Spec Check: Food Shields

Food shields serve two purposes: to protect food from airborne contaminants and display food attractively so it sells faster.

 Operators commonly use food guards in cafeteria, buffet and food bar settings to protect menu items in both self- and full-service operations. This equipment utilizes either glass or clear acrylic material as a barrier between foodservice workers or customers and food.

Although traditionally constructed of glass and stainless steel, these pieces are now mostly either glass or acrylic for better food visibility.

Design aspects vary, depending on the manufacturer, the operator's needs, NSF guidelines and local codes. Operators can choose from a variety of food shield styles, including adjustable, institutional, decorative and custom designs. "There are numerous code requirements that need to be followed, such as clearances," says Espinosa.

Typically custom manufactured, food shields vary widely in size and can range from as short as 1 foot to as long as 100 feet. Longer sizes include connecting sections to fit any counter length.

Pass-over units, the most common type used in serving line operations, can accommodate either one or two display shelves built into the serving line. Reach-through food shields, most often used in buffet or self-serve applications, typically have a canopy design. This allows customers to see the food from all sides, enhancing accessibility. Adjustable food shields allow operators to change the angle or height while fixed shields stay in place. Operators can also select portable or temporary food shields.

Specifying Considerations

  • Appearance matters. Because this is a display feature, the food shield should serve the needs of the facility while contributing to the design. Assess the type and style of the materials in relation to the counter and overall design of the operation to ensure everything connects visually. Food guards offer stainless steel, brass and powder-coated aluminum construction.
  • An adjustable food shield can meet the changing needs of a facility while still meeting necessary code requirements. These types use brackets to hold the glass or acrylic, which allows changes in either the angle or height.
  • Portable or temporary food guards feature a lighter, acrylic-type material, as opposed to glass for easier transporting and storing.
  • Verify the unit's safety aspects. Food shields typically utilize either tempered glass, safety laminated glass or an acrylic-type material. An important factor to consider when specifying a food shield is how it will attach to the counter. Operators should look for an aesthetically pleasing attachment method that is also structural and will prevent the guard from leaning. Also take note of the spans between the support posts. Tempered glass will bow under its own weight, so it's important to have the appropriate support structure to prevent the glass from sagging.
  • The application can affect the food guard. For example, the use of hot wells or refrigerated pans may change the clearance requirements. Clearance also is a consideration for food guards that will be used over raised food displays, such as a chafer or ice boat. High profile types that are 18 inches high are available for this use.

 A Consultant's Point of View

  • "Food guards are classified as vertical, self-serve, attended serve and attended self-serve," says Orlando Espinosa III, principal at Orlando Espinosa + Associates, a consulting firm based in Glen Mills, Pa. "Each type is geared for different applications. For example, vertical [food guards] are a simple sheet of glass used at deli counters or pizza restaurants. This equipment is available in adjustable models that can be used for self-service areas as well as attended serve. It's important to determine what the operator is looking to achieve and the type of service."
  • "Every operator wants the clearest access, but there are limitations in terms of the span of food guard materials, whether they are glass or acrylic," Espinosa says. "If the length is too wide, the food guard is more susceptible to bowing or breaking. Most manufacturers will advise designers and operators about these limitations."
  • "Operators need to be aware of physical and health department requirements as well as clearances and things like end panel obstacles," Espinosa says.
  • "Working height is another issue that should be considered when specifying a food guard," Espinosa says. "The area to be assessed includes the working surface to the underside of the food guard and then to the top of the food guard. These heights vary from 16 to 22 inches."
  • "Although it is not always possible, especially with renovation projects, it is my personal preference not to have food guard fastening devices attached to counters," Espinosa says. "These tend to be dirt catchers."
  • "There are a variety of finishes to choose from, and designers can get very creative," Espinosa says. "But cleanability should be a primary consideration when specifying food guards."
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