Warning: opening the office fridge may be hazardous to your health
Like anyone else who's ever cleaned out the old office fridge, I read with keen interest the recent article on the seven workers hospitalized after a clean-out at AT&T in San Jose. It seems that the fumes that were released when a potent combo of old lunch and disinfectant began wafting through the halls were a bit on the toxic side. Twenty-eight folks experienced nausea and vomiting, and seven of them had it so bad they went to the hospital. (Source: AP article on Yahoo.)
Ah, the office fridge clean out...Definitely not something I hold one scintilla of nostalgia for.
I remember one Saturday when I decided that enough was enough and decided to empty the fridge of all those science experiments and cures for the common cold lodged in the back of the shelves.
Vile is not the word for what I found.
At first, I felt compelled to open and look in every Tupperware container, every pizza box, every Chinese-takeout carton, every yogurt container - all those May of last years, when it was May of this year.
But I soon gave up on that, and began chucking anything that was behind the front row out.
Fortunately, one of the techies was working that day, and he pitched in with the pitching out.
This bluff and socially awkward coder was one of my all time favorites. At one point, he was the only engineer working on a custom-client project with me. When the customer came by, I introduced Bill as the "lead programmer on the project." Bill snorted, "Lead engineer! I'm the only engineer."
Technically, he was right, but we were using code that other guys had worked on, plus I was - God help us - doing some coding of report templates.
Another favorite episode with this fellow involved the appearance of our absentee president at a company meeting. We had been acquired, and were merged in under a division of the acquiring company that was located in Philadelphia. The guy who ran that division was named our president. Curiously, months passed and John Z never bothered to fly up to see us. Finally, the great day - and the great man - arrived, and we were assembled for an all-hands meeting. Without introducing himself, John Z began speaking. Bill's hand shot up.
"Yes?" John Z asked - clearly not thrilled by an interruption, given that he was just warming up.
"Sir, could you please identify yourself," said Bill.
"I'm John Z," John Z Said.
Bill nodded his head. "Thank you. I thought so."
One of those great moments in management skewering.
But back to the office fridge.
The Saturday clean-out I did with Bill wasn't the last, wasn't the first, but was - hands down - the very worst.
The company had a "Friday Party" tradition that, in addition to beer and wine (and, in the early days, a couple of joints), featured snacks from all the major food groups: grease, fat, sugar, and salt. Anything perishable that wasn't consumed on the spot was shoved into the fridge. Mostly, it got eaten by the weekend warriors, but there were always things that ended up in the dark and dangerous reaches of the back: shards of pizza, poorly wrapped pepperonis, onion dip, stale sheet cake... There it was joined by expired yogurts, half-eaten cartons of soup from Uncle Bunny's (the take out place next door), half-eaten Greek salads from Friendly's Eating Place across the street.
Over time, all this gunk turned into a weeping and/or desiccated and/or mold-sprouting and/or life-forming stew, seeping out or or curled up in its container or baggie of origin.
Bill and I filled at least two mega garbage bags of spoiled food, which Bill, bless him, ferried out to the dumpster.
Neither one of us was overtaken with the fumes, but I don't think I used anything too chemical-ly to clean out the fridge's innards. I probably gave it a swipe with dish-soapy water and put an opened box of Arm and Hammer in there.
Same place, different techie....
There was an unbearable smell emanating from a back, dead-end corridor. It was a corridor where the hardest core of the techies worked. No one ever went down there; the techies seldom ventured out.
That terrible smell? Had one of the techies died, and we hadn't noticed?
Our intrepid office manager went to investigate.
What she found was a suppurating mass of rotted yams.
Mike kept a giant bag o' yams in his office, and baked one up in the microwave every few hours.
Somehow, he hadn't noticed that the yams at the bottom of the bag had done an Irish potato famine on him: black and blighted.
Yesterday, I opened the fridge at the Writers' Room of Boston. It's a tiny, half fridge, and people are mostly good about not leaving stuff in there. We solved a big problem a couple of years ago when we decided that, after a function, we wouldn't put any perishable leftovers in there. Now, if no one takes the hummus, celery, or grapes home, we chuck them out.
But occasionally there's small, potentially odiferous problem.
I was putting my yogurt and orange in the fridge when I decided to take a look at a container of yogurt that I believe I'd been seening in there for quite some time I knew it wasn't mine - I'm Stoneyfield, not Colombo - and I decided to check the date.
It had only been expired for a month, and I couldn't smell anything yet. But I didn't want to take any chances: out it went.
Who'd eat yogurt that's 30 days past it's sell-by date, anyway?
It's not just techies who are expiration-date challenged, I guess.
Some offices, I've noticed, have a 'gone by Friday or tossed out' rule.
I suspect that something like this will be enacted out at AT&T in San Jose, once the felled employees are back to work.