Desktop dining poses food-safety risks: survey

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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CHICAGO – According to recently released research, 83 percent of Americans typically eat at their work desks to save time and money. But not practicing proper food safety at the office could end up costing both employers and employees.

Most Americans continue to eat lunch (62 percent) and snacks (50 percent) at their desks, while 27 percent typically eat breakfast at their desks, according to a new survey by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods' Home Food Safety program. Late nights at the office result in 4 percent eating dinner at their desktop.

"For many people, multitasking through lunch is part of the average workday," said Toby Smithson, registered dietitian and ADA spokesperson. "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."

Only half of all Americans claim they always wash their hands before eating lunch. To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, Smithson recommends washing hands before and after handling food with soap and warm water, and keeping the desk stocked with moist towelettes or hand sanitizers for those times an employee can't get to the sink.

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, according to the survey. A study updated in 2007 by the Univ. of Arizona found the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat.

"Treat your desktop like you would your kitchen table and counters at home," Smithson said. "Clean all surfaces, whether at home or work, before you prepare or eat food on them."

Only 67 percent of those surveyed said they store their lunch in an office refrigerator. Approximately one in five people don't know if it is ever cleaned or said it is rarely or never cleaned. Smithson recommends cleaning the office refrigerator plus using a refrigerator thermometer to ensure food is safely stored below 40°F.

Perishable foods need to be refrigerated within two hours (one hour if the temperature is greater than 90°F) from when it was removed from the refrigerator at home. Survey results show 49 percent admit to letting perishable food sit out for three or more hours, meaning foods may have begun to spoil before the first bite.

Almost all office kitchens have a microwave oven (97 percent), making leftovers and frozen meals easy, quick and inexpensive lunch options. It is crucial to follow the microwave cooking instructions on the package closely when cooking prepared food in the microwave. The recommended way to ensure that food is cooked to the correct temperature in microwave ovens is to use a food thermometer. Re-heat all leftovers to the proper temperature of 165°F.
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