3 ways to prevent food poisoning from contaminating your lunch


Did you know that the average office desk top has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat? If you don't take the necessary precautions, food poisoning could hurt more than just your appetite.

Dining at your desk or eating in your veterinary clinic's break room may be cheaper and quicker, but these lunches could cost you additional sick days. The reason? Office desks and break room counters hide bacteria that can lead to foodborne illness.

In a recent survey of home and food safety, only 36 percent of respondents clean their work areas—desk top, keyboard, mouse—weekly and 64 percent do so only once a month or less. What's worse? The average desk top has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat, according to a study from the University of Arizona. This is why it's so important to treat your desk top like your kitchen table and counters at home. Before you take another bite, follow these three tips to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

1. Rinse and repeat.Only half of Americans say they always wash their hands before eating lunch. In order to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, wash your hands before and after handling food with soap and warm water. And keep a desk drawer stocked with moist towelettes or hand sanitizer for those times you can’t get to the sink.

2. Forget the water cooler, gather around the refrigerator. Even though virtually all work places now have a refrigerator, only 67 percent of those surveyed say it’s where they store their lunch. Frighteningly though, one in five people admit they don’t know if the fridge is ever cleaned or say it’s rarely or never cleaned. Food safety experts recommend not only cleaning the office refrigerator, but also using a refrigerator thermometer to ensure food is safely stored below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

When it comes to safe refrigeration of lunches, 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. However, 49 percent of respondents admit to letting perishable food sit out for three or more hours. This means that foods may spoil before you even take your first bite.

3. Zap all germs. Nearly all office kitchens have a microwave oven (97 percent), making leftovers and frozen meals quick, easy, and inexpensive lunch options. But it’s crucial to follow the microwave cooking instructions on the package closely when cooking prepared food in the microwave. Microwave ovens can cook unevenly and leave cold spots where harmful bacteria can survive. Use a food thermometer to ensure that food is cooked to the correct temperature, thereby eliminating any harmful bacteria that may be present. Re-heat all leftovers to the proper temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

And remember: Always clean surfaces—at home and at work—before you prepare or eat food on them.

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