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Eating at Your Desk? Think Again

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Food Poisoning related image Photo: Getty Images

In light of the recent news that women multitask way more than men, here’s a wake-up call for those of you who engage in “desktop dining,” that is, eating lunch at your office desk while continuing your work.

You run a much greater risk of food poisoning thanks to the bacteria-sharing space with your in/out box, your keyboard and that family photo. Now 'fess up: when was the last time you dusted and wiped down your desk and everything on it?

As you rest that tuna sandwich on a CD you used in a Powerpoint nine months ago, be aware that as a noontime multitasker you are probably in the majority of office workers. A survey by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods’ Home Food Safety program found that 62 percent of Americans regularly consume lunch at their desks. Add in a lot of breakfasts-on-the-fly and midday snacking and you can see there’s a hygiene problem.

An August 23, 2011 press release from the ADA drives home the point with information from a University of Arizona study that found the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat.

But do we care? The ADA/ConAgra survey showed that only 36 percent of respondents clean their work areas -- desktop, keyboard and mouse -- weekly and 64 percent do so only once a month or less.

To ward off foodborne illnesses, “Treat your desktop like you would your kitchen table and counters at home,” said Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian and ADA spokeswoman. Other areas of your lunchtime routine might need attention too.

Here’s a checklist:

-- Clean all surfaces before you prepare or eat food on them.

-- Store lunch in the office refrigerator within one to two hours of bringing it from home. Also, check with building supervisors as to how often the refrigerator is cleaned and whether it maintains a temperature below 40 degrees.

-- If microwaving a frozen meal, follow package directions to the letter to ensure the meal has no cold spots. If heating leftovers from home in the microwave, be aware that the food must be heated to 165 degrees to kill harmful bacteria.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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