The office fridge. (Be afraid, be very afraid.)
Well, yesterday’s post dealt with existential issues, so I thought we’d take a bit of a breather and talk about something more pedestrian.
Did I say breather?
That’s a metaphorical breather, folks, because you probably want to be holding your breath (with a clothes pin on your nose) when you open the office fridge door. Which was the topic of a short piece from Bloomberg/BusinessWeek that my brother-in-law John directed my way a couple of days ago.
Anyway, the take is that, with more folks brown-bagging, there’s more opportunity for the office fridge to turn into a hazardous waste site. I’d actually guess that the opposite might be true. What with all this throw-back penny-watching we’ve all gotten into, I’m guessing that folks aren’t so apt to forget that carton of Yoplait that they virtuously brought to work.
No, I’ll bet it was in the palmy, go-go days of “let’s go to Panera” that all those Yoplaits, last night’s meatloafs, and tuna-on-wheats became leave behinds.
As someone who cleared out the office fridge on more than one occasion, I have two words for you: memento mori. Opening up those sixteen month old yogurts is as close as I hope to come to an exhumation.
I'm, unfortunately, the type that has to open every last container up and look.
Which is, aesthetics aside, a pretty bad idea.
Last year at an AT&T call center in San Jose, a helpful employee decided that somebody really ought to clean the company fridge. When she cracked it open, noxious fumes sent seven of her co-workers to the hospital and forced authorities to evacuate the building. "It was like a brick wall hit you," employee Robin Leetieh later recalled about the stench. Guys in hazmat suits were called in to clean up the mess.
The most noxious fumes I ever experienced in the workplace did not actually come from opening any Pandora’s icebox, however.
One of the more eccentric techies I ever worked with – and that is saying something – worked in an isolated office down a seldom-used corridor. So it took a while for us to get a whiff of what was coming out of said office. The cause: emanations from a 50 pound bag of suppurating yams that looked (and certainly smelled) like they’d been imported from the Irish potato famine.
I didn’t like yams to begin with, let alone when we discovered this retching, wretched excess.
How this guy – who was extremely sweet – was able to work in that environment, I’ll never know. But I wouldn’t be surprised to open the paper someday and read that he was one of those headline-grabbers found living with their mother/brother/sister/dog who’s been dead for 5 years. (I’m not saying Norman Bates here, but, come to think of it, this guy did kind of resemble Anthony Perkins.)
Among the interesting bits in the Bloomie/BW article was the claim from the owner of a cleaning service that some folks just couldn’t throw old food away because good old mom or their sweetie-pie girlfriend had made it. Awwww….
I will confess that I had a tear in my eye when I ate the last of my Grandmother Wolf’s pickles. And I get a little sniffy when I pick up a recipe written by my mother or my aunt Margaret. But if there’s no use crying over spilled milk, there’s no use carrying a torch for rotting food, even if it is the last morsel of cole slaw your sainted mother shredded, or the Valentine’s Day beef-something-or-other your girlfriend burned. Use that torch to get rid of the foul stuff!
There are some cleaning services, by the way, that will take on the task of cleaning the office fridge on a regular or ad hoc basis. I never worked in the kind of place that would spring extra for that service.
No, the fridge was No Man’s Land – at least until some woman (and, yes, it was always a woman; often me) would open the door and start a pitch-out fest. (One weekend, at the same office with the suppurating yams, yet another eccentric [male] techie did help me throw everything out. It was a fine bonding experience.)
The worst thing mentioned in the article was this:
In some cases, decaying food is the least of the problem. Alice Henneman, [a registered dietitian with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension], who has devoted much of her career to studying this occupational hazard, surveyed people on the worst things they'd encountered in office refrigerators. "The two scariest examples were human stool samples stored in the same refrigerator as employee lunches," she says, "and cow manure samples refrigerated next to food items."
Is it just me, or would everyone rather have it be cow manure than human manure?
And I thought it was a bad deal when I encountered a nicely formed (human) turd on the floor of the 3rd floor ladies room at Genuity one afternoon. (Yes, I did dispose of it.)
‘Henneman] concedes that the stool samples "probably came from some type of company involved with laboratory procedures; there was no mention of any workers getting sick."
While it’s not as bad as a crock of shit in the vegetable locker, the article notes that some of the worst office fridge horror stories result from the leftovers from a group gathering are shoved in the fridge.
In my experience, the chips, cookies, and sodas all go, and what’s “wrapped” (with the thinning plastic wrap it came in) and “saved” are the slices of salami, roast beef, and swiss that sit there, eventually buried under fresh Yoplaits, until all those cold-cuts just curl up and die. (Keep in mind that they’d probably been left out en plein air for a few hours before some good soul decided they shouldn’t go to waste.)
There are two antidotes to moldy fridge.
One is to declare Friday everything-that’s-perishable-gets-tossed day. And:
Then there's the Stackable Office Fridge, the brainchild of a New York industrial designer named Spencer Schimel. Though it has yet to reach the manufacturing phase, this Lego-style stack of mini-refrigerators—which vary in size from 6 in. by 6 in. to 12 in. by 12 in. — could allow your co-workers to have their own individualized lunch storage space.
There is, of course, nothing to prevent a co-worker from keeping rotting food (and, I guess, their very own personal stool samples) in their very own personal fridge. And it may prove a little harder to clean out someone’s personal property. Nonetheless, as we learned with the yams, the personal ends at my nostrils.
One more thing not to miss about full-time work.