FDA Outlines Workplace Mask Protocol

A new visual guide helps foodservice businesses determine the right mask for their employees.

April 28, 2020

ATLANTA—The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has created an online guide to help businesses in the food and agriculture sectors determine what type of face covering is best for their employees.

Respirators, disposable face masks or cloth face coverings are designed and worn for different purposes. If, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees were required to wear a respirator or disposable face mask on the job, based on a workplace hazard assessment, they should continue to do so.

Respirator masks are designed to prevent wearers from breathing in hazardous contaminants in the air and are often used by workers in the food and agriculture sector.

Disposable face masks, such as surgical or medical masks, are not respirators and do not protect the wearer from breathing in small particles, gases  or chemicals in the air. Disposable face masks act as a protective barrier to prevent splashes, sprays, large droplets or splatter from entering the wearer’s mouth and nose, but they also help prevent the wearer from spreading respiratory droplets. The protective quality of disposable face masks varies depending on the material used to make the face mask. They may slow the spread of COVID-19. Wearing them may help people who unknowingly have the virus from giving it to others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) .

Cloth face coverings, whether provided by the employer or brought from home by the worker, are not respirators or disposable face masks and do not protect the worker wearing them from exposures. Cloth face coverings are intended to help contain the wearer’s respiratory droplets from being spread, and when used in that way, they have been shown to slow the spread of COVID-19, the CDC said. Wearing them may help people who unknowingly have the virus from spreading it to others. Workers can wear a cloth face covering if the employer has determined that a respirator or a disposable face mask is NOT required based on the workplace hazard assessment. When workers can’t wear a single cloth face covering for the full duration of a work shift, particularly if the mask becomes wet, soiled or otherwise visibly contaminated, a clean cloth face covering (or disposable face mask option) should be used and changed out as needed.

Download the FDA’s pdf guide here

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.