Written by Michelle R. Meadors, Dietetic Intern, Purdue University Coordinated Program in Dietetics
Recently released from the American Dietetic Association (ADA), was the statistic that 83 percent of Americans typically eat at their desk. Reasons for this practice are an effort to save time and money. However this comes at a health risk, due to the fact that Americans are not properly cleaning the desks at which they are eating. Eating at a soiled desk can compromise the safety of the food being consumed.
Bacteria are present in abundant numbers on different components of many American’s desks. From the keyboard of their computer to the telephone, bacteria is living and breathing waiting for another host to compromise. In this case, food is the perfect fit! When a multitasking employee sits their lunch down on their desk to eat, bacteria is free to attack. Once this happens, the bacteria will live, multiply, and could lead to foodborne illness. Some populations, such as young children, pregnant women, and older adults are at a higher risk for bacterial infections, due to a weaker immune system.
Here are some tips for reducing the amount of bacteria being introduced to your food while eating at your desk:
Wash Your Hands
The ADA reported that only half of all Americans say they always wash their hands before eating lunch. In order to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, it is recommended that you wash your hands before and after handling food. Effective hand washing includes use of soap and warm water, along with vigorous scrubbing for 20 seconds. Moist towelettes or hand sanitizer are suggested for those times you cannot get to the sink, but should not be used as a substitute for washing your hands.
Clean all work areas and surfaces
Wipe down all areas you touch with an alcohol based sanitizer before and after your work day. This will only take a maximum of five minutes out of your work day, and by doing this, you are severely reducing the number of bacteria present with the potential to be transferred to your food.
Proper use of the break room refrigerator
To ensure food safety, food should be stored below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid food residing in the temperature danger zone. The temperature danger zone is the temperature range in which microorganisms grow quickly and sometimes reach levels that can make people ill. The temperature danger zone has been identified to be 41 °F to 135 °F. A thermometer should be placed in the refrigerator and checked daily to ensure the temperature danger zone is being avoided. For safe consumption, perishable food should be refrigerated within two hours. When food is cooked and left out for more than 2 hours in the temperature danger zone, bacteria can multiply quickly. Most bacteria can grow undetected, because they do not change the taste or texture of the food, and most bacteria are odorless. Due to this, consuming food after this time period greatly increases the risk of foodborne illness.
The refrigerator should also be cleaned and maintained routinely. All shelves and drawers should be cleaned using an alcohol based wipe. Also, all vents should be inspected and maintained to ensure proper function.
Ultimately, in order to reduce the risk of foodborne illness all food should be consumed at a sanitary location. If the only available option is to eat at the work desk, taking the safety measures of properly washing your hands, cleaning all work surfaces, and using the workplace refrigerator correctly could reduce your risk of becoming ill due to foodborne illness.
*This article appeared in the September 10 edition of the Bedford Times-Mail.