Facebook Pixel

Eating at Your Desk? Think Again

Rate This
Food Poisoning related image Photo: Getty Images

In light of the recent news that women multitask way more than men, here’s a wake-up call for those of you who engage in “desktop dining,” that is, eating lunch at your office desk while continuing your work.

You run a much greater risk of food poisoning thanks to the bacteria-sharing space with your in/out box, your keyboard and that family photo. Now 'fess up: when was the last time you dusted and wiped down your desk and everything on it?

As you rest that tuna sandwich on a CD you used in a Powerpoint nine months ago, be aware that as a noontime multitasker you are probably in the majority of office workers. A survey by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods’ Home Food Safety program found that 62 percent of Americans regularly consume lunch at their desks. Add in a lot of breakfasts-on-the-fly and midday snacking and you can see there’s a hygiene problem.

An August 23, 2011 press release from the ADA drives home the point with information from a University of Arizona study that found the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat.

But do we care? The ADA/ConAgra survey showed that only 36 percent of respondents clean their work areas -- desktop, keyboard and mouse -- weekly and 64 percent do so only once a month or less.

To ward off foodborne illnesses, “Treat your desktop like you would your kitchen table and counters at home,” said Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian and ADA spokeswoman. Other areas of your lunchtime routine might need attention too.

Here’s a checklist:

-- Clean all surfaces before you prepare or eat food on them.

-- Store lunch in the office refrigerator within one to two hours of bringing it from home. Also, check with building supervisors as to how often the refrigerator is cleaned and whether it maintains a temperature below 40 degrees.

-- If microwaving a frozen meal, follow package directions to the letter to ensure the meal has no cold spots. If heating leftovers from home in the microwave, be aware that the food must be heated to 165 degrees to kill harmful bacteria.

-- And do the obvious by washing your hands before preparing foods.

Foodborne illnesses are no fun, as anyone who’s endured their repercussions can tell you. The dozens of foodborne diseases calculated by the Centers for Disease Control can show up in various ways, but when the bacteria, viral agents or parasites enter your digestive tract, they are likely to produce symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. The CDC estimates that one in six Americans gets sick annually from consuming contaminated foods and beverages.

Whether you’re in the office or out, it’s good to remember basic food safety rules, which the CDC categorizes under the headings Cook, Separate, Chill and Clean. In other words, cook any meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly. Don’t let raw meat and poultry touch other foods. Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and wash your hands often around food.

Now enjoy that lunch hour (or whatever precious time you have), but perhaps think about taking a break from your work and eating someplace that’s not quite so germy.


“Is Your Desk Making You Sick? New Survey Finds Desktop Dining Poses Food Poisoning Risk.” American Dietetic Association/EatRight.org. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. http://www.eatright.org/Media/content.aspx?id=6442464916

“Questions and Answers about Foodborne Illness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 5 Dec. 2011.

Reviewed December 5, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Food Poisoning

Get Email Updates

Food Poisoning Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!