Desktop Dining Guide

Your workplace may be a bacterial breeding ground—germier than a public restroom! Think about how long that cheese ball sat in the conference room, the number of hands that have reached into the candy jar in the lobby, and the last time you properly washed your coffee mug. YUCK! For the safety of you and your coworkers, adopt these desktop dining guidelines as company policy.

Watch the Clock
If you pack a lunch that includes perishable food items—meat and cheese sandwiches, leftovers, salads, or dairy foods—don't let more than two hours pass from the time you make your lunch at home to the time you put it in the office refrigerator. The same rule applies if you go out for lunch and bring back fast food, carry out, or doggy bag.

Refrigerator Review
The average office refrigerator is cleaned out only once every six weeks, even though most perishable foods spoil within three to five days! The office refrigerator should be cleaned out weekly, but no one wants to take on the responsibility, right? The solution is to assign each person who uses the refrigerator to a specific week in which they are responsible for pitching and purging. Anything left at closing time Friday is pitched. Post the weekly delegations on the refrigerator door, and if it's a disaster come Monday morning, everyone will be able to determine who's to blame.

Kitchen Clean Up
Splattered and scattered for all to see—the spaghetti that exploded in the microwave, the chicken soup that boiled over on the stove, the cream-filled doughnut remains on the counter—kitchen messes like these all spell DANGER. Keep anti-bacterial wipes readily available so team members can wipe up their spills and mishaps as a first line of defense.

But why not wipe up spills with the community dishrag or sponge? These are filled with germs and bacteria, which only spread around when you wipe up a mess. To keep a sponge or dishrag safe, run it through the dishwasher daily, or dampen it with water and microwave it on high for three minutes before using.

Desktop Danger
At the very least, you can keep your own beloved cubicle clean. Your desktop, keyboard, and phone are ideal for bacteria and germ contamination—especially if you eat while using any of these devices. But don't forget all the other people who touch your desk area or sneeze on your belongings.

The best way to control the spread of germs is to clean your cubicle once daily with an anti-bacterial spray or wipes. Coffee pots are generally safe due to the high temperature, but be careful with your personal coffee mug. Clean it daily with soap and water, but if you use dairy creamers, you should wash it even more often.

The Social Scene
Nearly three out of five Americans work in an office where weekly, food is left out to be shared with others. If the food is perishable, find out how long it has been out before you dig in. If the food has been out for more than two hours, pass on the goodies. If you can’t resist the departmental pitch-in buffet, make sure you get there early, while food is still hot. Once again, foods left out for more than two hours are perfect for bacteria to set up camp.

All Washed Up
Fewer than half of all Americans wash their hands before eating lunch. The rule is to always wash your hands before, during, and after food handling. If you have no time to wash with soap and water, use a hand sanitizer stored in your desk drawer. Mom was right to always say, "Wash your hands before eating." Now go wash up!
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Member Comments

Good article. Report
Seems a little "over the top" to me. Report
Sometimes I forget how easily germs are spread. Thanks for the reminder! Report
Imagining my coworkers dirty hands (one of whom almost never washes her hands!) touching communal food is the easiest way for me to stay out of snack foods in the lunch room! :) Report
This article was a little dramatic. I don't follow many of these tips especially at the volume requested and I have been doing okay so far.

Would have been nice to hear what consequences the bacteria causes. I think a balanced approach is better so your body can fight off more bugs. Report
once i worked for an outgoing call center..used headsets,used computer keyboards,and chair...i used wipes and lysol spray on the things mentioned,and got yelled at for cleaning the equippment...need
less to say I blew up at the supervisor,and bad ,i liked the job,and was good at it,but really...repriman
ded for good hygiene....what a bunch of loosers... Report
once i worked for an outgoing call center..used headsets,used computer keyboards,and chair...i used wipes and lysol spray on the things mentioned,and got yelled at for cleaning the equippment...need
less to say I blew up at the supervisor,and bad ,i liked the job,and was good at it,but really...repriman
ded for good hygiene....what a bunch of loosers... Report
Antibacterial cleaners make stronger, more resistant germs! Regular cleaners or plain alcohol kill the bugs just fine. Report
We are actually pretty good and do most of this already. I didn't know that you can microwave dishcloths and sponges to sanitize them - thanks for the tip! Report
the refrigerator clean out roster would NOT work at my workplace - its a communal lunchroom's shared by 5 different departments some of who have very different schedules than my group. Report
One other thought about handwashing, it protects not only you but also the people who may touch what you just touched. I teach sanitation classes for the restaurant industry. The CDC tells us that 25-35 percent of the population are carriers for diseases such as staph. That means you may be healthy and carry these bad "germs" without getting sick, but you can pass it along to someone else whose immune system is not as healthy for a variety of reasons and they will become sick. The decisions you make about your own health can affect everyone around you and perhaps people you may never meet. Wash your hands, wash your hands wash your hands! Report
I agree with those who think the "germaphobes" are the ones who are sick more often. I admit, I do not follow very sanitary practices, and I am rarely if ever sick! My immune system knows how to do it's job, because it gets plenty of practice, lol. Report
Good grief. I thought I was germ phobic. Back when I was a kid in elementary school we took our lunches to school and kept them in our desks or the coat room until lunch. No one died. Report
Gah. This is possibly the worst article I've read on SP. Discard cheese that's been out of the fridge more than 2 hours?!?! Cheese is possibly the most indestructible pre-industrial food in existence. Ssemi-soft cheese are entirely safe kept properly wrapped on a counter for days; hard cheeses can be kept for weeks.

And forget the superbug-breeding gels. Give your immune system something to do other than destroying itself out of utter boredom. Report
This seems a little, um, overcautious to me. I'll grant that food safety is really everyone's responsibility, but I clean my cubicle about once a week when I'm not sick - and I'm not sick very often.

As far as the refridgerator goes, that I can't tell you, because my partner and I carry an insulated bag with our lunches in it.

And I'll add to the concerns over the abundant use of disinfectant. Just ... a little bit more than necessary. Report


About The Author

Becky Hand
Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.
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