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?


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.