The paper cutter, the stapler, the tie-eating copy machine -- they all pale in comparison to the damage done by your average, innocent looking office refrigerator. As anyone who has a desk close to the break room will attest, the community cooler can do more damage to more people in less time than all the previously mentioned equipment combined.
It's gotten so bad, in fact, that Peter Moore, the articulate editor of Men's Health Magazine, has gone on a campaign to eliminate that stinky, skanky fridge in the workplace.
"As the economy goes down, brown bagging goes up," Moore says. "The days of the three-martini lunch are long gone; but now, so is the day of the one-cheeseburger lunch. To economize, more people than ever are bringing their meals to work, and what do they do? They leave the leftovers in the fridge and forget about them."
After a certain amount of time goes by, no one wants to claim or deal with the food they left. They know that when they open it it's going to stink, look gross, and if they don't want to throw out the container, chances are they'll have to touch the mold and slime while cleaning it. And where do they throw the grossness so that it doesn't fester at room temperature and smell even worse?
Moore relates the story of an AT&T call center where the office fridge got so full of spoiled food that you could smell it all over the office -- with the door closed. One day, a brave soul finally offered to clean it out, and when she opened the door, the toxic fumes that spewed forth sent seven people to the hospital.
The stinkiest and most dangerous foods, according to Moore, are, in order of "skankitude," are:
- Casseroles: They're usually made of leftovers, so they're double-old when you bring them to work. Then you heat up your portion, take it to your desk, stick your fork in and take a bite, get bacteria from your mouth on the fork, stick it back in the casserole, repeat several times, then put the remaining portion back in the fridge. It can't help but go bad and smell.
- Cold cuts: They're the same shape as a Petri dish where you grow bacteria on purpose, and they contain all the things bacteria love: a large, smooth, moist surface, protein, and fat. Preservatives and sulfates can only do so much. Cold cuts should be thrown out after a week, even if there are no little hairy white blobs growing on them.
- Poultry: There's a good chance that your poultry was infected before you even brought it home from the supermarket; a study done by a consumer advocacy group showed that as much as 42 percent is. In small doses, that won't do too much damage. But multiply that by the time your fowl spent sitting around before you cooked it, then the time it spent sitting around since you cooked it, and you've got a Salmonella-Listeria-Clostridrium rave going on in your refrigerator.
- The evil dairy twins: Yogurt and sour cream -- they contain live cultures, for heavens sake, plus protein, fat, sugars, moisture, more of what bacteria love to feast on. And again with the spoon in mouth then container, all those saliva germs fester and grow.
- Half and half or milk: Most workplaces keep coffee accoutrements in their refrigerators, and there's probably not a latte-drinker out there who hasn't ruined a steaming hot cup by accidentally pouring in a gelatinous glob of spoiled dairy product. It's in the refrigerator, it's out of the refrigerator, it's in the refrigerator, it's out of the refrigerator -- it seldom stays at a stable temperature.
And to top that off, almost every workplace refrigerator is subject to inconsistent maintenance. A survey done by the ADA revealed that 44 percent of businesses cleaned their refrigerators out once a month, and 21 percent of all businesses cleaned them out less than twice a year. It makes you hesitant to every put anything in there.
The refrigerator in the Men's Health office was a major offender, with the added horror of storing leftover food from photo shoots long past. That's what inspired Moore's campaign, as well as the following rules:
1. Everything stored in the refrigerator must have a name and date on it, or it gets thrown out.
2. A maintenance person has been assigned to clean the refrigerator out every Friday, and a sign has been posted stating this.
3. No "belly-aching" if your prized Tupperware container gets trashed, or the leftovers from your lunch at that expensive restaurant vanish. You know the rules.
Knowing the jeopardy in which a skanky fridge places you and all your colleagues, perhaps those would be good rules to instigate everywhere.