Eating at the Office May Be Hazardous to Your Health

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on March 10, 2004 · 0 comments

Most of us eat at our desks occasionally. We store lunch in the office fridge, reheat take-out in the communal microwave, get coffee from the pot.

Isn’t eating in the office better than having a burger at the local greasy spoon? Maybe, maybe not.

Ghosts of meals past and colonies of bacteria may be lurking next to your brown-bag lunch. And, your desktop may be a prime offender.

Before you spread out your morning muffin, think about the last thing that rested on your desk. Was it the briefcase that sat on the train floor, the package delivered by the messenger, the hands of a co-worker? They all can carry enough microbes to make you sick. It only takes five seconds for food to pick up bacteria from a surface.

A few simple precautions can all but eliminate the problem. First, wash your hands! Next, keep disinfectant wipes in a drawer and wipe your desk top often, especially before eating. And, don’t put food directly on the desk — use a disposable plate or a napkin.

When you pour your next cup of coffee, give the pot a scrub — not a rinse but a soap-and-water wash. Stack paper cups bottom-up, so you only touch the cup you use. Spoons should go bowl-end down. Liquid milk should be kept cold. Powdered creamer should be covered.

Office refrigerators are less likely to be breeding grounds. But spills, open containers, and mummified food can harbor airborne bacteria and mold that grow at cool temperatures. If you can’t keep the fridge clean, keep your food well wrapped and covered. And, store your lunch on the top shelf where it is less open to dripping from other foods.

Office microwaves can resemble biohazard dumping grounds. Unlike conventional ovens, where dry heat incinerates leftover residue, microwave ovens agitate water molecules, creating friction and heat.

The dancing water molecules cause splatters when food is not covered. And the residue, with each reheating, becomes more pungent and can fall off the oven walls. Microwaves only sterilizes microbes, if the internal temperature of the food reaches 160 degrees F, unlikely in a minute of reheating. To eliminate the problem, keep the microwave clean by covering all foods being heated. A piece of wax paper or even a paper towel will do the trick.

Next time you get a “bug”, with stomach pains, fatigue, fever, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, think about the last thing you ate at the office. You probably didn’t have the flu. One way to cut down on illness at the office is to email this story to your co-workers. A little caution goes a long way.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: