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Workplace Food Safety

Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog on March 15, 2019

Heads up: if you eat in an office and work food, you may be in danger. Wait a second – strike that and reverse it. It you work in an office and eat food, you may be in danger. Well, you say to yourself, I’m in danger every day: I drive to my office each day in a car, after all, and that’s not exactly safe. Plus, yesterday I was scrambling around on the roof, trying to clear out a gutter, and that’s hardly safe either. Some dangerous things need doing. Then, you remember that you went skydiving once, which seems like about the least safe thing that you can do, although it’s not as dangerous as you’d think. Workplace food safety may be something even scarier.

Fair enough, we say to you. But you took a parachute with you when you went skydiving, right? Your instructor was there with you the whole time, ready to grab you if things went wrong, and you had a backup chute in case they did, as did he? You buckle up before your morning commute. When you went up to clean out the gutters, you were lying belly-down on the roof, heart in your throat, thinking the whole time that you should have tied your ankle to the chimney or something like that.

The point is that the safety measures we take make dangerous things tolerable. You are in danger around the office, yes; there are things in break room fridge that could force anyone at the firm to take a sick day or three. A 2012 survey conducted by ConAgra’s Foods’ Home Food Safety program showed a whopping 83% of people eat their lunches or midday snacks at their work desk on at least a semi-regular basis. That means you are eating exactly where you work – most of the time.

But there are safety measures that you use to ward off foodborne illness. What safety measures, you say? Well, funny that you should ask. We’ve outlined a few of the top-line items below:

  • Wash your hands, and be sure everyone else does too: One of the most important aspects of food safety is making sure that you always wash your hands. In the case of food safety in the office, this goes for you and all of your coworkers. Make sure that you have a (clean) sink area that’s set up for handwashing: that means a soap dispenser that will allow you to get lathered up with a pump, rather than bar soap, which isn’t nearly as hygienic.

    How to wash your hands, though? There are different schools of thought on technique, but the important parts are generally consistent between them: you need to use hot water, get a good soapy lather going, and rub them together vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Also, don’t forget to get coverage on the backs of your hands or between your fingers. How exactly you rub them together can vary from person to person, but this writer likes a technique that resembles what Scrooge McDuck might do upon seeing a big pile of money.

 

  • The fridge is the thing: Make sure that your office fridge is set to a temperature that’s low enough to keep everything inside at a temperature below 40 degrees fahrenheit. Any hotter than that, and bacteria will be able to do their thing, colonizing and growing on food that’s in there. You’ll also want to regularly de-ice the freezer and make sure that the fridge is maintained on a regular basis; if you aren’t doing these things, it might not be a safe space to keep your food. Finally, your office should institute a regular regime for clearing out old food from the fridge, and similarly schedule regular times when you take everything out, old or new, and wipe down the inside of the fridge with a diluted bleach solution. That’s the best practice for preventing bacteria from colonizing surfaces inside the fridge.
  • Beware the office pizza party: It’s not uncommon for workplaces to have events where everyone shares food. Sometimes, the pizza (or whatever it may be) isn’t entirely eaten at the event, and leftover food is kept out afterward for people to access at their leisure.

    This is bad food safety best practice. If you are having a group event, make sure that everyone washes their hands beforehand. Try and have someone who’s designated to serve the food instead of having everyone put their hands on it. There should be serving utensils and enough cutlery and plates for each employee to be able to enjoy their own serving. Beware food that’s been left out for too long – any more than a couple hours, and it’s probably no longer safe to eat. If you want to keep the food for longer than that, make sure that it’s transferred to a refrigerated environment promptly after eating. A pass through the microwave isn’t enough to sanitize a pizza that’s been left to sit out for too long.

 

  • Bowls of candy aren’t quite so sweet as they seem: This is related to the above point about pizza parties. Many workplaces have a bowl of candy for people to peruse from as they like. There’s not anything necessarily wrong with that, but you should be very careful when it comes to candy dishes. Everyone is getting their hands in there, and if they aren’t, then the candy could be sitting out for weeks, months, even years. There’s nothing food safe about that. Even if you have a sweet tooth, you’re probably better off buying your candy at the store. It could save you a lot of trouble if you eat the wrong piece and end up getting sick. All of this advice is good for stuff that’s wrapped, but be extra careful with pieces of candy that aren’t, like M&Ms. You’re better off avoiding them.

If you’re in the habit of eating at your desk, it’s a good idea to have a few critical items nearby. Always keep a bottle of hand sanitizer on or in your desk or purse, remember to make sure it is at least 60% alcohol. Also, keep a supply of cleansers with paper towels or cleansing wipes for those sneaky spills. Hope your lunch hour is safe!

By: Sean McNulty, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)