Food Safety at the Office

Contributors: Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD
food at office desk


If you're one of the 83% of Americans who regularly eat at their desks, stay healthy by following these food safety tips from the experts.

Step 1: Procure Office Supplies

Make the most of your desktop dining experience by stocking up on these essential food safety supplies:

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectant wipes or paper towels and spray cleanser
  • Office refrigerator or insulated lunch bag with freezer pack
  • Labels for leftovers
  • Refrigerator thermometer
  • Food thermometer

Step 2: Follow Office Procedures

Get Hands-on Experience. Embrace this rule of thumb: always wash hands before, during and after handling food. No time to wash with soap and water? Keep your desk stocked with moist towelettes or hand sanitizer.

Review the Refrigerator. Not sure what the temperature is in your office refrigerator? Stick a thermometer in the refrigerator and check to make sure it's set below 40 degrees F. (Your co-workers will thank you!)

Be Proactive. A survey conducted by Impulse Research, on behalf of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, found that the average office refrigerator is cleaned only once every six weeks – more than enough time for its contents to spoil. Don't wait for the office clean-up crew — toss your leftovers within three to five days.

Watch the Clock. If you've packed perishable food items such as meat and cheese sandwiches, leftovers, salads or dairy foods for lunch, don't let more than two hours pass from the time you make your lunch at home until you put it in the office refrigerator.

Limit Lunchtime Lingering. If you have lunchtime leftovers, refrigerate them promptly below 40 degrees as soon as you're finished eating. Don't keep them at your desk all day, where they may develop harmful bacteria.

Keep Your Cool. No fridge at work? Pack your lunch in an insulated lunch bag and throw in an ice pack to keep foods cold. (Or, as an alternative, try using a frozen water bottle. It works just as well as an ice pack and doubles as a refreshing noon-time drink).

Micro(wave) Manage. If leftovers are your "bag" when it comes to lunch, be sure to re-heat them to the proper temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the countertop.  Be courteous when microwaving meals by keeping food containers covered. And if food splatters, wipe down the microwave immediately, while the food is still easy to remove.

Clock-In Carry-Out. When bringing carry-out back to your desk, don't wait too long before eating it or you could put yourself at risk of food poisoning. If a looming deadline is unavoidable, put your lunch in the office fridge until you're ready to eat.

Avoid Corporate Sponging. A damp, smelly sponge is a clear sign that harmful bacteria are lurking inside, and simply rinsing a sponge with water isn't enough to keep it clean. Don't use the kitchen sponge if it's not replaced frequently. Instead, use paper towels and always wash dishes in hot, soapy water to keep bacteria at bay.

Check Your Sources. Nearly three out of five Americans who work in offices where food is left out to share indulge in these social snacks at least once a week.* If food is perishable, find out how long it's been sitting out before you dig in. If it's more than two hours, you may want to take a pass.

*Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics survey conducted by Impulse Research, August 2003.

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