Some simple measures to reduce lost work time

If you’re like me, you’re probably working way too many hours just to keep up, never mind getting ahead.

In an effort to save time and be more productive, I too often eat at my desk.

I never gave much thought to how “brown-bagging” it might not be the healthiest of habits until I stumbled upon some research from the American Dietetic Association (ADA) – the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals.

An ADA survey found that 62 percent of American workers eat lunch and snack throughout the day at their desks and work areas, while 27 percent typically eat breakfast there.

While working through a meal or snack may result in getting more accomplished, the added productivity could come at the cost of more employee illness and added sick days, the ADA says.

Unclean Areas

That’s because desks, offices and work areas are not the cleanest of places. A study by the University of Arizona found that the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat.

Adding food to these environments can, therefore, be problematic.

Not practicing proper food safety can result in foodborne illness, more commonly referred to as food poisoning, which is an illness that comes from eating contaminated food. People ill with food poisoning may experience such symptoms as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or fever.

Prevention Measures

Harmful bacteria are the most common cause of foodborne illness. Bacteria are spread by touching and not cleaning.

One of the most effective and cheapest measures to significantly reduce bacterial contamination and the risk of foodborne illness is judicious hand washing, say health officials.

Keep office and work areas and surfaces, phones, keyboards and computer mouses clean, and sanitize often to decrease exposure to potential illness-causing bacteria, they recommend. Use a disinfecting or sanitizing solution or spray bottle filled with rubbing alcohol, rather than just a damp cloth, as it will spread the germs around.

Another danger zone at the workplace is refrigerators. Not much thought is given to what’s inside them.

You might be one of those shops where the refrigerator contains fuzzy and fermented foods, or lunch bags and food containers that have been there for who knows how long.

You’re not alone. The ADA study found that only 23 percent of respondents said the refrigerator is cleaned weekly. Forty percent said they don’t know if it is cleaned or said that it was rarely or never cleaned.

When it comes to what’s inside the refrigerator, health officials advise: When in doubt, throw it out. Any foods that look or smell suspicious should be tossed.

When a refrigerator is filled with unsafe foods, there’s a possibility an unsafe food will contaminate other foods.

You can’t always see, smell or taste bacteria that cause foodborne illness, note health officials. It takes from minutes to weeks before a person gets sick from contaminated food.

Refrigerator Policies

In looking into the matter of food safety at work, I discovered that some shops have established and implemented refrigerator policies to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from “bad food” in refrigerators. These policies – posted on refrigerators, in break rooms, on bulletin boards, on the office intranet, etc. – include such things as:

  • Requiring employees to label food put into the refrigerator with their name and date.
  • Dating all shared foods, such as coffee creamer, salad dressing, ketchup, etc., and noting a “use by” date.
  • Discarding perishable leftovers on a set basis.
  • Establishing, on a weekly basis, a “toss day” for throwing away all “old” food and assigning a person to be responsible for this task.
  • Establishing, on a monthly basis, a clean-the-refrigerator, inside and outside, day and delegating a person to this chore. (For these two assignments, companies rotate people.)
  • Requiring that food items only be put into trash receptacles that are emptied daily. The reason being: letting food and food containers sit in trash cans for several days may cause problems with pests, bacteria and odors.

Big Deal

You’re probably thinking to yourself that I’m making way too much out of food safety at work. It’s just a matter of common sense.

That should be the case but, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), illness from contaminated food results in approximately 76 million Americans getting sick, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths each year.

When tallied up, the consequences of foodborne illness – including doctor visits, medication, lost work days and pain and suffering – costs the U.S. an estimated $152 billion annually, finds a study by the Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University.

As challenging as business conditions are today, can you afford to have reduced shop productivity and increased vehicle downtime because workers are out with food poisoning when this could have been avoided by practicing some simple food safety measures?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.