OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

April 7, 1998

Mr. Bill Springer
819 Winnetka Ct.
Manitowoc, WI 54220

Dear Mr. Springer:

This is in response to your letter addressed to Senator Herb Kohl concerning material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for "normal items" (e.g., peanut butter, nutmeg). Senator Kohl transmitted your letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on December 3, 1997. OSHA would like to take this opportunity to clarify the requirements of the Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200, as it pertains to non-hazardous materials.

The purpose of the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is to ensure that the hazards of all chemicals produced or imported are evaluated, and with the information concerning their hazards, transmitted to employers and employees. This transmittal of information is to be accomplished by means of comprehensive hazard communication programs that are to include container labeling and other forms of warning, employee training and material safety data sheets (MSDSs).

Under the Hazard Communication Standard, manufacturers or importers of chemicals or materials that may create a hazardous exposure during their use are to provide hazard information through warning labels affixed to all containers of their products. In addition, MSDSs are to be provided to all downstream recipients with each shipment of hazardous chemicals or materials.

Food or alcoholic beverages which are sold, used or prepared in a retail establishment (e.g., a grocery store, restaurant or drinking places) are exempt from the provisions of the HCS. Food items such as peanut butter or nutmeg therefore are not covered under the HCS. Furthermore, MSDSs are not required by the HCS if the "chemical" is not hazardous as defined by the standard. It is the manufacturer's responsibility to make this determination. Quite often, however, MSDSs are transmitted by the manufacturer for reasons other than compliance. In this situation, OSHA has encouraged manufacturers to provide a statement on the MSDS clarifying that the product is not considered a hazardous chemical under the HCS. In the absence of such a statement, we would suggest that you contact the product manufacturer for further explanation.

I hope this clarifies this point for you. If you are in need of further assistance, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Compliance Assistance at (202) 219-8036.


Charles N. Jeffress
Assistant Secretary