Smoking and Food Safety: Why Food Preparation Workers Should Avoid Smoking

Smoking poses huge risks to the user, but in many situations the effects are wider-ranging than that. For anybody working in food preparation, smoking is a big issue for food safety, so there are more reasons to quit if you’re in the food industry than for most workers.

Smoking is responsible for around 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S., and as well as the dangers to the smoker, second-hand smoke poses an additional risk to anybody nearby too. Smoking doesn’t discriminate: anybody, regardless of profession or regardless of their place in society, could become addicted to cigarettes and suffer serious health consequences as a result. However, there are additional problems for people in specific jobs. The problems with smoking and food safety mean that anybody working in food preparation should seriously consider quitting, but statistics show they’re actually more likely to smoke than people in other jobs. Understanding the additional issues with smoking in food preparation jobs, the reasons for the higher smoking rates and why people in the industry should quit is important.

Smoking and Food Preparation Workers: The Statistics

Everybody is at risk for starting to smoke, but some occupations tend to have higher smoking rates than others. The CDC looked into the different smoking rates by occupation between 2004 and 2010, and found that those working in food preparation and service related jobs smoked much more than most other occupational groups. The smoking rate of 30% for those in the job was much higher than the rate in the general population in 2010, which was 19.3%.

This suggests that people working in food preparation are particularly likely to smoke, relative to people in other professions. In fact, the only occupation group in the study with higher smoking rates was those in construction and extraction occupations.

Why Do Food Preparation Workers Smoke?

The link between smoking and food preparation may seem difficult to understand, but it makes more sense when you think about the working conditions for those in food preparation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of food preparation workers are employed part time, and shift work – as well as particularly busy periods like the holidays – which generally increases stress levels. The work itself is also strenuous, hectic and generally stressful. They are also generally lower-paid than many other professions, further increasing stress.

The link between stress and smoking is well-established. When you’re stressed, the idea that smoking is a way to relax may make it more likely that you’ll smoke. Smoking does provide superficial stress relief, but it makes stress worse overall, because nicotine withdrawal – which starts a couple of hours after your last cigarette – increases your stress level. Learning some healthy coping mechanisms for stress can help you avoid smoking in an attempt to lower your stress levels.

The Risks of Smoking in Food Preparation Positions

Smoking and food preparation don’t mix. Smoking while actually preparing food is definitely a bad idea, but thankfully almost all employers won’t allow this anyway, for the protection of other staff members and for the effect it will have on the food. However, when you smoke, even if you do so outside, the smoke settles on your clothes and the smell lingers on your hands. This means that smoking while on the job could still affect the quality of the food you prepare.

This is why food preparation workers are required to wash their hands after smoking. Without washing your hands, contaminants from the smoke – which contains over 7,000 chemicals, including many carcinogens and other toxic chemicals – can find their way into the food. This not only ruins the taste, it adds unnecessary risk for your customers.

This is why people working in food preparation should ideally quit smoking as soon as possible. It also goes without saying that all of the usual risks of smoking – from cancer to COPD and heart disease – apply equally well to people working in food preparation and service occupations.

Helping Food Preparation Workers Quit Smoking

Thankfully, those in food preparation can quit smoking using exactly the same approaches that work for other smokers. This includes medications like Zyban and Chantix, nicotine replacement therapies like patches and gums, and alternative nicotine products like smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes. Since stress is likely to be an issue for smokers in food preparation jobs, getting some counseling to help you both quit smoking and deal with stress can be very beneficial.

If you can’t stop smoking or don’t want to quit, alternative nicotine products may be the best solution. Smokeless tobacco still risks contamination of your hands, and e-cigarettes are not completely free from toxins or smells people may not want on their food, but both are markedly better for food preparation workers than smoking.

Regardless of the approach you use, quitting smoking is essential for your own health and for the enjoyment and safety of the food you prepare.