Who Invented the Buffet Sneeze Guard?

Johnny Garneau died at the age of 90 five years ago. You might be wondering who Johnny Garneau was, and you would be forgiven for not immediately recognising his name. He was behind an innovation which set in motion much of today’s food hygiene. His patent for the ‘Food Service Table’, later known as the ‘Sneeze Guard’, was filed in March 1959.

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The Sneeze Guard, You Say?

Garneau’s invention was to satisfy his own impeccable desire for hygiene; he was a germaphobe. At the time, the sneeze guard was not a legal requirement. Garneau owned a chain of smorgasbord-style restaurants in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The Saladette Counter was a feature of this type of dining, with all-you-can-eat buffets popular with the American diner. Garneau had horrific visions of flies crawling over food and uncouth diners coughing and sneezing without covering their mouths. The guard is a simple design of a plastic shield to protect food. Later on, it would incorporate the facility to keep food cool or hot in addition.

The Situation in the UK

This patent originates from America, and indeed there are 100 patents relating to the safety of food storage. This is not a huge number considering that in the USA there are in total eight million patents. There have been few changes to Garneau’s original design. With regard to the UK, the equivalent agency is the FSA (Food Standards Agency). More information about food temperature and keeping food in serving counters can be found on the section of their website relating to food temperature control. See https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/multimedia/pdfs/tempcontrolguiduk.pdf.

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Modern equivalents of Garneau’s original design with refrigeration facilities are available from https://www.fridgefreezerdirect.co.uk/commercial-refrigeration-brands/i-l/interlevin/interlevin-esa900-refrigerated-saladette-counter.

Garneau’s patent was granted for 14 years. His daughter Barbara (one of five children) was born the same year and remembers growing up in the clean environment of her father’s restaurants. There is no direct link between the invention and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration in the USA) regulations, which have been in force since the 1960s.

Later on in his career, the smorgasbord style of eating became less popular, so Garneau moved to a railroad theme with the first of his steakhouses being called ‘The Golden Spike’. It featured a toy train set to deliver drinks at the bar.

Maybe the phrase ‘buffet sneeze guard’ should come back into common usage.