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SafeFood© at The Office

No, this is not about the hit TV show, although there are plenty of opportunities to infuse some food safety messages into the scripts. This is about the real-life office kitchen. Most work places have a sink, coffee maker, dish rags, refrigerator, cooking unit of some type, (crock pot, toaster oven or hot plate) and of course a place to eat. Some are kept clean and tidy – and others look like kitchens of college students. A LOT of people usually just eat in at the office lunch room or at their desk rather than heading out – particularly in the tough economy and with increased work responsibilities. And a LOT of people from the office also get sick with colds or flu, or even a foodborne illness – coincidence, or not? So, how did admiral intentions (working at your desk turn into something with bad consequences?

Think about the cleanliness of the office kitchen area – what is extent of dirty dish clutter, soiled cloths (ironically used for cleaning) or food that is way past its prime stored in the refrigerator? Is there joint ownership in keeping the area clean – or does the first to get Yucked usually take care of it?

What can you do? Wash your hands with soap and warm water when you enter the kitchen – consider that the golden rule. Put your food on a paper towel rather than counter. Earmark your own dishware and silver rather than using community items.

Lets go further and help others. Get supplies on hand for cleaning - detergent soap, dish rack, chlorine bleach and sponge. Wipe down counters after use and once a week disinfect with a tablespoon of bleach mixed in gallon of warm water. (Not a bad idea for your own work areas also – the microbial gunk found on computer keyboards was a discouraging finding from a swab study a few years back). Toss all foods left at end of work week. Have a designated cloth washer (someone to take home at least at end of week, if not before). Research findings have also shown high transference of germs from “cleaning cloths” onto food contact surfaces.

There is always someone who needs remedial coaching on good hygiene practices. Put peer pressure to work - encourage personal use of items. Cry “foul” when someone double dips from a common bowl or doesn’t cough or sneeze into their sleeve. Collegiality in the work place is good – but sharing of our germs is not!
Submitted by Catherine Strohbehn, PhD, RD, CP-FS