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August 20, 2010

HR Fact Friday: Are Refrigerators the New Workplace Hazard?

Filed under: General HR Buzz — Tags: , , , 7:37 am

We are blaming everything on the economic downtown, so why not the upturn in nasty, smelly office refrigerators. A recent study says that 70 percent of employees are now bringing lunch from home at least once a week to save money, but it seems only a small percentage of them are cleaning up afterward or throwing out their leftovers.

The study, by ConAgra and the American Dietetic Association, also found that 44 percent of workplace fridges are cleaned only once a month, and 22 percent are cleaned only once or twice a year. That means two-thirds are not cleaned regularly, and perhaps 100 percent are cleaned less than the restroom toilet seats!

Recalling the scepter of Zuul, the minion of Gozer, that inhabited Sigourney Weaver’s refrigerator in Ghostbusters, the Gaston [NC] Gazette interviewed the longtime owner of a cleaning company who said, despite wearing a mask, the horrific smell emanating from decomposing food in office fridges, which he describes as similar to that of decomposing bodies, has made him wretch.

He reports, however, that very few of his clients ever ask him—or probably anyone—to clean out the refrigerator. Other cleaning company owners told Bloomberg/BusinessWeek that they charge extra fees whenever asked to go near the interior of a fridge, which can be a hazmat-like situation. However, some employers are willing to pay extra when the smelly situation has gotten out of hand, and everything must be emptied out and the fridge hosed down.

The cleaner said it’s not just the fridge that’s disgusting; he finds decomposed food smeared on counters and other kitchen surfaces and in sink drains, as well rotting food in cubicle wastebaskets.

And it’s not just cleanliness that is a problem. An increased volume from more lunches, as well as snacks for employees working longer hours, results in the inability of cold air to circulate properly in order to chill foods. This hastens food turning bad. One office staff was slowly sickened when the milk for their coffee in their overpacked refrigerator stayed above a safe temperature.

So get a regular refrigerator cleaning schedule posted and rotate the responsibility among staffers who regularly use the fridge.  Here at HRN we do this every two weeks. Different staff have varying degrees of tolerance when it comes to keeping or tossing. But in all cases, fair warning is given to employees to go through what is in the fridge and claim what is to be kept. It’s surprising how much can accumulate in two weeks and how quickly it can turn into your jr. high science project. When in doubt, toss it out.



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