unexpected gift card, suspect meat in the cafeteria, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I see meat being left out for hours in the cafeteria

I’m a security guard, a contractor working for a high tech business. I work for the security company, not directly for the company I’m posted at.

The company has a cafeteria, which is catered by another third party contractor. Often during my night patrols, I find raw meat left out of the fridge/freezer, at room temperature. The cafeteria staff arrive at about 10 a.m. They leave the property at about 2 p.m. That means that by the time I’ve come in and found it, that meat has already been out at room temperature for 8+ hours, and by the time the cafeteria staff get in, that meat has been out for more than 18 hours. I used to do restaurant work, and I know this goes against every food safety rule out there. This can easily cause food poisoning, salmonella, and even E. coli. This could even kill people.

I mentioned it to my boss, who told me not to bother about it, since it isn’t our job to police the kitchen, but I’m afraid someone will get sick. I reported it to the local health board, but because of the high security at the company, the board cannot make surprise inspections. They have to apply weeks in advance, and because of that, the cafeteria staff learn the inspectors will be there and hide all their bad practices. I have even gone so far as to take photos of the bacteria-growing meat and send them to the health board, but their hands are tied. The board has already approached the cafeteria catering company about leaving meat out of the fridge, but they continue to do this up to three times a week that I know of and likely more.

I don’t know if management knows how bad the cafeteria is, but I DO know that the staff who eat there don’t have any idea how much risk of food poisoning they’re in. What should I do? What can I do? I like the people I work with. I’m protective of them. I don’t want them to get sick. But I also don’t want to get pulled off this site or fired. And I don’t want my own supervisor to get in trouble. I’m stuck here… I just can’t make myself not care.

I’d mention it to a reasonably senior person at the business where you’re seeing this (not at the security company). Make it clear it’s something you’ve seen regularly, not just once, and say that you’ve been unsure about what to do about it but that you thought you should report it to someone because it’s a health risk.

If you’re not sure who an appropriate reasonably senior person would be, is there anyone who works for the company you patrol who have pretty good rapport with? You could discreetly tell them what you’ve seen and ask who to talk to (if they can tell you who oversees the cafeteria contract, that would be ideal).

2. Employee’s personal life is derailing conversations about her work

My friend has an employee who she is in the middle of a formal performance process with. This employee has had difficult events in her personal life a year ago (a messy divorce and all the difficult logistics that go with that), and has stated that this combined with the performance process is causing her stress and further impacting her performance.

The employee has asked for regular meetings to talk through priorities, get feedback, etc. All well and good. However, when her manager has these meetings, they inevitably become about the employee’s difficult personal life, and this derails the discussion and the employee becomes very emotional. She does not accept feedback well, and while her issues are no doubt genuine and difficult, it feels they have become a shield to use up time and deflect from the real problem: her unwillingness to take accountability, and a poor productivity rate.

Her manager has offered the in-work support line and made other reasonable adjustments. Can you please help with some phrases to stop the discussion of her personal problems and turn the conversation back to feedback about her performance and discussion of her priorities?

“I’d like to keep our focus on your work/the X project/how to improve your Y numbers.”

“I know you’ve been going through a stressful time, but I do need you to focus on X.”

“I’m sorry you’re going through that. For this meeting, I’d like to keep our focus on X.”

If that doesn’t work, the manager needs to say, “I’m finding that we’re continuing to end up on what’s going on in your personal life, and while I’m sympathetic to that, it’s getting in the way of our being able to address X. For you to improve your performance and succeed in this role, we need to focus on work when we’re in these meetings. Can you commit to doing that?”

3. I received an unexpected gift card after I spoke to a class

I am an analyst at a government agency. I was recently contacted by a professor at a local university, who asked if I could present my work to her class. I gave my presentation today, speaking and answering questions for about an hour. After, she invited me back to her office to chat about research. Before I left her office, she handed me a gift. I opened the box and saw a coffee mug with the university logo. I thanked her for the kind gesture and left. Back at the office, I open it again, and see that in addition to the mug, there was a $25 gift card to a department store.

I feel weird about the gift card. I looked, and didn’t see any agency policies about accepting gifts in our personnel manual. I think the professor didn’t realize that the gift card was a bit much; she is very young and also may not be familiar with professional culture in the U.S. (she is from China). Anyway, what should I do? Contact her about giving it back? Ask my HR department? Use it to buy socks to give to homeless people? Right now, the sock giving idea appeals to me most … I really feel weird about contacting her about giving it back, and I also don’t love working with our HR department. But I want to do the right thing.

Check with your HR department because the government generally does have policies on accepting gifts (although this one might be under the dollar limit). If you can keep it, I’d consider it a speaking honorarium that you can use however you want, including buying socks for the homeless if you’d like.

4. Should I tell my new job I’m still doing some work for my old job?

I have been working at a grocery store for eight long years. I went to school and recently got hired in an office and it is related to my career choice. I have only been there three weeks and I absolutely love it. But of course, it pays less than my retail job because I had been there so long and I took a pay cut for an entry-level position since I have little experience. So I have been working weekends and a couple of night shifts at my old job to make money.

At my new job, I overheard one of my coworkers say that once in a while during a crazy week, we are required to work Saturdays. I work at my old job on weekends.

I feel compelled to tell my new manager about how I still work at my old job. I think he is glad he hired me and I’m really nervous to speak with him about it. I never brought it up before I got hired but I don’t want to be dishonest. I do not want him to be disappointed or think I am not fully committed to my new job. Also would me telling him this make him reconsider and affect my three-month probation period? I overthink and stress a lot and just need some encouragement.

If no one has officially told you you may need to work an occasional Saturday and this is just something you overheard, I think you should feel free to continue what you’ve been doing until someone tells you otherwise — which is what you would have done if you hadn’t overheard that conversation, after all. It’s not dishonest not to disclose something it had never occurred to you disclose and that no one had asked you to disclose.

That said, it might not be a bad idea to proactively ask your manager about it now, so that you don’t end up with a conflict at the last minute. You could say something like, “I thought I overheard a mention that we sometimes have to work Saturdays. Is that right? And when that happens, how much advance notice do we normally have?”

It might turn out that this isn’t an issue at all. If it is, though, then you can decide if you can make the old job still work under those conditions, and how you want to handle it if you can’t. But as long as you’re committed to working when the new job needs you, it would be very unlikely for your manager to let you go for keeping some hours at your old job. There ARE jobs that don’t want people having outside work, but if this is one of them, they’d just let you know that — not peremptorily fire you.

5. My new job isn’t what I’d expected

I work in the university system and have a background in student development. I recently moved to a large city with plenty of universities after four years working for Teapot University in another state. After four months of aggressively job-searching (and having no paycheck), I was hired at Coffeepot University (supposedly in a student services department). It was hard to get universities to pay attention to my resume because I “only” have a bachelors, so I took a position that was underpaid but sounded vaguely related to my experience.

The problem is, I barely have any interactions with students that are meaningful or developmental. I knew I would have some administrative work, but what I didn’t fully understand at the time of hire is that I’m purely an administrative assistant. For example, I was told that I would be liaison to student senate. The reality is that about once a week, I make photocopies or send an email for them. I am absolutely miserable. To top it all off, I was hired as an hourly worker, so the “amazing” vacation time and 35 hour work-week that the university is known for (and uses to recruit) are benefits that are reduced for my position. I also often end up working though lunch even though that’s not part of my paid hours, because I don’t have anywhere else to go (no lounge), my desk is out in the open, and I’m not paid enough to go out to eat. You don’t start working in student development for the money, but now I’m underpaid, have a lengthy commute and I don’t get to do the thing I love the most at all. I feel unsatisfied, broke and duped!

When is it acceptable to start putting myself out there again for other positions? I’d like to start immediately, but I’m worried that having this position for one month on my resume is going to taint me as a job-hopper. Is there anything I can write in my cover letter that could address why I’d like to leave my position so soon? If I’m lucky enough to get an interview, I was planning on saying something like “Unfortunately, the position didn’t allow me to utilize my any student development experience, which is what I was not what I was led to believe at the time of hire.” I’m a little wary of sounding like I’m slamming my current university, when I’m already on thin ice for looking like a hopper.

If you’ve only been there a month, I actually wouldn’t put it on your resume at all. You’re not going to have meaningful accomplishments in that amount of time, after all, and it raises more questions than it answers. You recently moved to your city, so it makes sense that you’re currently job searching.

But if for some reason you need to disclose the current job (for instance, if you’re applying elsewhere in the same university system), I’d say, “The job turned out to be a different type of work than what I’d expected when I was hired. I had understood I’d be doing student development work, but it’s turned out to be more of an administrative assistant position.” That’s pretty similar to the wording you suggested, but I think slightly more dispassionate in tone.

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Olive and Eve ThanksgivingAlso, there’s a Thanksgiving open thread in full swing! It should go on throughout Thursday.

{ 99 comments… read them below }

  1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

    #1 – Ugh, yes, that’s awful. Thank you for caring enough about your colleagues to keep going at this. I’m surprised the health board couldn’t do more (can’t they demand an inspection be kept confidential from the kitchen staff?!) but I think Alison’s advice to go higher up the company itself is also worthwhile pursuing. Personally, I’d have a hard time not mentioning it to one of the workers confidentially – I’m pretty sure word would get round, and if it’s somebody you trust not to link your name to it, it doesn’t need to come back to you. I can’t help wondering if it’s also worth having a word with cafeteria staff – “Joe, I’m sorry to pop my head in but I noticed last night that some meat got overlooked during clearing up and was left out overnight. I know this is a huge breach of health and safety laws, so I wondered if you wanted me to come in and put it in the fridge it it happens again?” Then just follow up each time. “Hi Joe, I couldn’t help noticing that meat was left out again last night. Is there anything you want me to do about that?”

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

        I was angling for “telling them in what appears to be a helpful and friendly way” – it wasn’t clear from the letter that the supervisor of the cafeteria knew about this, so OP can treat it as alerting them without trying to cause problems (and then say that he’s tried to alert the cafeteria staff if this ever all blows up in any way)

    1. neverjaunty

      Yes, this. And if they’re going to violate food safety in such a basic and fixable way, imagine what else they’re doing with the food. WTF is the OP’s boss thinking?

    2. snuck

      You could phrase it with a solution ” Mr Contract Manager for the Catering Contract… what do you want me to do when I see meat sitting out on my nightly rounds? It should be thrown in the bin by then… but I don’t want to call the catering crew late at night – how should I handle this?” and that way you are drawing attention to it, without it being tattle tale… and you are also opening the door for the issue to be resolved – you’ll only have to throw all the meat away a few times for the catering manager to start to worry about it properly.

  2. Merry and Bright

    #1 This hardly bears thinking about. The company needs to know and the catering firm should have its contract suspended. The board has spoken and they have coninued?! Also, I know there is such a thing as boundary crossing but I’d say the customers who eat there need to know the risk too. It’s gross and I would want to know. If the caterers are being so cavalier about leaving meat out of the fridge for hours on end, I bet some of their other practices wouldn’t bear too much scrutiny either.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot

      Yes. I would tell the company that hires the caterers (not your contract employer) and spread the word to anyone who eats in the cafeteria. This is really serious stuff.

      Also, it infuriates me that a private company’s security is allowed to prevent government safety inspections. Just one more example of how corporations are eroding national sovereignty (and public safety).

  3. Mando Diao

    OP1: Okay, this is a left-field story, but hear me out. A few weeks ago, I was at a bar, and there was an incident with an uncontrolled dog near the outside tables. I had spoken with the staff about it (I didn’t care that a dog was there, but this one was attacking people), and they called me a liar and mocked me for not “being cool.” The answer rubbed me the wrong way…I’m a local, and my cousin used to work at that bar, so I figured I would send a polite email to the owner to simply inform him of the staff’s actions. I called the county health department to see if there were rules against having dogs near food-service tables. I only wanted regulation ordinanaces to include in my email, but when I explained the situation to the operator, she said, “Oh wow. I’ll send an inspector out today.” I told her that wasn’t why I called, but at that point it was out of my hands. I have no idea what happened with that inspection, but the health department definitely has its own momentum with these things.

    I have also worked for companies that have been subject to FDA approval. A scheduled annual inspection for accreditation is different than a surprise raid after an anonymous phone call/tip.

    tl;dr – I would suggest calling the local health department and just seeing what they say and/or what they decide to do, even if they just end up putting a note in a file.

    1. Alma Mater

      OP stated they have reported it to the health board and they are unable to make surprise inspections, so I’m not sure what good you think this will do.

    2. Violetta

      I don’t understand why you made this a health department problem. The issue seems to me that the dog was attacking people – that’s something to take up with its owner. I don’t see what’s so bad otherwise about having a dog outside near tables.

      1. Mando Diao

        It’s illegal to have dogs in the vicinity of tables where people are served food, even outside. Lots of restaurants break this law, but it’s still the law, at least in my district. Whether the dog was uncontrolled is up for debate, but the main point (in the eyes of the law) is that the dogs weren’t allowed to be there at all.

        And I don’t want to get hung up on this point or argue with animal lovers. I only meant to say that a call to a legal authority may trigger an emergency visit in ways that a scheduled inspection would not. If an agency decided to take the evidence seriously and get a warrant, they wouldn’t have to wait to go in.

        1. Hornswoggler

          Just to say that may be the case in the USA. In the UK, as long as you keep dogs away from where food is prepared, handled and stored, you can certainly have them in the restaurant where people are being served.

          Restaurant, bar and café managers have discretion as to whether they allow dogs in their premises, but they cannot claim that it’s illegal (e.g., some might erroneously claim that it’s European law, which it isn’t). Many restaurants and especially pubs with restaurants allow dogs in, sometimes to only part of the pub so other customers can keep away from dogs if they don’t like them. We regularly go to a pub where the dog is allowed to sit under the table and lean heavily against our legs until we give them a nibble.

          1. Artemesia

            Ahh a fond memory of eating at a pub in Bath where a large German shepherd stood with its paws on the counter where food was served and licked the beer taps. Some of the customers were concerned that my 12 year old was in the pub in the early evening for dinner (the owner had agreed to this — the law is 14) but no one batted an eye at the dog licking the beer taps.

        2. Erin

          Yeah, I used to work at a farmers market and have had to deal with the dog around food situation. It is indeed a policy that is often not enforced as long as the dogs are behaving and no one complains.

          But back to your original point – you made me think, would calling OSHA be appropriate in this situation?

      2. Myrin

        I agree. I can totally understand the actions up to and including contacting the owner – staff dismissing someone who’s concerned about an aggressive dog attacking people isn’t commendable behaviour (although I do wonder what they could have done anyway – if the dog was out of control their best bet would probably be alerting some kind of animal service or whoever handles such things; but again, being dismissive and mocking certainly wasn’t the answer). But I don’t follow the leap to contacting the health department when “dog being near tables” wasn’t the problem to begin with. I work in the kitchen of an inn and animals definitely aren’t allowed back there (one of the owners’ cats managed to sneak in last time and my boss chased him out real quick) but at the tables outside or even in the public room? As long as there’s no problem behaviour-wise, it’s completely alright to have them sleep at your feet.

          1. fposte

            In the U.S. There are plenty of countries where that’s not true, and I think Myrin is in one of them.

          2. Myrin

            fposte below you is right, I’m not in the US, so I can obviously only speak to the laws and rules here. (And I actually specifically looked this up before posting since I was pretty sure it’s the case like I said but didn’t want to put wrong information out there. I’m not an expert and don’t know all the details but it seems like what Hornswoggler above said about the rules in the UK applies to my home country, too.)

            1. fposte

              Yes, I think Europe is a lot less bothered by pets in front of house. (Even in the U.S. it’s jurisdiction by jurisdiction, so it’s possible there’s a dog-allowing state or town somewhere.) Now I’m curious where Canada falls on this–anybody know?

              1. StudentPilot

                We’re the same as the USA in regards to this – no dogs (except for service dogs) in restaurants, on patios, etc. etc.
                …..well, at least Ontario is. Other provinces may differ.

              2. Book Person

                I’ve seen dogs outside on patios in Canada, but never inside a restaurant unless it was clearly a service animal. I have no idea what the laws actually are, but it seems that in terms of what is accepted custom, we’re more in line with the U.S.

                1. Joline

                  I think most places in Canada they’re technically not allowed in the restaurants and patios are extensions of that. So you’re not even supposed to have your dog on the patio which is why in a lot of places people with dogs go on the outside and have them on the other side of a fence.

                  I guess it ends up being through Health Acts of various provinces – no animals allowed on the premises, which includes patios (with exceptions made for service animals and fish in aquariums , etc.)

                  It was a huge temptation when I was contemplating moving back to Europe. Dog at restaurants and on the train!

              3. the gold digger

                As I yell at the cat to GET OFF THE COUNTER! again and she does, but only because I am yelling at her.

                (I do all food prep on a cutting board, but still. I am by now probably immune to any cat-borne diseases.)

                1. fposte

                  There was a New York Times piece where a columnist had his home kitchen inspected by a restaurant inspector. He was floored to be informed that a cat ever being in the kitchen meant a big score ding, and he referred to his cat thereafter as “Five Points.”

        1. Mando Diao

          I hadn’t set out to contact the health department. I went down the google rabbit hole and I was actually surprised that health violations kept showing up in the results. If the restaurant is trying to be chill and letting people bring their dogs in, you don’t nitpick about the dogs’ behavior. You address the fact that the dogs can’t be there in the first place.

          This went off on a tangent. I meant to illustrate that the OP may have been lied to about what the procedures are, just as the restaurant (from my example) kept insisting that the dogs were allowed to stay. I suggest the the OP try to think of done other work-around. There’s got to be some way to get the health board in there.

          When I blew the whistle on my old job, the FDA was appalled that their agents had been calling ahead to schedule inspections and giving the company time to cover its tracks. There’s a chance this might be going in with the OP. The FDA only found out about the lazy agents after I sent an email expressing my confusion as to why the agent was calling kn advance and not confiscating the illegal products she found.

  4. Stephanie

    #4: I’m working two jobs…and I didn’t tell Job 1 about Job 2 until I had the headache of scheduling conflicts. I’d proactively tell your manager just so you aren’t put on one of those Saturdays.

  5. Apollo Warbucks

    #3 I wouldn’t offer to return the card that is likely to offend or upset the professor that gave it to you and In most cases it won’t be a problem to accept and keep the gift card it’s small and incidental in nature and not likely to be viewed as having an undue influence on you.

    Although it is still worth telling your manager or HR about it even if you decide to donate the gift card you need to comply with any gift or entertainment policies that there (I would expect government to have some sort of policy regarding gifts and hospitaility), and it is important for you to avoid the appearance of any impropriety

    1. doreen

      I disagree. Remember, the OP works for a government agency, and the rules are different than the private sector. At both government agencies I’ve worked for , the mug would be acceptable. The gift card, however, is another story and how ethics policies and laws treat it may depend on whether giving such talks are actually part of the OP’s job. Donating it to charity may not be enough – in my state, if the professor donated the money to a charity of my choice, it would be an impermissible gift because I would be directing where it went (even though the money never touched my hands) I’m posting a link separately about some sanitation workers who were fined and in one case fired for fired for accepting less than $25 in cash. OP absolutely needs to check with HR or the ethics board if one exists in that jurisdiction.

      1. fposte

        Yes, in my state it would depend on the source of the gift. We are, however, allowed to donate it to charity or donate the equivalent to charity.

  6. MK

    #1, I am freaking out right now. This is pretty much what I always do with frozen meat: I take it out of the freezer and let it sit on my kitchen counter (though not exposed, stil wrapped in its packaging) overnight to thaw. I had no idea it was a health risk. Am I lucky to be alive here?

    1. Myrin

      I believe the difference is that your meat starts out frozen so it stays that way for quite some time after, even while slowly thawing (although I’d recommend putting it in the fridge if it’ll be out the whole night – still warmer than the freezer so it will thaw, but not room temperature). However, the kitchen staff in the OP have probably worked with the meat already, meaning it’s already fully thawed when they start leaving it out and that’s where the risk comes from. I’m not an expert in any way so I’m happy to be corrected but that’s generally how I’ve seen it handled.

      1. JL

        Yes, additionally it sounds like it’s not in a sealed container, but left in a plate on the counter – which means all sorts of bugs and flies could contaminate it. If it’s to thaw, it’s best to keep it in packaging (which MK above already does – so don’t worry there!).

        1. Myrin

          Ah, I was thinking that (as I said, I prefer thawing in the fridge since I’d rather be sure), thanks for weighing in! MK, especially minced meat is very susceptible to bacteria, so tread extra carefully there!

      2. Brandy in TN

        I do the same but again it starts out frozen and its not out for 8 hours. I think the main issue is the 8 hours.

    2. Merry and Bright

      I got the impression that the catering company was leaving thawed meat out for hours but happy for OP to clarify.

    3. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

      Well, maybe not so much to be alive but… yeah, that’s unsafe. Treat meat like rice; both are most likely to become harmful at room temperature, so try and keep as short time as possible between frozen and cooked. Thawing in the fridge is good (bottom shelf, obviously) or microwaving straight from frozen then cook directly.

      Can you tell how paranoid I am about food hygiene?

      1. MK

        Ok, I am seriously missing something here. I have never heard of anyone putting rice in the fridge; and every single brand of rice in the super-market is clearly marked “store out of the fridge in a dry and cool place”, so that’s not down to my admittedly legendery incompetence in the kitchen.

        1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

          Sorry, my bad! Defrosting cooked rice badly is A Bad Idea (a chef acquaintance once described it as the most deadly thing you can do in a kitchen). Best advice seems to be cook the rice and freeze straight from boiling, then go straight from the freezer to cook and get it up to boiling asap, because room temp is where it’s most likely to acquire deadly bacteria. (Or just don’t freeze it at all in case it kills you) Meat is slightly different (I know for chicken you should let the cooked chicken cool before you freeze it) but the frozen -> cooked is the same principle because again, room temp is the problem.

            1. dragonzflame

              It’s why pregnant women are advised to avoid sushi – because you don’t know how long the rice has been sitting round or how quickly it was cooled after cooking. Everyone thinks it’s the meat and fish, but nope, it’s the rice.

            2. misspiggy

              The starch layer on it can foster nasties after a while, as I know from experience. In addition to the other advice here, don’t keep leftover rice in the fridge for more than a day.

              1. Can't Think Of A More Clever Anon Name Today

                I never knew this about rice and my rice practices and eating habits would scare the most careful. Never have been sick though!! LOL. But I will take heed to this and do better about my storage and consumption of my cooked rice henceforth!

                Haha

            3. Mookie

              All the most delightful foods (minus the sprouts, in my opinion) want to kill you. Undercooked beans, beans cooked in a faulty slow-cooker (ditto anything not properly brought up to temperature, I suppose), cooked beans left out at room temperature, melons with reticulated skin, bean sprouts, all those yummy listeria-laden dairy products, greens that behave as magnets for fecal-y things, canned preserves and jarred blanched veg and such improperly sealed or with too little acid, and now, apparently, even wrapping potatoes in aluminum foil risks botulism.

          1. LSCO

            Yes. I can be pretty lax with food safety – 90% of the time I don’t cook with or use meat, and I figure I can be a little bit more reckless with veggies & veggie meals. However, rice is the one thing I will not mess with. I won’t ever freeze it, I’ll cook it and dish it up, and before I’ve eaten a bite of the meal I’ll throw away any leftovers. Once I reheated rice from a Chinese takeaway, and was violently ill for 2 days afterwards. Never again.

          2. Nobody

            Wow, I just learned something new. I am very careful about food safety and I know all the rules about meat, but this is the first I’ve heard about the dangers of cooked rice!

            1. Olive

              Same here! I save leftover fried rice all the time, I’ll be more careful in future.

              OP #1, a lot of big companies have an Environmental Health and Safety manager or even a whole EHS department. If the company you work at has that, I think that might be the best place to take this – often they can keep reports anonymous, and keeping employees from getting sick or hurt is their job.

    4. Snowglobe

      According to the USDA, thawing at room temperature is unsafe; bacteria can start to grow on the food at 40 degrees (F). Recommended methods are thawing in the refrigerator, in a microwave or in a plastic bag under cold water.

    5. fposte

      Basically, the goal is to minimize the time meat spends in the “Danger Zone,” between about 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, because that’s the range where bacteria multiplies most readily. Meat thawing at room temp is going to have bits hanging around in that range for quite a while, so you want to stick with microwave defrosting or thawing in the fridge.

      1. fposte

        In case Alison isn’t moderating today, look in Wikipedia under “Danger zone (food safety)” for more info. It’s not just meat, btw–it’s lots of other stuff, like cooked veg, dairy, etc.

    6. the gold digger

      A little freaking out is OK, but the only time I have ever gotten food poisoning (three times – once, I started throwing up about five minutes after I had eaten a tart that must have had really bad eggs) has been at restaurants.

      When I was in the Peace Corps, we had a Christmas party and left the cooked turkey out overnight (because we did not have a fridge). Still ate it and everyone was fine. Don’t know if we were just lucky or if it is not that big a deal. Same thing happened when visiting a friend in Mexico City – turkey left out overnight.

      I don’t do that now – I have a fridge – but leaving cooked meat out is not a guaranteed killer.

      1. fposte

        Sure, because it’s not the meat, it’s the bacteria on the meat, which varies wildly. If there isn’t anything harmful on there, a population burst isn’t going to hurt you. But you don’t know what bacteria is on your piece of meat (and as Myrin notes, the more chopped up it is, the greater the chance it’s carrying something you don’t want to allow to increase), so you treat it all as if it’s got the bad stuff, because plenty of it does.

      2. neverjaunty

        Of course it’s not a guaranteed killer, but it’s increasing your risk of food-borne illness quite a bit, so why do it?

      3. MK

        I think it makes sense that restaurants are more dangerous; their kitchens are places where huge quantities of food is brought and prepared and lots of people come and go all the time. It’s to be expected that the very atmosphere would have more bacteria than in my rarely-used-but-still-obsessively-cleaned kitchen.

        1. fposte

          It’s not the atmosphere–it’s the food itself. Bacteria is naturally present in all of it. When that bacteria includes bad strains, like Salmonella or E. coli, keeping the food in the Danger Zone means the bacteria multiply with amazing speed, so what could have been a level too low for you to notice can turn into a bacterial load that would wipe you out pretty quickly.

          Hamburger is probably the worst offender, because it gets chopped up and mixed around, so 1) it combines bits from various cows and 2) it means that the stuff in the middle, where it’s not exposed to as much heat, is just as likely to contain illness-causing bacteria as the surface. (In meat, it’s generally the surface that will contain the big bacterial population; plants can go both ways, since they can absorb the bacteria along with the water, as with the green onion food recall a few years ago.)

          For restaurants, it’s mostly sheer volume that raises the likelihood of a problem. If you put the same amount of meat through your home kitchen, your results would probably be worse than most restaurants.

          1. misspiggy

            Yes. I was once foolish enough to eat a medium-done hamburger in a Nigerian hotel. That was a memorable 24 hours.

        2. neverjaunty

          They are more dangerous because of the volume and quantity of food, but bacteria come into your obsessively-clean kitchen along with the food. Leaving meat around at room temperature allows them to proliferate.

      4. The Cosmic Avenger

        Think of it like this: riding in a car without your seatbelt isn’t a guaranteed killer either. But it’s not worth the risk. Neither is improperly handling food preparation, especially meat and rice (and I hadn’t known about the latter before, but I’ve never frozen rice before). Saving yourself a bit of time or trouble really isn’t worth the risk to your health, even if there’s a chance you might never have a problem if you did this every day.

        1. the gold digger

          Oh of course. My point was there is no reason to panic about what has happened in the past if it didn’t kill you. The two times I had unrefrigerated meat was because I did not have a fridge. (And most of my time in South America, I didn’t eat meat – I couldn’t afford it and, in the open-air markets, I wasn’t crazy about seeing flies on the raw flesh.)

    7. Artemesia

      Yes thawing freezing meat this way is a major health hazard; I hope you are cooking the carp out of it before eating it. The outer layers of meat warm up and fester while the center is cooling. This is why turkeys for example are to be thawed in the refrigerator for several days and not overnight in the sink.

        1. Can't Think Of A More Clever Anon Name Today

          Yuck. How can you enjoy a steak cooked to jerky consistency? lol.

          I’ve gotten foodborne illness from a restaurant before, but it was after eating lasagna.

          I always get medium rare steak, and enjoy it and have been healthy in all my three+ decades. lol. I am soooo against people cooking steak to beef jerky. You don’t get to enjoy the steak at all this way, I’d say if youre this afraid of steak, just order something else, haha!

          /end rant

  7. Erin

    #3 – Slightly off topic, but I think it’s nice in situations like this to send a thank you note, and that’s it. It’s a nice gesture that shouldn’t make the recipient feel uncomfortable. If appropriate, they can display it somewhere in their office as sort of a testimonial.

    #4 – Yeah, bringing it up now wouldn’t be weird or anything, but I don’t think you really need to. I’m sure your management understands that people have commitments and other things going on on weekends, and ideally tries to give his staff as much of a head’s up as possible. I doubt this is happening on a regular basis without your having been told that when you accepted the job.

    You could bring this up now proactively and say something like, “I sometimes work weekends at the grocery store and they require X amount of notice to ask for time off – do you think that’s doable, or should I talk to them about rearranging my schedule?” But again, I think if you left it alone and deal with it if/when it comes up that would probably be fine.

    Another option: Just ask that coworker about it. “Hey, I overheard you the other day say that occasionally we work weekends – is that just during our busy season? Does Bob usually give us a lot of head’s up for that, or how does that normally work?”

  8. Tex

    Op#1 – the most relevant person to contact would be the Facilities Manager. This person is usually the liaison to the outside contracted security, maintenance, groundskeeping and catering companies. If the tech company owns the building, this would be their employee. If the company is leasing the property, then the Facilities Manager is an employee of the building owner, but usually still has an office on premises, and is still very involved with the well-being of the client (tech company).

  9. matcha123

    For #3, I’d thank the person for the gift and say that in the future it’s best to avoid gifts, especially money, because it causes trouble at work.
    I’ve been in the same position. The people giving the gifts or cash are doing it as a nice gesture. I’ve kept the things. If I was given a box of chocolates, I’d take it to work and share it with my coworkers. If I was given cash or a gift certificate, I was advised not to say anything because the effort put into deciding what to do with it would have been more than the $30 or so.

    1. misspiggy

      In this case, with the giver being Chinese, refusing larger gifts may need extra tact. It would be good to say you can’t accept gifts worth more than $5; and maybe get them to do a really easy favour for the OP, like sending them some research info, so that they can expunge the sense of obligation.

  10. insert pun here

    #3 (gov’t gift), it’s really common for universities to offer an honorarium for all sorts of stuff like this — not enough money to be a payment for services, exactly, but enough to acknowledge the work you did. So the person may be thinking of it in that context. I ran into similar situations with government employees who couldn’t accept gifts or be taken out to lunch, which was a huge departure from my normal business practices. (No, I wasn’t trying to bribe anyone!) So, it may be that this person is actually doing the normal thing for her situation, but you are the exception!

    1. CMT

      Exactly. I think OP is making a way bigger deal of this than is necessary, and honestly the letter is a wee bit condescending.

    2. Illsa

      Yes THIS! I often speak at universities – sometimes for $$$$+ bit other times, if some departments have minimal-to-no budgets I may speak to a small class as a favor to a colleague who’s teaching. They are required to give a small honorarium gift in that case – typically a small gift card like the OP received and sometimes its university merch or a book from the bookshop (in those latter cases, I give them to my teenage nieces.

    3. SD

      I’m employed as a university but not as a teacher, and I’ve done a few guest lectures and other presentations to students at my and one other university – my uni, the standard practice seems to be anything from a box of chocolates to a $50 gift card, the other uni didn’t give any gifts. But that’s fine, it gave me something to put on my CV. Often at the end of presentations from guest speakers here you’ll see the MC give them a bottle of wine or similar (sometimes with a gift card tied to the bag).

      Obviously if you were representing your employer you’d have to abide by their rules, though. (If you did it in your own time, I think it should be fair game – but I don’t know how strict your rules are!)

      1. insert pun here

        Yep, I’ve gotten everything from nothing to pizza and beer to cold hard cash. All of which are fine! As long as it’s good pizza.

    4. BananaPants

      I’ve given presentations in classes and at networking/career development events at my alma mater (our flagship state university) and typically receive a coffee cup, travel mug, or some other small token with the university logo slapped on it. If it’s at an event it’s usually given by the student section of whatever professional organization is hosting the event, but for a lecture in a class it’ll come from the prof or the department.

      I work in the private sector and am allowed by my employer’s code of ethics to keep gifts under $25, particularly since it’s coming from an educational institution rather than a vendor or supplier. I have no purchasing or contracting authority anyways, but with a vendor there could be the impression of trying to curry favor via an inappropriate gift, and IMO that’s not really the same as getting a $10 piece of university swag as a thank-you for driving over an hour each way and preparing a talk for a class on my own time.

  11. Ellie H.

    For commenter #5: I worked a job in academic administration that sounds like yours in some ways – I was liaison to grad student council and sent emails for them and stuff. I did have some amount of daily interaction with students because I processed some reimbursements, paperwork, payments, award competitions etc. Over the course of a few years I did end up having a lot of interactions with students which I found really meaningful. You’ve only been there a month and as you gain more responsibility you may be able to do more of the kind of work you like. Would you consider sticking it out a bit longer to see if the job gets more interesting? Because of the way the academic year functions cyclically, different times of year have very different types of work so I don’t think you can get a really good sense of what a university job is like after just one month. Also, I started out as a temp, without the fantastic benefits, and ALSO ended up working through lunch because I didn’t have anything to do, and eventually had a full time position, all the benefits, great social connections with coworkers and putting down roots in the area. I’m just wondering if it’s worth it to give it a little longer.

    1. #5 OP

      Thank you for the encouragement! Yes, I am willing to stick it out for a little bit! My instincts are telling me that I made a mistake in taking this job- but I know I’m in a “you’ve made your bed” situation. I do need this position, because in this town, if you’re not connected in some way to an Ivy, your resume goes to the bottom of the pile. I worked in Res. Life, so I’m not shy about taking opportunities. I’ve been trying to insert myself into any developmental project or committees I can. For example, I take minutes for lots of meetings, and an issue involving student wellness advisors came up. I offered to help with how to train students to be good listeners and referal agents, and the response was kind of “wow, that’s so great that you’ve had that experience in the past- can you go order me lunch, though?”. Lots of instances have come up where I feel like people are listening to be to be polite or indulgent- but the general attitude is – but YOU don’t do that stuff.
      I’m willing to ride it out a while longer for my resume’s sake, but I know this is not what I’m meant to do. In the meantime, I’m doing everything I’m asked immediately, extremely well, and with bananas-level customer service. If I do have to bail, I want the only thing negative that can be said about me is that I left so soon.

      1. Can't Think Of A More Clever Anon Name Today

        I also think it’s good (and maybe I am wrong, I do not work in a university setting) that you are IN now. I think you stick it out 6-12 months (see if the position changes or gets better) but also, wouldn’t you now be in a better position to bid internally for other roles in the university. I know locally, a couple of the biggest employers near me are the two universities, one of the universities hospitals and an additional hospital here – and all of them seem to give preference to current employers looking to move around internally and it’s a bit more difficult for external applicants to get a foot-in but once they do they are in a much better position to make moves from inside.

        Stick it out with the best attitude about it, so that you do your best work! learn more about the role as well as more about the school as a whole. Keep a good happy attitude so that your work doesn’t suffer and that you have a better chance at moving up and around in the future. It’s so early in, and even though you feel like you made a mistake, I think if you change how you look at it, but as a foot-in, for example, you’ll feel better about it. I know financially it may be a struggle right now, but I think the experience + the foot-in + your education, you are going to prepare yourself for a better position down the line – especially if you make good connections there at present!

        Best of luck

  12. CMT

    #3 I think $25 isn’t that much, and if you didn’t work for a government agency, it totally wouldn’t be a big deal. I think you’d be the one making it awkward if you tried to discuss it with the giver. Go ahead and ask at your job about what to do with it, but when it comes to the giver, I wouldn’t do anything other than thank her.

    1. Illsa

      Can’t government employees accept paid speaking engagements? Receiving a gift card after performing a service (i.e. a class talk) ISN’T a gift.

      1. Brett

        For my state, government employees can only accept paid speaking engagements if they receive prior permission before the speaking engagement. It is much easier if the $25 is considered a gift, then the only factor is whether or not the gift is coming from a vendor (though nearly all universities near my agency are also vendors of my agencies).

      2. doreen

        Depends. I can’t accept paid speaking engagements related to my work because part of my job involves representing my agency and giving presentations to various groups ranging from other agencies, professional associations, civic organizations and high-school and college classes. (Thankfully I don’t have to do it too often). If I were non-exempt, I could arrange to make the speech on the clock , but since I’m exempt, it doesn’t matter. I can accept a paid engagement to speak about my Chocolate Teapot collection if it’s unrelated to my work. If I’m asked to speak at a conference, my agency may accept a free registration as a gift to the agency which would otherwise have to pay for me to attend. But I can’t accept a gift card .

        “Gift” can have a different definition in ethics laws than in does in normal life- it doesn’t only mean something given with nothing in return. It can also mean something you were given by an outside entity for doing something job-related . In places that have this sort of rule, it’s to avoid giving the appearance that if someone else wants the OP to speak , he or she will also need to provide a gift card. That might sound a little ridiculous, but it used to be common knowledge in my neighborhood that if you wanted the sanitation workers to pick up more than two bulk items, you had better be out there with a “gift” . I don’t know if the workers really wouldn’t pick it up- but I do know people felt they had to give the workers a “gift” whether they wanted to or not.

        The OP’s employer may not have as strict rules as mine- but s/he doesn’t know what the rules are and needs to check.

  13. JessaB

    For the e-coli thing there are two other options, find out who they work for above them and notify that agency, the easiest way to make a surprise inspection is to get someone else who has the necessary clearances to enter the building to go in and do it. The idea is to find someone outside (if the management inside isn’t helping.) There may be some kind of inspector general or oversight group. Those are the people you want to talk to. That or maybe OSHA cause rotten food in a cafeteria can make people sick and they’d know how to cut the red tape and investigate. I’m not sure if it qualifies as workplace safety (maybe for the actual food service workers safety?)

  14. Nobody

    #1 – I have no advice, but I just want to say it’s awesome of you to work so hard to put a stop to this. It especially hits home for me because I work in a place with high security, too, so I’m guessing they’re in the same boat with not getting surprise inspections.

  15. Ashley

    #1 – I wonder if it might be a good idea for this person to alert their legal department about this issue. After all, serving the employees contaminated food is practically begging for a lawsuit, especially if it results in a serious illness or worse. I suspect if the right people knew it could be affecting their pocket book, as well as the company’s reputation, that it would be taken care of rather quickly.

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