked the post!

%d bloggers like this: