coworker asked me not to eat lunch at my desk

A reader writes:

My question is about eating in the office. I work in a small office that has a very relaxed environment. The office has an open area with four desks, and there are three private offices with doors to them. Many of us work while we eat lunch.

Today a coworker asked me if I could eat my lunch in the other office where the sales reps are, because the smell of my food gets to her. I am not inclined to do this, because I work while I eat. Is there a rule about eating in the office?

I wrote back to this reader and asked, “Are you eating anything particularly smelly — fish, microwave popcorn, etc.?”  She replied:

An omelette with bacon and salsa on it. I’m doing the no carb thing.

Well, if you’re microwaving that bacon at work, it’s probably fairly smelly.

Now, I’m someone who loves eating at my desk. Back when I had a job that required me to be in an office with other people, I ate lunch at my desk nearly every day; like you, I wanted to keep working while I ate.

But here’s the thing: It’s one thing to do that when you have your own office and can close the door to isolate others from food smells. It’s different to do it when you’re in a shared space and the smells will just float around in everyone else’s noses.

And some people really are legitimately bothered by food smells — pregnant people, people with scent sensitivity (which is a real thing), and others as well.

So assuming that the person who asked isn’t someone who’s constantly making unreasonable requests of you, I’d find somewhere else to eat. Your right to eat at your desk is trumped by her right not to be nauseated or otherwise physically uncomfortable while she’s trying to work. (And I’m not speaking of legal rights here; I’m just talking about courtesy.)

Out of curiosity, though, is she asking this of others in your open space too? If not, it might be interesting to figure out why — are they eating foods she can tolerate better? There might be clues there that point to your recent lunch choices being the culprit, rather than simply eating in general. If that’s the case, and if you’re more invested in eating at your desk than in eating an omelette, you might find that switching to, say, salad (not tuna!) solves the problem.

{ 204 comments… read them below }

  1. Lauren

    I had a co-worker that didn’t mind other people’s food as long as it smelled good, but when I brought in left over indian food or peruvian food, I was apparently assaulting his nostrils. He deemed my ethnic meals as disgusting and make gagging motions whenever I ate my leftovers at my desk. I started eating it cold, which kept his comments to a minimum.

    1. Anonymous

      I love Indian food and am a big fan of curry. However, my freshman year of college I lived in a residential dorm where several women cooked with curry every day and the entire building reeked of it. The smell permeated my clothes, my sheets, everything and it was nauseating. There’s a huge difference between eating it and having to smell it second hand.

      1. Anony Mouse

        And some types of curry can linger for days. Coming home to a curry-smelling house for a full week after making one dish can get really nasty, even if that dish was delicious at the time.

        1. fposte

          I shut doors to all the rooms in my house when I’m cooking some things to minimize that very effect–bacon and curry both come to mind as examples.

      2. jmkenrick

        Gagging motions are over the top rude though. Unless you’re someone’s little brother, you really can’t get away with doing that.

        1. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater

          If I ask you politely to not eat stinky food in our open office and you basically tell me to go fly a kite, you lose any interest I would have had in not being rude to you.

          Not saying that’s what happened here, but we had a similar situation in my office a few years back.

          We had a guy who would bring in home cooked Vietnamese food every day and stink up the place in the afternoon (hours after the rest of us had finished lunch); I’m sure it was delicious, but it smelled disgusting. He was asked to use the cafeteria or the break room, but he ignored us and didn’t care the he was making everyone physically ill. He was a jerk and deserved the ridicule he received from the entire group.

          Eventually, enough people complained to management that he got a talking to and he started eating in the cafeteria.

      3. Vicki

        I am allergic to curry. The taste. The smell. It give me a headache. If you eat curry at your desk, I will need to leave the building until it dissipates.

        Please don’t eat curry, or garlic, or things you need to cook or microwave at your desk. Please.

        1. Anon a Mouse

          I understand that, but if the people in question are not allergic, and just hate on it, then it maybe a problem

          1. Phil

            Why does it matter if they are allergic or not? I the smell is strong enough to invade their personal space then how is it unreasonable to ask someone to eat it elsewhere? Itd be one thing if it was how their food looks, or how that person smelled, but if its their food big freakin deal.

    2. michael

      you can eat peruvian food around me all day, as long as you share!

      i would kill for some anticuchos de corazon right now.

    3. Anonymous

      If he didn’t react to other hot and smelly foods then this is suspect. If he does (or everything else is of minimum impact to others) then it feels like you are trying to add a ‘discrimination’ factor in here that isn’t necessarily there.

      Ultimately some people (myself included) DO find it difficult to deal with hot food smells in the workspace. I don’t comment on it but I have been noticed for eating hot and impacting foods somewhere else to avoid impacting other people. (say the kitchen or outside or the break room only).

  2. Dave

    Both eggs and bacon can be very pungent. Not as bad as common office culprits such as popcorn, fish, or middle eastern food, but certainly can have an odor that some find offensive.

    Agree in full that the eater is the offender and needs to switch to cold meals at desk, or eat hot meals elsewhere.

      1. jennie

        Ugh, someone brought in hardboiled eggs and made egg salad from scratch at their desk last week and I literally almost vomited when I smelled it. I had to leave the room. So disgusting!

        1. Sophie

          Gah! Egg salad holds a special place of hatred for me. I have a coworker that microwaves fish all the time because he is on a no-carb diet – even for breakfast. It’s awful.

  3. Anonymous

    I’m just wondering where people think the “limit” for smelly food is?

    I mean are we just limited to cold sandwiches and food not to offend anyone?

    1. fposte

      If you’re eating food in a non-food area? Pretty much. There’s no right to eat food there, so the general rule is that you can do it as long as it doesn’t bug anybody.

    2. Alison

      I think people are pretty aware of what is smelly and what isn’t. If you sit 5 feet from someone and your food can be smelled from 15 feet away, the person you work next to can smell it. That said, there are some foods I don’t mind smelling in the office, and others that make me want to gag, so why not just be safe and clear it with everyone around you first?

    3. Jamie

      “I mean are we just limited to cold sandwiches and food not to offend anyone?”

      I think the limit is that which doesn’t bother the people around you – be is smells or sounds.

      People have to put up with that kind of thing in a lunch room, they should never have to at their desk while they are trying to work.

      1. fposte

        Random personal question, Jamie–does ice-chewing bother you when other people do it? This post is making me think about the difference between my liking something and my being willing to deal with somebody else doing it.

        1. Jamie

          Good question – I honestly don’t know anyone else who does it, at least in front of me. Then again, I don’t do it in front of other people either.

          I have such a strong aversion to sounds made by eating/drinking I’m sure it would…although if I shared an office and everyone else chewed ice I would just get headphones and enjoy being able to indulge.

          1. Ummm... no

            Jamie – me, too. Slurping, eating chips, sniffling… literally drives me bonkers. I turn up the radio on my computer, leave or will tap my fingers on the desk, just so I don’t have to hear it. Thankfully, I have my own closed-door office now but it bothers me at home, too. I think my husband thinks I’m insane but I just can’t help it. I can’t explain it but these types of sounds are horrifying.

    4. KayDay

      It also depends on the office culture that has been established. If everyone is eating at their desks, I think you could get away with much more than if people don’t frequently eat at the desks (in which case I would stick to PB&Js). (and obviously there are other factors, like office vs. cube, to take into account).

      1. Jamie

        Ick – peanut butter. Which totally illustrates what is benign to one person is nauseating to someone else.

        1. Anonymous

          Exactly. I mean I would have though peanut butter would have been “safe” (aside from allergies).

          So how far do we have to go to accommodate everyone’s nasal and auditory issues and when should people just get over it.

          1. Sophie

            It really just depends on the situation (cop out answer, I know). If the coworker in question gripes about everything and isn’t content with any sort of compromise, then she needs to get over it. But if said coworker is normally easy to get along with, her complaint should be taken seriously and a compromise worked out.

            1. Jamie

              I think it also depends on the location. I don’t hear anyone one saying that there shouldn’t be food smells allowed in the break/lunch rooms. That’s the place for them. Just like if someone went to the ladies room to blow her nose people shouldn’t complain – she’s not doing it in a meeting.

              It does get sticky where there is no break/lunch room provided – I’ll grant you. And people should try to be tolerant of each other – as much as I hate some things I don’t go around telling people to chew with their mouths closed or throwing out their peanut butter sandwiches. I just remove myself from the area when possible and resent it silently when I’m stuck.

              But in cases where there is a place to eat without bothering people, then co-workers really shouldn’t have to be subjected to it at their desks.

              1. Anonymous

                But so many offices don’t have a break room or anywhere to eat except for your desk.

                People have suggested..well just leave the office. Well where? I mean..the weather sucks, your office is in the middle of an industrial park. People need to remember..sometimes there is no other option.

                1. fposte

                  Sure, but that makes it all the more important to share the space civilly; it doesn’t mean that you can be less careful about what you can eat at your desk. (Though boos to the moronic design of an isolated business space that doesn’t have a place for sitting and eating.)

  4. Kimberley

    Ever since I was a small child, the smell of eggs and bacon have left me gagging. While not eating at your desk may be a small inconvenience to you, eating such foods at your desk might be causing your co-worker actual, physical issues which could very well be affecting her work. I think that she did the grown up, mature thing by speaking to you directly about it. Good luck with your diet.

  5. Alison

    Yeah, I work through lunch and I’m always really careful about the smell of whatever I’m eating. I think it’s rude to eat something super smelly where other people can’t escape it, and if I am really craving something that will stink up the joint I ask everyone if they’re okay with it first, or just find somewhere else to eat it.
    Also, I -hate- the smell of bacon. It makes me physically ill. So I don’t blame the OP’s coworker for complaining at all.

  6. Sophie

    While I do love bacon, I can see how egg would be disturbing…if I’m not in the mood for eggs, then egg smell is wretched to me (especially microwaved eggs). I think the courteous thing is as Alison said, either switch to some non-smelly food or eat somewhere else. Smells are inescapable and have a tendency to linger.

    Second option – get some sort of air freshener for your area (this might be tricky is no one can agree upon an acceptable scent). I got a reed diffuser for my office, because sometimes I eat strong smelling foods and I didn’t want that smell, however delicious I thought it was, to stick around, especially when I have clients with me.

    1. Carrie

      I tend to feel sick from the scents of air fresheners, diffusers, cleaning supplies, and perfumes – I would prefer a food smell any day. The trouble is that any smell will offend somebody, so it’s best to try and minimize smells in general.

      1. Sophie

        Very true. My reed diffuser met the approval of most of my coworkers except one. I hate the stuff our admin assistant puts in the bathroom. Can’t win with scents.

        1. Jamie

          Weird air freshener story – appropos of nothing:

          Former Office Manager put one of those automatic air fresheners in the ladies room – the kind with the motion sensor. I didn’t pay much attention to it, but when the batteries wore down it kept trying to spray – but nothing came out and it just made a little squeaking sound like a baby duck.

          But I didn’t know that – so whenever I’d walk in there I kept hearing this noise and thought a bird was trapped somewhere in the office. I was alone on a Saturday not a soul in the building except me and the baby duckling I was desperately trying to find and save…which turned out to be a malfunctioning air freshener.

          Yeah – not one of my more brilliant moments.

          But we are always fighting the air freshener wars here too – we’ve settled on nothing plugged in and several spray varieties. Every place I’ve worked this and the thermostat have been the reigning issues.

          1. Sophie

            Lol poor little baby duckling…we had one of those automatic fresheners as well in my former office bathroom, and it sprayed sickly fake cinnamon. At first I had no idea where the sound was coming from, and then the smell came, and I had to run out of the bathroom.

            1. Cruella DaBoss

              I can’t stand the automatic air fresheners! I am extremely sensitive to smells. Ironically, the smell these things are put there to mask, dissipates, while the eye-watering, snot-inducing, Lysol-y, porn-star-cologne smell does not. I’ve had to stay out sick on occasion, due to air freshener-related sinus issues.

              Cinnamon would not bother me as bad as “fresh linen” or “spring meadow,” or any other ill-named, caustic fragrance.

              1. FromMichigan

                It just goes to show you… Fake cinnamon triggers migraines and makes me sick to my stomach, but I like linen and laundry scents.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      One thought might be those “smell neutralizers,” those things that claim to remove smells from the air without adding new ones. I’m not sure how well they work though.

      1. Sophie

        I have experienced a few of those and they either don’t work or they mask the smell with some kind of fragrance (like Febreze). I think the only thing that truly neutralizes odors is baking soda. So maybe make a pretty little baking soda box cover and put a box on your desk?…

        1. Lisa

          circle your chair / cube with a ring of baking soda, and throw a pinch over your shoulder for extra effect!

          1. Ariancita

            And make a small alter pile offering for the odor-free faeries to bless the desk. (Easy to remember to do if you coordinate the effort with your offerings for the computer faeries.)

        2. Anonymous

          You need to get the kind from the feed store, the kind they use in Vet clinics and stables. Those work!

        3. Rana

          Ugh, Febreze. After dealing with my late godparents’ house, in which Febreze had been used liberally in an attempt to compensate for too many cats, I can’t smell that stuff without gagging.

          In general, I dislike artificial scents far more than food smells. We have a largely “unscented” household, so things like perfume and laundry detergent seem stronger to me than they might otherwise, and they all smell harsh and mildly toxic to me.

        4. Vicki

          Did you know that the original Febreze was truly a neutralizer and had no scent? They added the scent because customers thought a “fresh clean smell” was necessary. (ref: The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, see also Wikipedia: Febreze)

      2. KayDay

        Vinegar!

        (just stick a bowl of it in the kitchen; it doesn’t work as fast as the commercial products, but it works really well over the course of a day or two).

      3. Anonymous

        A humorous aside since we’ve strayed into Febreze territory:

        Febreze used to be a very effective odorless scent-neutralizer. It didn’t sell very well, because the people who really needed it couldn’t tell that they needed it (smokers, crazy cat ladies), because they were all desensitized to the awful odors they lived in.

        So, to actually sell the product, they added perfume and tried to turn Febreze into part of the “cleaning ritual” where the perfume smell would be your “reward” for having cleaned everything up. Product was less effective at removing odors, but sold much better.

        1. Anonymous

          I remember when it was that product (and it was good) and was most disappointed to see the adverts where they showed the smelly fog replaced by a whole row of plant pots and a different colour fog *rolls eyes*

        2. Rana

          Yeah, I liked it when it was a genuine neutralizer.

          But perfume atop cat piss is DISGUSTING, let me tell you. :P

      4. Nana

        I have an 18 inch Ionizer that I keep in the living room of my house, an open air plan with the library, and the kitchen through an open doorway to the next area, and door open to the master bedroom/bathroom/walk-in.

        That Ionizer, on ‘medium’, cleans the air in all these areas very quickly. I’m sure it would do wonders in a small office, and they aren’t very expensive. I paid $20 for mine online.

    3. Nethwen

      Yes! I have to hold my breath every time I walk by someone who has a microwaved egg, especially the liquid eggs whites. I can’t stand the smell.

  7. Anonymous

    My coworker sometimes brings in leftovers that have strong smells. Sometimes, it smells good, and I would ask what she has. Other times though, it literally smells like vomit, and I could not go within feet of where she was until she had packed away her containers. I wish I had asked what it was because it was really nasty; I just wanted to know what nasty stuff she brought in and microwaved in the communal oven. That’s the only beef I have with smelly food – when people put it in the communal microwave and the smell lingers, getting cooked into your own food.

    My other issue is that I’m a picky eater so people take the position that it’s my issue that I don’t like what I smell when it comes to their food. People love to dish my finickiness back into my face and refuse to respect it, to any degree.

  8. Carrie

    The LW should also consider whether she is chewing loudly – perhaps the coworker is equally bothered by that issue but finds the scent issue easier to bring up. I sit next to a coworker who is a very loud, obnoxious chewer – she must never have been taught by her parents to chew with her mouth closed. I have a hard time working with the sound of crunching and slurping over my shoulder every day at lunch time.

    Also, as much as I love garlic, I never bring garlicky foods to work. Some foods just aren’t meant for the workplace.

    1. Another Jamie

      That was my thought too. I’ve also sat by a loud chewer, but there really is no way to bring that up. I had to just start leaving for lunch.

      I’m actually glad that happened, because I realized how helpful an hour away from my desk is for me. I will come in or stay late if I need to, but I will take my lunch break.

      1. Loud chewer

        As someone who apparently chews loudly, but with my mouth closed, I have absolutely no idea how I could chew more softly. I think my skull is some kind of sounding chamber.

    2. Jen

      Actually, the noise thing was what came to my mind too — saying that the issue is smell-related could just be the co-worker’s way of trying to deal with really bad table manners.

    3. Anonymous

      That came to my mind too. I sit next to an obnoxiously loud eater too and it drives me crazy. But then when she said she was eating bacon and eggs, I could see that being a smell issue!

      BTW, someone here recommended simplynoise.com for white noise and it plus some good headphones has been a real life saver at lunch time.

  9. ABC

    I agree smelling other people’s lunches isn’t great, but I know my office doesn’t have a cafeteria or lunchroom. We have ~600 people and no extra conference rooms (they’re always booked) or extra offices for people to eat their smelly food in. It seems like when people don’t have options beyond eating at their desk, there should be some give and take. While reheating a tuna casserole daily would be too inconsiderate of others, a person can only eat so many cold sandwiches and salads, and a once-a-month tuna casserole could be overlooked. (The offended coworker could go somewhere else, too, if it IS the lunch hour). Until it’s a daily thing, which I guess the OP’s was, I think you have to let some things go.

    1. Jamie

      “(The offended coworker could go somewhere else, too, if it IS the lunch hour)”

      Most offices don’t have a set time where people have to take lunch. I don’t think it’s fair that the OP’s co-worker should have to time her lunch around when the OP is eating, just to avoid the smell.

    2. fposte

      That’s when you start IDing major offending foods, I think; if you’ve got 600+ people and everybody gets a tuna casserole option once a month, that’s close to 30 tuna casseroles in the office per day, which is a lot to ask people to tolerate. I take your point about the situational problem where there is no right place, but since you’re still eating right next to where people are working, it’s not going to work just to tell people to suck it up.

      1. Andrew

        For some reason I find the idea of an office with 30 different tuna casseroles in it every day absolutely hilarious. I’m picturing a taste test or perhaps a wine pairing…

    3. Jamie

      “my office doesn’t have a cafeteria or lunchroom.”

      I know this doesn’t fall into legal territory – but it doesn’t make sense to me to have a workplace without a place for people to eat away from their desks.

      Some people, although I’m not one of them, do benefit from the change of scenery and having a real break for lunch. It would seem to be in the employer’s best interest to address this.

      1. Steph

        HUGE agree. Having a lunchroom really solves the problem of disgusting food smells, distracting chewing noises, all of that. Just provide a lunchroom for your cubicle dwellers, companies!

      2. ABC

        The office was designed this way! This building was built 3 yrs ago. The old building had seats in the breakroom that they decided to eliminate in the new one. The breakrooms only have appliances, sinks, and vending machines. There is a large training room that is supposed to be a “flex” space and could be used as a lunchroom, but it’s almost always in use as a training room.

        1. Jamie

          So there is space which could be used – so it seems to me that requesting this be used as a lunchroom during certain hours is a perfectly reasonable request.

          1. ABC

            Probably not. I think that only those of us who were here 5 yrs ago when the original building plans were being discussed know that it ever was intended to be a part-time lunch space.

            Really, for us, I don’t think it’s much of an issue. People do figure out a way to work around it if needed, but comparing an office of 600 to 6, if we had 100 people with the OP’s problem, it would be a big problem. We must all just be extra nice and considerate : ). And a lot of people do go out every day.

      3. Anonymous

        I often wonder if there’s not someplace nearby these people could go eat, if they went exploring within a block or two of their office buildings. Granted, I’m sure there are workplaces that really are so isolated that there isn’t anywhere you could go for lunch.

        Around here, the first alternative option for lunch seating is in the building next door, which has a lovely open area for eating. Then there’s the parking lot – some of our employees eat in their cars. Others eat in Starbucks or another coffee shop. Still others eat at mall food courts or the equivalent. If none of those suffice, there are several back areas with tables that aren’t heavily traveled within the building.

  10. Carlotta

    Unfortunately I’m with the OP’s colleague here. I have a very good sense of smell and can smell everything. That’s not really a problem as such. However I physically cannot stand the smell of meat, egg and cheese in particular. It does literally make me gag. So that lunch is my worst nightmare, then you throw some bacon into the mix and… ick.

    I love to eat at my desk, but I think in general hot food is a no-no. I usually have something cold but if it has to be heated I tend to eat it elsewhere.

      1. Brett

        They can eat in the break room! I eat at my desk but it isn’t a business task so I would accept that if it bothered the person at the desk next to me I should avoid it.

        1. Anonymous

          Not all offices have break rooms. Every office I have worked on you had to eat at your desk because there was no other option.

          I guess based on the majority of the comments I will need to find something that doesn’t small and has no sound when I eat it (so most veggies are out I assume).

          So…if you have recipes that fit those requirements, please send them my way…

          1. Anonymous

            Soft granola bars. Cottage cheese. Some soups. Rice. Banana (watch out for fruit fly complaints). Ice cream? Those diet shakes. Berries. Pasta. Some salads. Ice cream!

      2. Jamie

        Marshmallow Peeps are odorless and can be eaten silently.

        Sure, there are nutritional issues which will arise from a 5x a week lunch of nothing but Peeps – but at least you won’t annoy your co-workers. :)

        For me I would take the OP’s eggs and bacon all day long if it meant I would never have to hear/smell cereal or peanut butter ever again. Or curry.

        And what weird phenomenon is it that garlic smells wonderful when in a meal you are preparing to eat with family and so disgusting wafting through the office? It’s some kind of situational palitability.

        1. KayDay

          +1 to the Marshmallow Peeps! 100% annoyingness-free =D

          (too bad they only are available during holidays)

        2. Rana

          Jamie, we call it the take-out food syndrome! You know – when you walk into the restaurant hungry all the food smells really wonderful, then you take the leftovers home, and suddenly the car smells disgusting? So. weird.

        3. MiMi

          Food stinks in offices because 1) the smell is mixing with 1000 other subtle (and not-so-subtle) odors, and 2) food usually smells good when freshly cooked, but after it is old and reheated in an inclosed space, it just stinks. 3) Microwaves make the air (and sometimes food) smell bad. Have you ever reheated meatloaf? I think it stinks reheated.

          You can have the most delicious, smell-good food, but let it sit in a plastic container, then reheat it, and it will start to smell gross. That vegetable stir fry that smelled so delicious when cooking it on Monday night will smell stinky on Wednesday afternoon.

  11. Josh S

    I’d be bothered if someone ate bacon at their desk near me–but only because it would make me want to go out and buy a pack and fry it up right then.

    Love me some bacon!

    1. jennie

      I love the smell of bacon cooking in a pan but when someone cooks bacon in our microwave at work it seems to take on this weird chemical smell that’s really unappealing. And it permeates everything, you can smell it all over the building.

  12. Steph

    This is so interesting — I almost always agree with AAM, but I have to disagree here. It makes a huge difference whether a break room or lunch room is provided in the office (as “ABC” mentions above). If not, I think you are getting into territory of things coworkers need to work out between themselves. I only recently got a private office, and until then I had to tolerate the people around me for many years, including their sounds and smells. I think the OP is within his/her rights to refuse this coworker’s request if it is too much of an inconvenience. The coworker is the one with the issue — she might be the one who has to make a change to deal with it. I’m surprised more people aren’t making this point in the comments!

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Except that the OP can easily change what she’s doing and solve the issue, whereas the coworker can’t just make herself stop having a physical reaction. It’s the “who’s being more disturbed by a potential solution” solution.

      1. Steph

        Ah, but can she? She says she works while she eats, and presumably she needs the things at her desk. I think this may be a little more complicated than you’re making it out to be. For example, why can’t the coworker go into the private office and close the door when she is bothered by smells?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Because smells linger, and because she may not be able to leave her desk at the moment that the OP starts eating.

          The OP may need to stop working through lunch if she doesn’t want to change what she eats.

          1. Steph

            To the OP: I feel like I may be alone here, but I encourage you to be honest if changing your behavior in this situation will be very inconvenient for you. You and your coworker may be able to explore other options/solutions together, and you’ll still have the one she suggested to fall back on if she insists. There is a lot of debate about whether smell sensitivities warrant accommodation. If your office does not provide a lunchroom, and you have work to do during lunch, that is your reality, and that’s fair. We all have to tolerate some things we’d rather not be exposed to.

            1. bemo12

              Just to give an example: say the co-worker has important an important call and the OP decides to take out her gag-inducing lunch, what is the co-worker supposed to do?

              If the OP decides to take out her gag-inducing lunch, but the co-worker has a tight deadline to finish a project, what is the co-worker supposed to do?

              I think there can be compromises, but many offices don’t have set lunch times, and smells do linger and they really can effect others. I have a huge sensitivity to egg salad, I cannot be near it because I will vomit or at least start dry heaving. If I have important work to get done, should a co-worker be able to waft egg salad in my face just because she wants to work through lunch?

        2. fposte

          And she doesn’t *have* to work while she eats, while the co-worker pretty much has to work while she works. Work trumps eating in a work location.

        3. Long Time Admin

          This is getting into the arena of the limits of individual’s rights, as in, your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.

          Yes, you do have the right to eat stinky foods IF you can keep the smells away from my desk. If you can’t/won’t, then don’t complain when I turn my fan on full blast and aim it at you.

        4. KayDay

          I think it’s a bit of a balancing act. If the coworker is only bothered by a few things, then it’s pretty reasonable to ask the OP not to eat those few things at her desk (and in the OP’s case, there is somewhere else to go). It sounds like this was a pretty friendly, non-aggressive request, so the OP can always ask her co-worker what food bothers the co-worker, and avoid that food. On the other hand, if there is no where else to eat a homemade lunches and the coworker is bothered by almost everything, then I would be incline to say that the coworker needs to be more reasonable.

    2. jennie

      They are trying to sort it out amongst themselves. The offended coworker brought it to her attention and proposed a compromise/solution – eating in the other office. It’s now up to the OP to accept the compromise, propose a different compromise or accept the consequences of continuing to do something that is known to offend others in the office.

      If only all coworkers were as straightforward in their dealings with office annoyances, AAM wouldn’t get so many questions looking for a passive aggressive way to stop coworkers from making noises/smells, etc. without actually addressing the problem out loud.

      1. Steph

        You’re right that they are working it out amongst themselves, but I don’t think that means that the OP has to accept her coworker’s proposed solution. With that comment, I was responding to the OP’s original question: “Is there a rule about eating in the office?” I don’t think there is, so the OP has more options than everyone else seems to be suggesting. A major factor, which AAM mentioned and I completely agree with, is whether this is a person who is prone to making unreasonable requests. I had a good friend who complained about smells in the office, saying they gave her migraines. She and I got along well, but she was frequently going to HR to complain about other people and their smells. HR offered to move her away from the offenders, but felt that it was not reasonable or realistic to pressure many other people to change their behavior to satisfy her. Again, this was a friend of mine, but I think HR was right in this situation. It really does make a huge difference whether the OP’s coworker is always asking these kinds of things of people, or never/rarely does. If it’s the latter, I think the request should be taken more seriously than if it’s the former.

        1. jennie

          That’s true but since the OP doesn’t mention a history of unreasonable requests, it’s equally possible that this person is at the end of her rope and has been suffering for ages and finally brought up the issue after a long period of stewing silently about it. For many people it would be really hard to initiate this confrontation.

          I just think when you have to share a workspace you need to weigh a request like this as how can we come up with a solution rather than how does this infringe on my rights.

          1. Steph

            I think you’re right. It all depends on the context of the request: who it’s coming from, what they’re like, what the OP’s relationship is with this person.

            This is only tangentially related, but I thought this Dear Prudence answer from last month made some good points about MCS (“multiple chemical sensitivity”). It’s different from the food smell question, but related, as people claim physical responses to smells in both cases (skip ahead to the second question):

            http://www.slate.com/articles/life/dear_prudence/2012/07/dear_prudie_my_husband_monitors_me_through_my_laptop_.html

            1. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater

              I completely disagree that it depends on “who it’s coming from, what they’re like, what the OP’s relationship is with this person”

              Those things are completely irrelevant. The fact is that the OP is physically impinging on a coworker’s space. The OP needs to honor a polite request to cease and desist until some kind of compromise can be reached.

              If the OP has not been given proper accommodations for eating her stinky lunch, it’s not the fault of her coworkers and they should not be made to suffer for it. If said coworkers decide to grin and bear it, then the OP owes them her thanks, but this does not mean she has the RIGHT to stink up the place over their objections. That’s just rude.

              1. Steph

                Cease and desist eating food?

                It’s interesting — a big reason why I’ve decided to comment on this thread, having never commented on the blog before, is that the conversation seems to be heavily skewed to one side that, in my experience, does not reflect reality. In my experience, people who make such petty requests would be treated as super finicky and probably gently teased behind their backs around the office. But in the end, if you are having such outrageously severe physical reactions as people seem to be suggesting here, I guess it’s worth risking that. Best of luck!

                1. KellyK

                  Yeah, I don’t think there’s an absolute right to never be offended by smells you don’t like either. I think there’s a huge difference between “I find this mildly irritating,” and “This is making me physically ill and wrecking my ability to concentrate.”

                  I also don’t think that anybody’s obligated to accommodate their coworkers to the extent of completely screwing up their own dietary or scheduling needs. (I mention dietary needs because the OP is doing a low-carb thing, so smell-free sandwiches aren’t an option.)

                  I think that everyone *should* try to be accommodating and avoid irritating coworkers, but not that the onus is *always* on the person who wants or needs to eat in the office to be the one who bends.

                  In this particular case, because bacon and eggs *are* strong-smelling and because there *is* somewhere else nearby for her to eat, I think it’s a reasonable request. If the only place she could eat was three blocks away, or outside, and the office-mate objected to the smell of pretty much everything the LW could eat, that would be a totally different story.

        2. fposte

          I don’t disagree with what I hear as your underlying point–that there are people who’ve never gotten the memo that sharing human space means tolerating some things you don’t like.

          But food is a known issue, and particular kinds of foods are particularly notable in that area. So if you’re not eating in a food-specific space—even if your work doesn’t provide one—the burden really is on the eater, not the objector. And that means avoiding stuff from the strong smelling/known offenders list, even if it’s only somebody who complains a lot who’s doing the complaining.

    3. Anonymous

      But what if it was the other way around. Think about a time when you were nauseate by the flu, for example. Could you concentrate on anything else while feeling like you are going to puke in your garbage can at any moment? That is NOT very productive for the person you are affecting.

      I have no problem with people eating at their desk, but having a shared office means you need to learn to make compromises. If a co-worker informs a co-worker that the food they are eating is making them nauseous, then they should find out what kind of foods make them nauseous and then just don’t eat them for lunch at their desk. People can eat the food they want to eat once they are outside of the office. They don’t need to eat it while in the office. The problem is it lingers and the person cannot escape the smell, especially if there are no windows to open (and that in colder climates can also be a whole other issue). Also, if you throw something stinky in your garbage can at your desk, the smell isn’t going to magically go away. If there is a common area with a covered garbage can, take it there and throw it away. Don’t leave it at your desk so your co-worker can still smell it radiating from your garbage can.

  13. Joey

    The egg and salsa, maybe. But bacon? it can’t be. Is not everything improved with bacon? I can think of nothing more pleasant than being surprised with the sweet aroma of freshly cooked pork belly drifting into my office.

    1. Jamie

      Have you ever smelled microwaved bacon? It’s different.

      I agree that at home the smell of bacon and fresh coffee is as close to heaven as I can get – but there’s a funky stale odor to lingering microwave bacon in an office that’s just not the same.

    2. Mander

      I love bacon, curry, fish, eggs, coffee, garlic, fancy cheese, and just about any other stinky food you can think of. However, strong smells of any kind — whether they are pleasant or not — tend to give me a terrible headache that does not go away with drugs, and often makes me feel queasy, too. I frequently have to open all the windows when cooking at home in an attempt to stop the headache. I will not wear perfume or use air freshener, and often hold my breath while walking through department stores.

      There’s not really much I can do about it except try to avoid situations when I can and tolerate the discomfort as best I can.

  14. Andrea

    I can’t even imagine how awful eggs cooked in a microwave would smell. (Or taste, for that matter–I can’t believe that they could possibly taste anything like eggs cooked on a stove, so why eat them? Why not eat something that tastes good and doesn’t smell?) But I, too, have a super-sensitive sense of smell (also very sensitive hearing, lucky me), and putting up with other people’s smells (food and otherwise) and sounds is too often the bane of my existence.

  15. Anonymous

    While it is common courtesy to spare individuals of strong food smells they may not like, voicing displeasure with smells in an unprofessional and rude manner is completely unwarranted. If someones meal does not smell pleasing, saying that it is ‘nauseating’, disgusting, and making gagging noises is just rude and it does not appropriately get the point across.

    In the case of Indian curry, I think individuals should notice that while you hate the smell, become nauseous by it, etc., there are some people who cook similar foods everyday and their house may smell like it often. In the case of some non-American dishes, it can be greatly offensive and impolite to the experience and culture of others to talk about it so badly.

    Unseemly food smells don’t excuse courtesy on the behalf of the ‘smell victim’.

    1. Lexy

      I don’t see where the OP’s coworker said anything even remotely unprofessional… it sounds like she politely asked the OP if she could mitigate the unpleasant smell.

      Maybe she was rude and snotty about it, but the OP didn’t say that. Unless I missed something.

      1. fposte

        Lauren’s post on the top of the comments mentions exactly this kind of reaction, so that may be what Anon is referring to.

        1. Lexy

          Ah! Probably. FWIW I agree that such reactions are the epitome of rudeness… I just didn’t realize Anon wasn’t addressing the OP :)

  16. Anonymous

    I can handle anything but fish. Two of my coworkers eat it every single day in the breakroom at lunchtime. I have to eat at my desk because I gag from the odor in the breakroom.

  17. Katie

    When I was pregnant, there was more than one occasion where I had to get up and leave my desk because people were eating around me. We’re talking foods you don’t normally associate with smelling badly, but pretty much any hot food or fish–hot or not–would set off my gag reflex.

    Personally, I’m of the opinion that if you can smell your food from more than a foot or so away, it’s too strong and should be eaten in a space meant for eating.

  18. Dana

    Sorry OP, but you’re in the wrong here. It can’t take you that long to eat an omelette, so you’re not using up too much work time doingit away from your desk. If it were me, I’d be mortified that I was causing someone enough stress that they’d had to confront me about it (I’d guess that a lot of people would avoid doing that for as long as possible) and wouldn’t even consider ignoring that request.

  19. nyxalinth

    Burnt popcorn and toast do me in. Fish isn’t pleasant, but I can handle it. I’ve never smelled microwaved eggs or bacon, so not sure.

    Sometimes people on the bus have a garlicky, spoiled salami kind of odor, but I can’t tell if it’s body odor or food/cooking odor clinging to them, and either way, I can’t stand it!

    1. Ariancita

      “Sometimes people on the bus have a garlicky, spoiled salami kind of odor, but I can’t tell if it’s body odor or food/cooking odor clinging to them..”

      And, now I no longer want my afternoon snack. My diet thanks you. :)

  20. Anonymous

    At my office, it’s completely open space and we have no lunch or break room that we have access to eat in. How would you get around this?

    1. Jamie

      If there were truly no options, I would expect that everyone take that into account and not bring anything particularly powerful to eat at work, and that everyone use the best table manners to make it as palatable as possible for those around you.

      And that those who are sound/smell sensitive all get ginormous raises immediately for putting up with the conditions. j/k…kind of. :)

  21. moe

    Oh my goodness, what a bunch of persnickety readers this blog has! I never knew eggs had so many enemies. :-(

      1. moe

        Certainly not meant to offend, which I thought the egg comment conveyed. But I will quietly put away my egg sandwich and slink away.

        1. A Bug!

          Sorry; I thought “persnickety” seemed a bit insensitive and it colored my impression. But really, if nobody’s expressed anything to you about it and you make a reasonable effort to minimize the smell (i.e. don’t linger over your lunch, clean up after yourself), by all means enjoy your egg salad!

          P.S. for egg salad lovers, if you’re careful not to boil them too long, it cuts down a ton on the most unpleasant aspects of “egg smell” and in my opinion tastes way better, too, especially if the middle of the yolk’s still soft – it melds with the dressing in a really yummy way.

    1. fposte

      I think you might be overreading a little, though; these are mostly thoughts that people keep to themselves, because they’re dealing just fine even if they don’t like it much. And if you get clairvoyant about what people are thinking about *anything*, I think it’s probably pretty daunting :-).

      1. Jamie

        “these are mostly thoughts that people keep to themselves, because they’re dealing just fine even if they don’t like it much”

        This. And it’s safe to say it here since we’re not hurting the feelings of anyone we actually work with.

        For example, I’m sure all of you chew silently, and if you don’t that’s your co-workers problem because in my head you’re all lovely and perfectly well mannered.

        Seriously though, I have gone so far as to bribe the receptionist with free personal tech support to make sure a certain pasta is never ordered at meetings I’m attending. And for other meetings, if we order sandwiches we go to the deli and not Jimmy Johns because their chips, while delicious, is a cacophony of agony for me – 20 people chomping away in one small room.

        I have gone out of my way for our receptionist in tech support, helping her kid with homework after hours, as well as work stuff like mentoring her in a couple of areas which ended up getting her a substantial raise and bonus larger than it would have been otherwise. And for this loyalty I am rewarded with never having to be in the room with alfredo sauce or kettle chips.

        Quid pro quo.

    2. Anonymous

      Let me add some others here: really strong raw onions and bananas. if you aren’t eating them yourself they can make you feel very ill.

      I know other people who can’t stand the smell of oranges.

      Its not about ‘enemies’ its about gut/body reactions and being uncomfortable about not being able to remove those smells from your work area when they DO make you feel ill.

      1. Nana

        If your co-workers are eating strong raw onions and bananas [together], they might have bigger problems than co-worker complaints. ;) XD

  22. Anonymous

    And, please, even if what you’re eating at your desk has minimal odor, don’t put the leftovers/disposable plates/etc in your trashcan at your desk. What was tolerable to your neighbors at lunch may be unbearable in a few hours. (I used to have someone in the next cube who ate a banana every morning. Bananas in any stage of ripeness just get to me for some reason, and she liked them very ripe. If she put the peeling in her cubicle’s trash can in the morning, by 5:00 I couldn’t even walk past the cube. Fortunately, that was an easy fix by mentioning bugs to the office maintenance mgr who promptly put out notices requiring anything food-related to be disposed of in the kitchen and having the cleaning crew notify him if they found anything elsewhere.)

    1. Jamie

      ITA about the trash. And when the food attracts bugs, and it will, you can exempt yourself from the ‘who attracted the ants’ argument if you always toss in the break room.

      “Bananas in any stage of ripeness just get to me for some reason, and she liked them very ripe.”

      No. Bananas are only good if all yellow – and not a spot of green or brown anywhere. There is a very small window for an edible banana…after which they are destined to become banana bread. By eating brown bananas she is depriving the world of banana bread. I don’t know how she can live with herself.

      Of course that’s just my opinion.

      1. Rana

        *laughs* I am so pleased to meet someone who shares my banana opinions!

        Overripe banana, urgh. Once the brown spots set in, off it goes to the freezer! Then I don’t have to smell it, feel guilty for not eating the disgusting thing, and it’s ready for banana bread time!

    2. I wish I could say . . .

      Add don’t put your smelly trash in the restroom waste can, either. The stench can be pretty overwhelming in a small space . . .

    3. Danielle

      I had a co-worker who brought baked chicken wings and broccoli in a container. She left the container, with the bones and a few stalks still in it, under her desk. Her desk being in the public area of a library, we just assumed the horrible odor we smelled later was a smelly patron. By the next day the smell was putrid. Even the janitor couldn’t figure out what it was.

      I just happened to be on the other side of the room later that day, and I saw the container tucked way in the corner under her desk. She was out for lunch and the manager said to just toss the whole thing. When she came back from lunch, she wasn’t even upset that we threw her container away. It was just awful.

    4. Anonymous

      If you have to tangle with a banana-lover, I suggest you try the solution we came up with in my office for it. After the banana is eaten, the peel goes into a ziplock bag which is sealed before it is thrown away. We had horrific fruit fly problems until this rule was instituted, and it cut down dramatically on the rotting banana / fruit fly problem.

  23. Anonymous

    I just wish whichever co-worker it is could figure out how to microwave the dang popcorn without burning it.

    1. Anonymous

      I make popcorn out of plain kernels (at home) and I know it’s done when I can count 1,2 between pops. Just passing the info along :)

    2. anon.

      For me it doesn’t matter if it’s burnt or not. Microwave popcorn and bacon: the two smells that make me gag.
      Stove popped popcorn, on the other hand, smells great (to me).

  24. Lisa

    Two of the world’s major religious and cultural traditions prohibit the consumption of pork products. I was raised kosher, and although I did eat pork for a couple of years before reverting back to kosher, I can absolutely see how the very strong smell of bacon would be bothersome to someone who does not associate it with the yummy taste of bacon. It’s overpowering and unpleasant without that Pavlovian link to flavor. Actually, the beginning of my reversion to kosher was swearing off pork because I was dating a gentleman who kept a halal diet, and he was very sensitive to the smell of bacon.

    I’d urge everyone to be considerate, here–the coworkers who are offended by the smell should consider that not everyone is so sensitive and that the coworker eating at their desk may be doing so because an urgent work task doesn’t allow them to eat elsewhere. Coworkers with smelly food, especially things like pork or fish that others may not eat at all, should be thoughtful and understanding of those who don’t appreciate your food’s odor. I generally choose salad or a cold sandwich if I eat at my desk, personally.

  25. I wish I could say . . .

    ITA w/the banning of the eggs, curry, fish, popcorn and I’ll add some cheeses. Yes, to me, certain cheese gives off an odor like someone has gotten sick to their stomach. Worse than all of these though, and probably another topic, is my coworker who smells like she rolled herself in the ashtray of a 1974 Dodge Dart. Makes my stomach turn and I get an instantaneous headache every day. We have no windows, so no ventilation. Totally disgusting.

  26. Chocolate Teapot

    Thank goodness I get luncheon vouchers, and access to the University canteen next to my office! Apart from all the other reasons, I feel I work far better after a walk to lunch and back.

  27. Jaci

    I shared an office the size of a closet with an amazing coworker, and we were both laid back about food smells or crunching noises. We munched on raw veggies, peeled clementines, reheated whatever leftover slop we had and laughed about the stink–we had a great office relationship, despite the fact that we were close enough to kick each other. I loved working with her.

    Our two receptionists shared a lobby bigger than my living room, and some how they were constantly annoying each other with food smells and music choices and getting butt hurt over something. They just didn’t like each other.

    I think most of the “food smell” issues boil down to whether or not the offender is a coworker you like or someone who already annoys you.

    1. Anonymous

      No. I think it depends on the particular person’s sensitivities. I love the fisheaters in my office, but I hate their fishy lunches.

      1. KellyK

        I think it’s both. I think that liking someone can make things easier to ignore, and disliking them can make things more annoying. But the “I like you” filter only goes so far.

    2. EM

      Interesting point. I get along very well with the guy I share an office with. One day I was eating a hard boiled egg (cold- it was cooked at home), and he mentioned he disliked the smell of boiled eggs. Now I eat them in the office when he’s not around or I’ll eat it in the kitchen. It’s no big deal.

      I’m also very diligent about throwing away food trash in the kitchen trash can just because I think it’s gross having food residue in an office trash can.

    3. Ariancita

      I disagree. I worked in a tight office, probably smaller than you’re even describing and I loved my coworker. But I didn’t love the sound of crunching, slurping, swallowing, chewing that sounded as if it was too inches from my face. She never ate anything terrible (mostly soups and salads), but the sound effects were disgusting. It has to do with my sensitivity. I just have a gag reflex for that sort of thing (same with gum smacking). However, in my case, I just excused myself from the office when this happened because I felt it was nothing she could control and it was my problem, not hers.

      1. Blahface76

        Agreed, Ariancita. People have a right to eat what they want during their lunch breaks (for the most part) and as for chewing noises, if we start to sanction that as well, where does it end? Someone doesn’t like the bright color of my shirt, so I shouldn’t wear it? My voice is annoying, so I shouldn’t talk? My shoes make a slight squeaking noise, so I should change them or go barefoot?

        It’s high time we all chilled out and got over ourselves a little bit.

  28. ThePM

    Long time, every day reader here – my first comment!

    I haven’t read all comments yet, but wanted to chime in — there are all sorts of reasons why people might ask you this. Being sensitive to the smell, being pregnant – or, have you considered it is currently Ramadan, and a large portion of people are fasting during day time? One of my employees fasts, and the people sharing her office are nicely respecting that, which is considerate, respectful, and well, I think, just the right thing to do.

    Depending on your relationship – or maybe even not so much depending on that – why not ask your colleague what bothers her, in a nice tone?

  29. Nicollette

    Love this question! The only other thing that I would point out that has only briefly been mentioned is that it is ABSOLUTELY AWESOME that this co-worker brought up the issue in a mature way and handled the situation like an adult. Kudos to her for being mature about it.

  30. EAC

    Just looking at the responses to this, we’ve had people complain about the smell of meat, cheese, eggs, peanut butter, pasta, bananas….I’m sure that the list could go on. I’ve even had a co-worker complain about how she didn’t like the smell of the tomatoes and cucumbers in my salad (and I was eating in the breakroom!).

    The point is, *something* is going to bother *someone*. When we are outside of our homes, where we can dictate exactly what goes on, we have to make concessions on both sides.

    1. fposte

      People are just talking here about what they don’t like–they’re not saying what their co-workers have to avoid doing. The fact that everything will bother somebody doesn’t mean that some things don’t have broader potential to annoy.

      In other words, your co-worker’s weird and out of line, but you still can’t eat hakarl at your desk.

      1. EAC

        Where in my post did I infer that posters said that they didn’t want their co-workers to eat certain things? I merely stated that people have issued complaints about the smell of certain foods–nothing more nothing less.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I took it the way fposte did — it seemed like the implication was that because so many things are bothersome, everyone should just deal with some gross smells.

  31. danr

    After reading most of the comments … Getting back to the OP. Is the omelette with bacon and salsa a required meal? Surely there are other meals in the diet that can be eaten cold.

  32. Tim C.

    This is one of those issues employees need to address by themselves. The issue is that the OP is disruptive to the other employee’s work environment. It would be the same as if she played a radio too loud. She could have simply complained to the manager before going to the OP. If all the lunches are at the same time, then either person could leave. However I suspect lunches are rather informally scheduled and some may be trying to work while others are “at lunch”.

  33. EM

    Let’s get to the heart of the issue and ignore things like whether or not bacon and eggs are inherently smelly or if someone is overly sensitive to smells or if food in general should be eaten outside of a kitchen/breakroom area etc.

    Your coworker has said, “When you do behavior X, it is especially bothersome to me. Would you mind modifying behavior X so it is less bothersome?”

    You can respond one of several ways:

    1- You can modify your behavior so it is not bothersome to them in the way suggested by your coworker

    2- You can suggest a different modification of your behavior or come up with a compromise you both are relatively happy with

    3- You can refuse to modify your behavior at all

    If you do number 3, you are basically telling your coworker that even though you know something you do is bothersome to them, you care more about yourself or your convenience than not being bothersome to them. If that is okay with you, feel free to continue eating your lunch at your desk.

    1. Tim C.

      Yes. I may also add if this is disruptive to her work, she may next go to management with her complaint. Depending on the manager, this may lead to some silly rule like no food or beverages allowed in the work area.

  34. RWF

    One time a coworker brought squid leftover from his dinner for his lunch, and then overcooked it in the microwave. He apologized profusely, but the smell lingered for over a day. People need to think–use their heads and be considerate of others –when they decide what to eat in an open space. Same on an airplane. A bacon omelette can really smell. Fried food can SMELL.

  35. ARM2008

    Break out the Vicks – that’s what they do in the movies to cover up the smell of decomposing bodies, ought to work for a bit of bacon and eggs!

    My guilty pleasure is garlic. And not only does it smell when I eat it, it comes out of my pores and lungs for hours afterward. Sorry.

    1. Anonymous

      It may seem petty but it goes back to the Perfume/scents discussion above: Some people would be affected by that too so then there would be two competing issues to deal with. (laugh)

      I used to have a workmate who would exercise at lunch, put on TCP/Deep heat stuff and walk through the office and it would cause me to feel like I couldn’t breathe.

      The same when someone a desk or so away from me is sucking menthol sweets or has used even a touch of Vicks etc. The stuff in it that clears your nose/can blocks other smells is something I am very sensitive to. I sleep in another room if my husband wants to use Vicks.

      I accept this as my problem but there are others who have made very nasty comments about stuff in the past – you literally can’t win!

    2. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater

      Ha! You should move to Gilroy, CA. The whole town smells.

      It hits you just as you’re driving into town. It’s awesome! :-D

      Dan

        1. 22dncr

          Gilroy is the “Garlic Capital of the US” and has a humongous Festival every year. Garlic Ice Cream anyone?

  36. KellyK

    If the main problem with taking your food elsewhere is that you work through lunch, could you take work with you? Print something out to review, or put it on a tablet or laptop if you have one?

  37. Jackie

    Both smelly food and perfumes should be ban from the office. Allergies and asthma are both aggravated by these smells.

  38. captainecchi

    Smell is so interesting :) And everyone has deeply personal feelings on it, clearly. I’ve been on both sides of the argument myself.

    On one hand, I _am_ one of those super smellers AAM mentions. Thankfully, food smells mostly don’t bother me, I guess? With some weird exceptions. I hate the smell of cinnamon flavoring–not actual cinnamon, just the type of flavor that is in cinnamon candies and, apparently, certain types of cinnamon tea.

    My coworker–whose cube is right next to mine–has a tea that she drinks that smells like this, and the first time she drank it I couldn’t help but notice it, and we had a conversation about it. But I never would have DREAMED of asking her to get rid of her tea. I am trying to not even mention it when I smell it, because I don’t want her to feel like I’m bullying her into getting rid of her tea.

    And on the other side of the matter, I was once the Coworker with Smelly Food ™. I shared an office with my direct supervisor, in an office which had no lunch room, so we all ate at our desks. I swear, everything I ate, my officemate/boss objected to in some way. Okay, tuna noodle gratin, I can understand. But seriously, like _every food_. Maybe I was a noisy eater, as someone suggested above. Dunno. No one’s ever told me that was the case, but then, probably no one would tell me if I smelled, either.

    Then again, this person also was on my case about how I sipped my tea, how much noise I made when I typed, whether or not the lights were on, and pretty much everything else she could critique, so it was not an ideal work environment in many ways.

  39. SevenRaina

    I have a real problem with my new coworker eating smelly food Every. Single. Day. at her desk. And at least one full meal — usually two. This, in my opinion, is outrageous, given that we have an exceptional work break room. I think it’s extremely inconsiderate, and am considering anonymously asking Human Resources to do a public notice in our daily bulletin. I don’t want to rock the boat but this is truly ridiculous. Your work space really ISN’T your full-meal-eating space.

    1. Blahface76

      Why can’t your coworker eat where she pleases, just as you can? Maybe she’s working during lunch, which she’s perfectly entitled to do. Hopefully, your HR department doesn’t run the office like a gestapo and will allow your poor coworker to exist in peace.

  40. HoldingMyNose

    Food smells in work areas is a problem at my office as well. The culture dictates not eating smelly food at your desk, but we still have folks who bring the eggs, garlic, frozen fish meals, tuna, etc. Most of us who do eat at our desks only open/eat food that is not smelly (salads, crackers, chips, fruit, etc.). We have a great lunchroom/kitchen, outdoor patio with tables & there really is no excuse for stinking up the work area and making others sick. People should have some consideration for their coworkers & if everyone did stinking up the office with smelly food would likely not be an issue.

  41. HoldingMyNose

    Oh – people seem to forget that good smells are subjective. Since bacon is not part of my diet I find the smell slightly sickening.
    Unpleasant food smells usually distract me from work, have made me feel ill & are otherwise disgusting to me.

  42. Malia

    I work with a woman who is very loud and opinionated. She has a comment for everyones food smells, perfume or lack thereof, feet , even the fabric softner on peoples clothes…..complains and talks badly every day about somebody. She says constantly, ” I am very senstitive to smells”, which is hysterical considering she smokes every 15 minutes and reeks like an ashtray.

    1. Anonymous

      I agree that she shouldn’t be loud and that smoking doesn’t help her situation. But she is probably VERY frustrated with her situation and with people not listening to her nor taking her scent sensitivity seriously. There is a thing called chemical sensitivity that you should also be mindful of.

      I am also chemical sensitive but I was not always that way. It happened over time.

      Some people can tolerate chemicals more than others. But the more you are around chemicals, the more they build up in your system and attack your immune system and nervous system. That happens by wearing perfume and fragrances in deodorants/anti-perperants, etc. made out of petrochemicals. They get absorbed into your skin and circulate through your body. This can also happen from breathing the chemicals in. If you live in an area with a lot of air pollution and/or use a lot of fragrances in your house like Glade Plug-ins (Airwick too) and scented candles (most of which are not natural), you are breathing in a lot of toxins being burned into the air. This could also be toner from a copier or if you work with paints, etc. Even so called “natural” air fresheners most likely have an propellant chemical in them, so they aren’t really “natural”.

      Plug-ins and Avon perfumes are the worst. With me I get very dizzy and have vertigo-like symptoms for hours after being exposed to one for any length of time. On top of that, I feel like my whole nervous system is being affected. My speech becomes slurred, I can’t think, I get the shakes, and my motor skills just disintegrate. Sometimes it’s so bad I get mini-blackout spells. Everything goes totally black for a second. Some people have been known to totally black out.

      Taking Ginger Root pills a few times a week helps with the dizziness and I recover quicker, but you can’t take those on a constant basis because they lower your blood pressure too much so you become sluggish; and, if you are taking any kind of medication, it makes the effects of the dosage stronger.

      So my point is…some smells to nauseate people or they are allergic to them in other ways. And the chemicals in any fragrance you wear is radiating into the air around your body and could affect a chemical sensitive.

      There is no magic allergy pill that will make their symptoms go away. The only way they can improve is to eliminate as many chemicals/fragrances as they can in their surrounding environment. After I did that, it takes time, but the person can improve. But the people around them need to be mindful of this and, humor them, so they can improve.

      But that doesn’t mean you go right back to using these products around them once they do either. Because it can put them right back where they were before. Every time I am re-exposed to a Plug-In, I feel like I relaps and get dizzy with every fragrance I smell again. That’s why I say they are the WORST and the most toxic.

      It will also help you because there is less of a chance that you will end up just like them. Again, I wasn’t always a chemical sensitive. I liked my perfume and scented candles. But now they don’t like me so I can’t use them any more and have to be careful with what products I do buy. Because even unscented products have chemicals in them that mask any odors.

      Are you starting to see why a chemical sensitive might become frustrated?

  43. Opiniona

    I believe in not offending people as much as possible, but if you work in an open office with no lunch room and also have more than 10 coworkers, chances are something you eat will smell offensive to someone. It is hard to think of a variety of filling, non or low-odor foods.

    Let’s see, here are some quiet and/or low-odor foods: Apples (loud, unless cooked), grapes, most string cheese, pasta with butter, green peas, peaches, canned peaches with cottage cheese, plain and vanilla yogurt, pre-cooked cheese quesadilla, cold or mildly reheated grilled cheese sandwich, applesauce, cream cheese and jelly sandwich, cooked carrots, plain bagel and butter, instant cream of wheat or oatmeal–original/plain flavor and add your own butter and sugar with blueberries or something that’s not stinky. Simple smoothies. Bring a personal blender if there’s a break room with outlets and then take it back to your cubicle. You still would have to watch the ingredients because peanut butter and banana smoothie would stink to some. Same for strawberry. Boost (the nutritional drink). Watermelon might work, too.

    Then there’s the junk food: Gummy bears/worms, jelly beans, Poptarts, graham crackers (loud though), vanilla or chocolate pudding cups, Jello…

    These are just things I personally think are the least offensive to the nose and ears.

    1. Blahface76

      Good God, just how many concessions do we have to make for others?! There’s a point where being aware of people’s sensitivities starts to feel like a** kissing. People should not have to blend their lunches into smoothies to avoid annoying a coworker.

      1. Honey

        Eat at home, eat in a break room, eat in a conference room, eat outside, go to a restaurant. Make eating at your desk the exception rather than the rule and people are going to be far more tolerant of the smells and noises you create. It’s not that hard.

  44. Cami

    I worked in one place where there was a sign “No Fish” allowed in the office anywhere. It was in Maryland and I guess alot of people used to bring in leftover crab soup etc. The management just felt it lingered too long and offended potential customers. I wasn’t even allowed to eat a cold tuna sandwich. Another place I worked at in Los Angeles didn’t allowed popcorn in the microwave. We had to pop it at the convenience store and you could bring it up cold. It seems when the owner had his first heartache someone was popping popcorn. After that the smell of popcorn sent a shock fear through him and he would have an anxiety attack. So I guess unless you work alone we all have to adjust our smells to those around us. My thing is don’t bathe in your cologne or perfume. It should never precede you. The only time I should smell it is if I am right up close, like hugging close. Other than that I’m good.

  45. Anonymous

    I have a co-worker who I share an office with who was used to having her office and is doing the low carb thing. The building we are in is old, so it has radiator heat and the only air circulation is to open the windows. I do have scent sensitivity and she insists on eating foods like salad with vinaigrette on it for breakfast and lunch at her desk right next to me. She refuses to eat in the break room (which is the policy by the way now that we share offices), so I smell that all day long. High vinegar smells nauseate me and I feel like I want to puke in the garbage can all day long. I have approached her about it but her response to me was “I will not change my diet for you.” But she complains she is cold if I open the window and has even gone as far as closing the window on me while making a rude remark. Her garbage can is also in an opening under her desk right next to me, so she throws this smelly garbage in there and then acts like by throwing it into her open garbage can, the smell magically goes away. So given the choice of feeling like I want to puke in my garbage can all day or being cold, I think I’d rather put on another layer of clothing and be a little cold. But she doesn’t see it that way. It’s all about her. She can do what she wants and eat foods that nauseate other people at her desk; but if they open the window she complains she is cold. So I can be uncomfortable but she can’t? Hmm. How very selfish of her. She is a very difficult co-worker to work with who has actually bullied the previous two people who shared an office with her within the past year. She does not think of anyone else but herself, obviously, and cries victim if anyone complains against her and then makes their lives miserable. Thankfully, this is just a temporary location so I will only have to deal with it for a few more months. But in the meantime it is Hell. Any ideas? Thank you.

    1. Silent Vengeance

      Eat cruciferous vegetables in excess with your dinner every night. Not only are they very healthy, but they will provide you with a ready arsenal of pungent flatus for the following morning. So when your obnoxious office-mate stinks up the place with her vinegar, commence firing. Whether or not you want to try to keep them silent or not is up to you; giving them some good volume gets the point across a little more pointedly. When she inevitably complains about the stench, smile pleasantly at her and say, “I changed my diet for you.”

    2. Blahface76

      Your coworker absolutely should not change her diet for you, just as she should put on sweater if you open the window. A lot of the problems would be solved if she threw her garbage into a communal trash can instead of her office can.

  46. Richard

    Wow you people are so damn fussy, I work in an office but just get on with it, Dad and brother both work on building sites as do many of my friends.
    Sometimes they eat in the rain or with drills going off next to them and you guys moan about loud chewing? suck it up.

  47. FiveNine

    First, it’s actually pretty hard to bring such a subject up in the first place. I’m 46 and this year was the first time in my life I’ve ever done so. The otherwise charming, highly educated woman who sat in the cube next to me ate literally all day long — she was on a no-carb diet thing with all these built-in snacks. I mean she came in and started with a large breakfast, had a snack, had a snack, had a lunch, had a snack, had a snack, and had a dinner at the desk. All of them at the desk. She also made an insane amount of noise with crinkly wrappers and bags and crunching and slurping and it was just crazy. And of course, a lot of what she ate had strong odors. But really, it was the huge amount of noise she made, and the fact that it was relentless, it wasn’t like it was the occasional meal through lunch.

    And here’s the kicker — we have an elaborate, huge, sunny, nice break room. And we get an hour for lunch every day.

    I can’t convey how I thought about it for a long, long time, and then when I knew at some point I’d have to bring it up how I considered several different ways to do so politely, and how self-conscious it made me feel when I did finally bring it up with her. It’s really strange to me how many people’s responses here are kind of assuming that the whole interaction and give-and-take and negotiations over the eating in this scenario begin with the coworker approaching the woman. This is a somewhat sensitive and tricky issue to raise with anyone, and doing so in a mature, straightforward, polite way is no easy thing (and suggests the coworker has been dealing with this for some time).

  48. tess

    I have a coworker who eats some kind of smelly indian food every day at his desk.. to make it worse, he slurps and smacks and it’s just disgusting…

  49. allan

    I am Asian we used to respect your opinion about food but you need to respect our culture too. Some of my co-worker they bring pig intestine and the smell so bad but we respect every culture hope that before you judge the smell of our food compare the food we bring compare on your food.

  50. No NO

    Frankly, food of all types is probably stinky to all kinds of people. That’s why eating where you work (at your desk) is really a bad idea. Take that 1/2 or 1 hour to go eat at the kitchen or cafeteria. The stench of some foods makes me ill, especially curry, which smells like vomit to me. I can’t stand it. It doesn’t mean it’s bad food, just food I want to smell or know. And, frankly, I agree. Who wants to be working at a computer and hear someone crunching, slurping, sipping, smacking there lips when eating. It’s gross. Just don’t do it.

  51. Odilly

    People who eat hot food at their desks in he middle of an office full of people trying to work are probably the most annoying people in the workplace. The lunchroom is there for a reason – so that your stinky food and slurping and crunching does not disrupt people around you.

    People who eat at their desks without any regard for coworkers are seen as the annoying, obnoxious, self-centered co-workers that nobody wants in the office.

  52. Carlos

    I work as a temp/contract lawyer and often am disgusted by the NON-STOP eating of some I have to sit literally inches from. I presently am in a room of five co-workers two of whom have eating disorders. One starts everyday eating an entire box of Shredded Wheat. He munches through that then moves on to Planters’ Dry Roasted Nuts and washes it all down with a 2L bottle of Mountain Dew. And that’s just breakfast. His eating is the trigger for the second compulsive eater and so begins my daily munch-fest. I bite my tongue for as a temp, I am expendable and yet why should I have to sit and work in a munch-eteria???

    I find open office settings where there are no food rules an invitation for abuse. I never eat where I work, take my lunch elsewhere or in the pantry (yes this project there are two pantries per floor yet none of my all-day munchers ever uses these).

  53. Ann Guyer

    My company eventually developed a guideline requesting people eating at their desks only consume cold food. In fact, smell sensitivity became such a problem that eating in the office became an ongoing distraction. It wasn’t just allergies. Leftovers from restaurants, fish, garlic, popcorn and toast not only have odors that may be offensive or uncomfortable, but even when they aren’t, they stimulate hunger cravings in others which can also be very distracting. Even further it would provoke conversations in an open environment that were time consuming, like discussions about the great restaurant that the savory leftovers came from. Out of courtesy, people working in open offices should think about this.

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