Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Office Desktop Dining Still Tops the Charts

Four years after an infamous University of Arizona study reported that our desks carry 400 times more dangerous bacteria than the average public toilet seat, guess where most of us are still eating?

eatingatdesk-350.jpg

Yep, you guessed it. Eighty-three (83) percent of us still say we are eating both meals and snacks at our desks.

Believe it or not, less than a year before the desks-dirtier-than-toilets study, 93 percent of us reported being desktop diners. But still, 83 percent is, besides being pretty sad, a foodborne illness danger.

According to the 2011 Desktop Dining Survey, large numbers of office workers are eating breakfast (27 percent); lunch (62 percent); and snacks (50 percent) at their desks. Only 4 percent eat dinner at their desks.

Saving either time or money or both is cited as the reason for desktop dining, according to 84 percent of the respondents. Sixty (60) percent of females are more likely to snack at their desks compared with 42 percent of the males. Younger workers are more likely to be desk diners.

One problem, according to the Home Food Safety program run by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods, is that only 50 percent of the full-time office workers surveyed said they wash their hands before they eat lunch at work.

In the eight years since the survey began, there’s only been a 2 percent bump in office hand washing. Employees surveyed reported that their work areas are cleaned once a month or less by 64 percent of their employers. About 36 percent do weekly cleaning.

As for cleaning their own offices, 45 percent of the men and 30 percent of the women said they do so rarely or never.

Cleaning schedules for office refrigerators and freezers used to store employee food were reported as weekly (23 percent); monthly (37 percent); rarely or never (23 percent); and don’t know (18 percent).

About 70 percent of those responding to the survey said they store their lunches in the office refrigerators, while nearly half (49 percent) admit to leaving lunches requiring refrigeration out of any cooler for more than three hours.

Bringing a lunch from home and eating it at one’s desk (52 percent) remains the most likely choice for brown-baggers. Buying a lunch to go from a restaurant or cafeteria and then eating it a desk (23 percent) comes in second.

Only 21 percent dine at restaurants and cafeterias, and 9 percent said they do something else. 

“For many people, multitasking through lunch is part of the average workday,” says Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian and spokesman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).  ”While shorter lunch hours may result in getting more accomplished, they could also be causing workers to log additional sick days, as desktops hide bacteria that can lead to foodborne illness.”

Smithson says office workers should be washing their hands with warm water and soap before and after handling food. Moist towelettes and hand sanitizer should be kept in the desk for those times when one cannot get to a sink. She says clean hands and desktop are the best defense against disease.

Perishable foods should not be kept out of refrigeration for more than two hours.

The survey also found that 97 percent of workplaces provide employees with access to microwave ovens.

The online survey collected responses from 2,191 full time employees, both men and women, who work at a desk. It was conducted in April 2011 by HealthFocus International for  ADA and ConAgra for their joint Home Food Safety program.

© Food Safety News
  • Jan

    I teach cooking classes in a wide range of settings, and I have yet to see a thermometer in any office, school, or grocery store’s staff refrigerator. I’ve gotten in the habit of bringing one to classes to test fridge temps, and rarely is the temperature in the fridge below 40° F. A thermometer and appropriate temperature should be standard requirements for food safety in staff refrigerators.

  • Minkpuppy

    And here I sit, at my desk, eating my lunch. Doh!

  • lifeonmars

    “While shorter lunch hours may result in getting more accomplished, they could also be causing workers to log additional sick days, as desktops hide bacteria that can lead to foodborne illness.”
    Could be…can lead to illness…83% eat at the desk…49% don’t refrigerate…45%/30% don’t clean desk…50% don’t wash before eating…
    And yet somehow we’re all still here! What is the percentage of people who eat at their desks who come down with food-borne illness per year?
    There are a lot of cans, coulds, and mights here but few hard facts. I do all of the above – each and every bad habit – and I’ve never had a food borne illness from work. Can’t remember the last time I had stomach problems. This goes to the same place as the study that said I should make sure that my child’s school uses refrigerated storage for all packed lunches, and not to use mayonnaise – in the circular file.

  • mrothschild

    “lifeonmars”: Not use mayo? The school lunch story actually said a schmear of mayonnaise, an acidic preservative, on a sandwich is a good thing.

  • lifeonmars

    Mary, you’re right the article on foodsafetynews does say that. There was another one here, which I read first: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/08/food-poisoning-onset-bagged-lunch-study_n_921178.html.
    It specifically advises against mayonnaise use. There was another one that made me laugh with its recommendation that you shouldn’t send a packed lunch to school with your child unless it will be refrigerated until lunch time AND you shouldn’t use mayonnaise. Not sure what alternate universe they’re living in, but there is no fridge big enough or centrally located enough for all of the lunches at my son’s high school. The alternative is pizza, burgers, fries, chips and soda from the school cafeteria. Hmmm…salmonella or heart disease and obesity? I’ll take my chances with the mayo!

  • Mary Rothschild

    “lifeonmars”: Not use mayo? The school lunch story actually said a schmear of mayonnaise, an acidic preservative, on a sandwich is a good thing.