Top 5 Office Food Safety Rules

Posted on February 16, 2011 by


Guest blogger, Amy Charest

Isn’t it fun when free food blesses the office? It could come in the form of a pizza party, a promotional gift from a vendor, the generous coworker bringing in treats just because she felt like baking, or food leftover from a conference. It could also make you sick if not handled correctly.  Check out my top five office food safety violations.

Food Safety Foul #1: The Pizza Party that Lingers Too Long

Pizza parties are fun and tasty, but my stomach starts to turn when coworkers bring the leftover pizza to the break room to sit on the counter the rest of the afternoon.  Around 3:00 p.m. the single guys in the office start to get hungry, migrate to the lunch room and snag a piece of pizza. Their immune system must be working overtime to fight the bacteria that grows at room temperature. Yes, pizza is baked and is safe to eat, but please follow the cardinal food safety rule of refrigerating within two hours, or one hour if hotter than 90° degrees.    If you would like to be a hero, wipe down the conference table with a clean cloth and disinfecting spray after the party.

Food Safety Foul #2: The Community Candy Dish

Candy is delicious, but please give it to me wrapped and keep your paws off my m&ms. Candy dishes are notorious for harboring bacteria from unwashed or poorly washed hands. Did you know that not everyone washes their hands after using the bathroom, and not everyone remembers to wash their hands after blowing their nose? Please do us all a favor and put a spoon in the community dish for people to safely snag some candy.

Food Safety Foul #3: Festering Fruit

I really don’t know why, but not everyone realizes that fruit and vegetables need to be refrigerated just like every other leftover. My former office hosted events frequently and generously shared leftover pastries, fruit and vegetables with the office. I shuddered when the fruit platter of cut melon lingered on the conference table all day. Once fruit and vegetables are cut they need to follow the basic food safety rules of refrigeration – refrigerate properly within two hours and handle in a sanitary way – no dirty fingers please.

Food Safety Foul #4: Potluck Disasters

Potluck parties can easily turn to sick days if your coworkers don’t follow basic food safety rules. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Bacteria thrive in the danger zone of 41° to 140° degrees. Good guidelines for safe gatherings are to maintain hot foods at 160° degrees or warmer by using a slow cooker, roaster or sterno can. An easy way to keep cold foods like salads and fruit safe is to place a bowl of ice under the serving dish.

Food Safety Foul #5: Dirty, Germy Hands

Unwashed or poorly washed hands lead to spreading germs and sick days. In this economy, we all have more work than we can handle. Doing more with less people seems to be every company’s motto. Please do everyone a favor and reduce sick days by washing your hands every time you use the bathroom, every time you blow your nose, after you eat, and after you come back to the office from lunch – dirty door handles anyone? Proper hand washing is simple. Warm water, 20 seconds, soap, clean towel. Water should be warm and not hot because you need to be able to leave your hands under the water for at least 20 seconds. Not sure how long 20 seconds is? Hum “Happy Birthday” or the “ABCs” (to yourself please, you nut!) Soap is necessary, as is rubbing your hands vigorously under the water and when drying hands. Surprisingly, the friction of rubbing hands together eliminates a lot of bacteria.

Now, get up from your desk, wash your hands, shove the leftover food in the refrigerator or toss it in the trash if it has sat out too long, and while you’re at it, put a spoon in the communal nut or candy dish. Your coworkers will thank you. Eventually.

For good food safety tips go to: and learn how to clean, separate, cook and chill.

Amy Johnson Charest served as a Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 2002 to 2006 and taught food safety from North Dakota to Wisconsin and everywhere in between. Amy survived the BSE, Chronic Wasting Disease, and monkeypox crises and has a passion for clean hands. Her specialties are industry, stakeholder and consumer education on bioterrorism best practices and basic food safety tips. Her latest challenge is maintaining a clean house with two toddlers. Amy is a work-at-home mom, freelance professional specializing in scientific writing, facilitation, project management and communications.

Posted in: food safety