Are We “Out to Lunch?”

As everyone here at the Regional Food Bank knows, this month is Feeding America’s Hunger Action Month. But some people may not know that September is also National Food Safety Month. Not surprisingly, hunger and food safety go hand in hand. We recognize that providing unsafe food can be just as detrimental as providing no food at all. This is why the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma goes to great lengths to ensure that all food in our warehouse is stored and transported at proper temperatures and is distributed in a systematic and timely manner.

However, it is likely that those of us who are not struggling with hunger may occasionally neglect to ensure that our own food is safe to eat.

With that said, I would like to share why a story titled “Is Your Desk Making You Sick? New Survey Finds Desktop Dining Poses Food Poisoning Risk” interested me.

First of all, I am a dietitian. I LOVE any and all topics related to food.

Second, I find food safety, and the frightening lack thereof, intriguing. While learning the guidelines, standards, and regulations that keep food safe delights me, the realization that these practices are not always followed leaves me feeling helpless and upset. I realize it is freakishly easy for people to neglect food safety practices and/or deem them trivial and unworthy of learning in the first place. As a result, I have taken to secretly scanning restaurants and grocery stores for food safety abiders and food safety delinquents. Trust me, it’s fun.

Third, the nod to “desktop dining” immediately piqued my curiosity. Up until that very moment, I had yet to acknowledge that the ability to orchestrate one-handed e-mailing, strategic sandwich bites, phone calls, webinar log-ins,  finger-licking, slurping, swallowing and navigation of a sticky mouse (without getting chip crumbs and orange pulp into my computer’s motherboard, mind you) had become mainstream. I was already slightly perturbed and had only read the title. Clearly, further reading was warranted.

From the title, I also got the sneaking suspicion that this article was threatening to expose the inevitable downside to my seemingly sensible attempt at a time-saving, environmentally friendly, health-conscious, economical, productivity-driven lunch hour. Therefore, I dove in.

But, much to my surprise, this did not turn out to be another instance where my good intentions took a nose dive to the findings of research. Instead, stumbling upon this article simply reminded me that basic hygiene lessons are just as important in the “grown-up world” as they were in elementary school.

To summarize, the story presented data from the 2011 Desktop Dining Survey conducted by HealthFocus International. The survey was a collaborative effort of the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods’ Home Food Safety program to raise consumer awareness about the seriousness of foodborne illness and how to easily and safely handle food at home. During April 2011, an online survey was conducted of a random sample of 2,191 full-time employees, both men and women, who worked at a desk.

From the conclusions, I found the following information most surprising:

  • 62% of Americans eat lunch at their desk
  • 50% snack throughout the day at their desk
  • 27% have breakfast as their first desktop priority
  • 4% work late nights, thus dining at their desktop for dinner
  • 67% say the refrigerator is not where they store their lunch even though virtually all work places now have a refrigerator
  • Approximately one in five people admit they don’t know if the refrigerator is ever cleaned or say it is rarely or never cleaned
  • 49 % admit to letting perishable food sit out for three or more hours before consuming
  • Only 36% of respondents clean their work areas—desktop, keyboard, mouse—weekly
  • 64% do so only once a month or less
  •  A study updated in 2007 by the University of Arizona found the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat.

As your best defense against foodborne illness at the office, the ADA recommends this To-Do List:

  1. Wash your hands with warm water and soap before eating lunch and snacks (and employee birthday cake)
  2. Keep moist towelettes or hand sanitizer in your desk for times when you can’t get to the sink
  3. Use a refrigerator thermometer to ensure cold food is safely stored below 40 degrees Fahrenheit
  4. Perishable foods need to be refrigerated within two hours (one hour if the temperature is greater than 90 degrees Fahrenheit) from when it was removed from the refrigerator at home.
  5. When cooking prepared food in the microwave, follow the cooking instructions on the package closely
  6. Re-heat all leftovers to the proper temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit

For more information visit www.fightbac.org or www.foodsafety.gov

Gina Stone

Gina Stone

Gina Stone is the Programs Director for Community Initiatives at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. She is a Registered Dietitian with a Masters degree in Dietetics from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Read more articles by Gina

Comments are closed.