Why your office fridge could be hazardous to your health

What’s that gross stuff on the counter in the office kitchen? How long has that crust been on the inside of the microwave? What is that nasty odor coming from the fridge?

Kitchen cleanliness its something every office battles, but now Men’s Health says it could actually be making you sick.

Greg Stebben is an editor at the mag and says a dirty fridge can be dangerous.

“One of my favorite stories comes from an AT&T call center in San Jose. Apparently there was a bad odor or something coming from the refrigerator. [An employee] took it on herself to empty it and she didn’t realize how bad it was in the refrigerator. She left the door open to clean it, stuck her head inside and had to be rushed to the hospital, and because she left the door open, other people had to be rushed to the hospital. They evacuated the building and sent guys in hazmat suits in to clean [it].”

Okay, so maybe your office isn’t that bad, but Stebben says the gross fridge is more popular than you might think.

One of the reasons it’s becoming so prevalent is that more and more people are eating at their desk, whether it’s to save money or watch their waste lines.

“As you stack more and more stuff in the refrigerator, it’s harder for the cool air to go through and actually properly refrigerate the food. It also means you stick something in there and it disappears in the back because there’s so much other stuff in there and you forget about it and there’s just more stuff rotting in there.”

The economy also kinda has something to do with it. One of the first cuts for most organization during tough times can be janitorial services. When it’s no longer anyone’s job to clean the refrigerator, the madness begins.

So, um, how to solve the problem without doing it yourself and quite possibly passing out?

“This is actually a health issue, and that is part of the secret to solving the problem. . . . If the refrigerator’s not keeping food properly cool it makes people sick. Just because your food is properly wrapped, doesn’t mean it’s safe from all the food that’s rotting and isn’t properly wrapped. So, if it’s a problem at your company . . . you go to management or you go to HR and you say, ‘I think the state of the company refrigerator is affecting productivity and causing us to have more sick days than necessary’.”

He adds that it’s very easy to get a system in place that costs nothing, or next to nothing.

Internet Editor Dorothy Ramienski, herself the recent victim of a disgusting office fridge incident, begs you to please throw out your leftovers. (Photo by Emily Jarvis)

There are also some foods that you really need to look out for. Monitoring the presence of certain items can go a long way to keeping an office fridge fresh. Things like yogurt, milk and homemade casseroles can pack a mean punch if left to sit for extended periods of time.

This doesn’t mean, though, that you should just chuck everything you see in the fridge that you think could go bad.

Stebben says there have been lawsuits concerning who threw out what from the office fridge.


“The smarter way to do it, really, is become that volunteer if this is important to you. This is what I did. I became the volunteer. I went to the proper person who had the authority to make a decision. I said, ‘I’d like to put a sign on the refrigerator that says every Friday afternoon all leftovers and their containers will be tossed, unless they have [a] name, the date and the word save on them’. . . . If you post that sign — and maybe get everybody to agree by initialing the sign — then it literally takes me two minutes on my way out the door on Friday to open the refrigerator, toss out the leftovers and walk away.”

There is, of course, the alternative option of bringing your lunch in your own cooler if you don’t want to be the one who has to clean up after everyone.

But if you are willing to take the initiative and go through the proper channels, Stebben adds, it might do wonders for your health.

Email the author of this post at dramienski@federalnewsradio.com