is it okay to microwave fish in the office kitchen?

I was on public radio’s Marketplace this weekend, talking about food in the office, including:

  • is it okay to microwave fish in the office kitchen?
  • people who raid your candy dish
  • cleaning out the office fridge
  • potluck moochers
  • and more

The segment is 8-1/2 minutes and you can listen here:

{ 269 comments… read them below }

  1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    Answer: No. No it is not.

    I had a coworker once who would microwave fish for breakfast. He said he was on a protein-only diet and fish and shrimp were the only things he could eat. Microwaved fish is bad enough at lunch time, but first thing in the morning…ugh ugh ugh.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I remember when this came up before, because I thought “no fish in the office microwave” was one of those blatantly obvious things, only to have many people ardently defend the practice.

      Carolyn Hax mentioned this re possibly-fake letters–no matter how obvious she thinks something, she will hear from tons of people defending the seemingly ridiculous. Like tipping 5% on a restaurant meal being fine, or staying behind to gather up all the money your dining companions left as a tip being fine.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I read that from Carolyn Hax recently too and was so glad to see her say it that way. That’s my experience too — someone will say “no way, this has to be fake” and then there will be a bunch of people in the comments saying “something similar happened to me too.”

        It’s the last question/answer here for anyone interested.

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        I’m one of the weird people who kind of likes the smell of fish in the breakroom, but I’m well aware that I’m weird, and even pleasant smells can get annoying if they’re foisted on you every day.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I mean, I work at home, and I’m pretty sure the dog, puppy, and two kittens would be EXTREMELY ENTHUSIASTIC about the smell of fish in the microwave.

      3. circus peanuts*

        I didn’t realize it was obvious until I read the letter and the reactions. My forbidden smells are cooked tomatoes, watermelon, and cucumbers.

              1. Zombeyonce*

                It seems unlikely that they ask people not to have them, just that they really don’t like the smell and avoid it.

            1. Snark*

              That’s actually a particular compound, the very long name of which escapes me at the moment, that is only present in the melon/squash family (of which cucumbers are a part) and which is kind of like cilantro in that there are certain people who nope out super-hard on it and everyone else finds it innocuous.

        1. Political staffer*

          I thought I was the only one repulsed by the smell of cucumbers. My family LOVES them and I can’t be in the same room as they eat or peel one.

      4. Antilles*

        staying behind to gather up all the money your dining companions left as a tip being fine.
        Wait, what? This is a real thing that someone asked about?
        I can’t even imagine someone doing that, much less someone honestly arguing that it’s an acceptable move. I’m pretty sure that I would immediately stop being friends with anyone who did this. If you don’t think the server deserved a tip, well, your money your rules (jerk move though). But the money that *I* left on the table is not in any way your business.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          And ostensibly it’s something they sneak to do. So if you have to sneak to do it, how do you think it’s okay?

        2. Cassie*

          As a server, I’ve seen a very nice tip left by the wife being collected by the husband before he follows her out the door. It happened to me twice in several years of serving.

          I’ve never seen it happen at a party table, though, so the dynamic I observed was not a “taking my friends’ money” vibe, but a “tired of my wife wasting my hard-earned cash on a waitress” vibe.

        3. ClownBaby*

          That is straight up thievery in my mind. I am beyond flabbergasted.

          My father leaves way-too generous of tips, but I would never pick up money he puts down. It’s not mine to grab. I have friends who are notoriously terrible tippers, so I sometime leave a little more than I would to compensate for their lacking. If I ever heard of one of them picking up my money…that would definitely leave me questioning the friendship.

          If my coworkers did something like that? I would lose all respect and seriously consider my options to report them…or I would just passive-aggressively sit at the table, outlasting them, or just directly put the tip money in the server’s hands.

          1. Jadelyn*

            It 100% is thievery. If you don’t want to leave a decent tip, ok, I mean I think less of you as a person, but that’s your decision and I’m not going to get involved. But if you take the tip that *I* was giving the server, and take that money for yourself, you have stolen from both me and the server.

            What is wrong with people???

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I love fish. I also love shrimp. You know what I love about them? They’re really good cold, especially if you get creative with the prep. This is what always gets me about these discussions; no one is saying you can’t enjoy your food, just… please don’t microwave it in the office. Those smells linger.

      Every time this comes up, I’m reminded of how weird I am because I prefer my leftovers to be cold or room temperature anyway, so unless I have soup, I am not a microwave user. Besides, heating up leftovers runs the risk of messing up the dish. That Veracruz-style sea bass has already been cooked perfectly, heating it up will ruin it!

    3. Temperance*

      OMG. I had one of those, too. She was a woman, though, so there are apparently two inconsiderate monsters out there.

    4. Marzipan*

      I had a co-worker who was allergic to fish and told us that even the smell could make her ill. I initially thought that was an exaggeration but I was absolutely wrong – fish allergies are unusual because people who have them can have quite nasty reactions from even the smell. So, it’s not just unpleasant; it can be a real heath issue as well.

      1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

        A friend of mine has severe allergies to fish and shell fish – basically if it came from the ocean he shouldn’t be around it. He met and married a woman who insisted that they serve only fish dishes at their wedding. He literally had to wear a face mask and have an epi-pen at the ready. His mom brought a special meal for him that she actually carried in and wouldn’t let anyone touch because of cross contamination fears. The bride reacted with a small tantrum and a lot of eye rolling that her new husband wouldn’t even try the food. She is one of those “food allergies are only in your head” people. So yeah… fish can be more unpleasant than the smell.
        I also worked for a company once that did this week long event with themed food days. One of the days was themed around chocolate. One guy was so allergic he had to take the day of and the day after off just so that the smell was completely out of the area.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Um… what? Is your friend still alive? And married to that creature? I do not understand such things.

            1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

              They are still married. Unhappily so. Not sure why he went through with the wedding. It’s sad. He used to have a lot of friends and since she has been around his friends have been iced out by her. It’s not a healthy relationship. I don’t understand it either.

              1. Grad student*

                I see a whole color guard of red flags waving furiously. Here’s hoping that your friend manages to make it to a happier situation, somehow.

          1. Anion*

            “Creature” is right! What kind of monstrous person ensures that her fiance is in serious danger on their wedding day and can’t enjoy the food being served?

            I’m allergic to capsicums (thankfully not fatally), and if my husband had insisted that everything served at our wedding have peppers in it, that marriage wouldn’t have happened. And that couldn’t have actually *killed* me, just made me horrendously sick.

            1. Temperance*

              I have the same allergy! For me, it’s a severe histamine reaction, and not a “real” allergy, but I’ve never come across someone in the wild who deals with it!

              1. Close Bracket*

                > it’s a severe histamine reaction, and not a “real” allergy

                I’m curious about this statement, bc “real allergies,” by which I assume you mean immune mediated reactions, do have histamatic components.

        2. Artemesia*

          And he married this person who doesn’t care if he survives the wedding reception? Wow, fish allergies are the least of his problems.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Yeah. I mean, who hears “I’ll be serving the food you’re allergic to at our wedding” and doesn’t say “well, I hope you and that other non-allergic person you are apparently going to marry have a lovely wedding – peace out?”

        3. clow*

          wow …if my fiance cared that little about me I would have dumped them..just how? How are people that awful?

        4. Falling Diphthong*

          I’ve heard of the “allergies in your head” from grandparents, but there the order is:
          1) Have parents
          2) Produce a child, who turns out to have peanut allergies
          3) Severely limit visits to (1) when they try to prove it’s all in your head, generating multiple ER trips for (2)

          If the person shows they are casual about killing you before you even have a legal relationship, I think breaking up is the answer.

          1. Artemesia*

            A child died last week at a daycare when they fed him a grilled cheese sandwich; he was severely dairy allergic (and that was of course in his records)

            Yes there are people who cry wolf about allergies, but why must people play games with other people’s lives?

        5. Luigi Board*

          This story fuckin changed me. I just read this story and I’m just sitting here gazing into nothing, trying to muster the strength to go on.

        6. The Other Katie*

          This is so horrible! I have the same allergy (to shellfish only, thankfully) and my partner won’t even order it when we’re out to avoid possible cross-contamination. He does go on shrimp binges when travelling, but he’s never knowingly put me in danger from his illicit habit. It’s just uncalled for.

        7. JessaB*

          With a lot of fish especially shellfish there are volatile oils in them, and when you cook them those particles get in the air. They can be deadly to people with allergies, I cannot imagine marrying someone who wouldn’t understand that and might try to poison me by putting fish in something I didn’t expect because they didn’t believe in allergies. Why would you marry someone who literally tried to kill you at the wedding?

      2. moosetracks*

        I am fish allergic the smell definitely makes me feel sick. While it’s not the ER worthy effects I get from accidentally consuming things cross contaminated with fish, the smell makes me feel like I’m going to throw up (the way rotten food might).

        Cooking fish releases proteins into the air that can cause allergic reactions. I think the smell’s effect on me is mainly an aversion (my body keeping me away from the food via nausea) because my allergy isn’t TOO bad (no anaphylactic shock, mainly just throwing up my entire body), but it’s still very unpleasant and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to work in a fish smelly environment.

        1. Mischa*

          Same! It’s only shellfish but it makes me swell up. People do not believe me (translation: my family doesn’t believe me) when I tell them I cannot be around cooked shellfish. I turn into a puffer fish. If I ingest it, then we’re talking ER. No fun at all.

        2. Bryce*

          I don’t have allergic reactions to the odor, but the smell of my allergens and the cross-contaminants I’ve avoided my whole life cause a lot of stress. Basically, chocolate and peanut butter smell like death. It’s not good, there’s no “aww that seems so tasty I wish I could eat that”, it completely disassociated with any pleasantness in my mind. While I believe it exists, whatever other people experience that makes them enjoy it is completely lost on me.

          You’re not alone.

          1. JessaB*

            I know people like this, I think it might be a biological adaptation to “this will kill you, I am warning you away right now, run , run fast.” I wish I had it with the mustard I’m allergic to because in so many things you cannot smell it at all.

            1. Bryce*

              I agree that’s definitely it. Had a couple of bad reactions as a kid and that’s when my strong aversion started. My sympathies on the mustard, I can imagine how often that shows up as an incidental in things.

      3. annejumps*

        We had someone allergic to fish/shellfish to the point the ambulance had to come out because she was having a reaction to the smell!

      4. Babbeh*

        Yup, fish allergy here. I’ve had to leave restaurants before, or sit outside in the cold, because the smell of fish makes me physically ill. I hate that it’s so, I don’t want to be a jerk about having allergies, but it’s the truth. And beyond getting ill there is that sort of horrible gut-reaction fear when you smell it – did it get in my food? Can I avoid it?

        Totally a first-world problem here, but my company provides hot lunch every day. And every day there’s tuna salad right next to the salad vegetables, and a couple of times a week they cook fish that stinks up the whole place. I can’t do anything to get away from it. There are like 500 people who apparently love fish, and there’s me. It sucks. I keep an epi-pen in my desk and I hope.

    5. Artemesia*

      I flew Singapore Airlines once to Singapore via Narita in Japan. I was seated in a row far enough back in coach that all the options were gone for dinner when they got to me and so I was stuck with a kind of awful fish thing. then when we left Narita, it was breakfast time for those of us coming from LA, but it was dinner time there so we had the same type meals and I was still in the row where they ran out and it was a really awful fish related meal with very slimy noodle things. I could manage it for dinner, but for break fast it was horrific.

      There are no good excuses for microwaving fish in the workplace if there is not good ventilation and it is going to stink up the place. It is not the only protein — the guy should have switched to some sort of smoothie for breakfast and the guy on the interview tape should have done the same — use his leftover fish broccoli casserole for dinner the next day and bring a ham sandwich, or cheese and crackers or the leftover chicken casserole for lunch.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Sure, you think it’s a dare, and then it turns out to be an entire protein shake subculture.

      1. wanda*

        “really awful fish related meal with very slimy noodle things” This phrase rubs me the wrong way around culturally-influenced descriptions of food. It’s fine if you don’t want to eat fish for breakfast, but lots of people around the world do and enjoy it. Indeed, eating fish and noodles for breakfast is probably good sight more healthy than eating, say, pancakes and bacon.

        1. Coffee*

          It was on a plane, though. I enjoy scrambled eggs for breakfast at home but the rubbery abomination you get on a plane when you get scrambled eggs is an altogether different kettle of fish.

          1. JessaB*

            Yes and the problems with on a plane and atmosphere and plane air and lousy cooking equipment…it’s really hard to make meals on a plane, cooks try very hard to come up with things that can be heated on a plane and still taste reasonably decent. There’s a whole science to it that airlines spend a fortune on trying to feed people in the air. A lot of it was developed in the space programmes around the world for use by astronauts, because being in the air/in space plays merry heck with your tastebuds. So even something that tastes good on the ground, the same exact thing prepared exactly the same way will taste awful on a plane. And noodles are an issue. A big one, so for noodle eating cultures even their good stuff tastes somewhat weird in the air.

            I remember a cooking show, I wanna say Top Chef but it could have been any of them, where they were asked to make a meal for service on board a plane and the tasters/voters on the meals were pilots and air crew, they were given I think lists and instructions about how things taste different and were given a demonstration about it. It was really interesting how MUCH work goes into trying to put food on a plane that’s edible.

        2. DArcy*

          Yeah, that description pretty much presses all the, “White person hypocritically throwing a fit over perfectly normal Asian food while herself microwaving horrendously stinky Western food” buttons.

          Seriously, I’ve never ever seen any “office food etiquette” rules that weren’t absolutely loaded with Western white person cultural bias — and as a result, I will push back aggressively on any such etiquette.

          1. MakesThings*

            I mean, yes, these things differ by culture, but if enough people in your office are offended by a specific smell, maybe don’t push back on that? Because at that point, you become the asshole.

            1. MakesThings*

              Actually, even if just one person is very sensitive, told you about it, and you’re pushing back hard, you’re already the asshole. Minimizing irritants for others is a basic level of decency, when you’re forced to spend time with others in a cooperative setting.

          2. JessaB*

            Yes, I think it’s the word “slimy ” that pushes my culture buttons, because I get how texture can be a huge thing food wise. It’s not the OMG ick, it’s the language of description. I think.

      2. Sandman*

        That may have been the Japanese breakfast option. Cold fish is a pretty standard breakfast there (I’ve never been able to handle fish in the morning, either; I stick with the rice in that case).

    6. Mrs. Fenris*

      I can actually get away with microwaving fish or other relatively smelly things. I work in an animal hospital. The break room is downstairs in the kennel area, and the microwave is used to heat up dog food (for picky eaters) on the regular. Strong smelling human food isn’t really any worse. :-)

  2. Rusty Shackelford*

    It is also not acceptable to leave half an onion unwrapped in the community refrigerator. Especially when there’s plastic wrap in the drawer right next to the fridge.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you use the link above, the recording is just my segment so it starts right at the beginning!

      But if you’re listening to the whole show (which you can do here), then it starts at 14:09.

      1. hayling*

        I listen on transit that goes underground with no cell service, so I always download everything in my podcast app first. It actually isn’t showing in the Marketplace Weekend feed, otherwise I’d listen on my way home! :(

  3. BadPlanning*

    I accidentally outed a fish microwaver. I had returned from lunch and thought our cube area smelled awful. I went for a walk with a coworker and on way back, I asked, “Does our cube area smell bad to you?” Then he confessed he had microwaved fish for lunch and apologized. Then I apologized. We had a good laugh. He promised to never do it again.

    1. kas*

      This happened to me! I complained about the smell to a coworker and asked “who would eat this in an office?!” and it was her. We were both embarrassed and that was the last time I commented on a food smell.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I outed a broccoli microwaver. That was, to this date, the most disgusting thing I have ever smelled in an office, and to give you a sense of how powerfully bad it was, the microwave was all the way around the corner from our cube farm, with a conference room in between. I love broccoli, but I swear I had never smelled anything like that. She felt bad and I felt bad, and we remained friends, but dang, that was a lesson learned in not microwaving smelly stuff in the office.

      I would amend the “rule” to “Please do not heat up fish or cruciferous vegetables in the office microwave.”

      1. paul*

        I rarely eat microwaved food at work anyway, but I’ve never thought most broccoli smells bad microwaved. we cook it that way at home 2-3x a week usually–between the four of us, we’ll go through a pound or more a meal sometimes.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          It was wild. I didn’t think it was possible. I don’t know what was in that broccoli, but it smelled like sulfur-tinged mustard. It might have been the quality of the broccoli, or the time of year; I find early-season cruciferous veggies to be more pungent than mid-winter ones. I also think it was because it was already cooked and then reheated.

          1. Rachael*

            At LastJob someone microwaved broccoli and cauliflower and there was an almost witch hunt with pitchforks to find the person. It was so awful on the ENTIRE floor that people couldn’t concentrate because the odor had gotten into the vents and was circulating. The weird thing was that once the perp was found, the vegetables didn’t smell at all standing next to him, but the entire breakroom was biohazard status.

            1. The Other Katie*

              At my last office job there was an ongoing war over someone who deliberately burned her popcorn first thing in the morning. It ended with one person being fired. Not the popcorn killer, but she stopped after that, I assume on pain of consequences.

              1. Artemesia*

                Why wasn’t someone fired the third time they burned popcorn? My grandchild likes those cobs of popcorn and I managed to ignite the cob the other day while the kernels were still popping. I thought we would die before that smell disappeared.

                1. JulieBulie*

                  I was so excited when I saw one of those microwave popcorn cobs in the store. Yadda yadda yadda, fire. Didn’t want to use the microwave oven again for a long time. Wish I could have moved out of the house.

                  Before I saw The Other Katie’s comment, I was going to ask if anyone else had the same problem with burnt popcorn smell that I have. I see the answer is YES. I’m really curious as to why the popcorn-burner wasn’t fired, but someone else was – unless the popcorn-burner was retaliating for something much worse, but even then it’s hard to imagine.

                2. The Other Katie*

                  Honestly, I don’t know. I think it was because of seniority reasons, TBH. I’d think it was a firing offence myself.

              2. Alienor*

                I used to sit across from a woman who burned a bag of popcorn every day at three o’clock sharp. I could never understand how she had a college degree and a professional job, but couldn’t figure out how to make microwave popcorn without charring it.

                1. JessaB*

                  The problem with popcorn is that the instructions are “listen for the pops,” anyone with any kind of hearing issue even a minor one, or just someone who doesn’t want to stand and listen, who just puts it in for the amount on the package and walks away will end up with about 75% of the time burnt popcorn.

                  The basic time on most packages is actually too long if you can’t hear, or don’t actually listen for the pops.

                  I being hearing impaired burnt a LOT of popcorn before realising that I really had to put it for at least 30 seconds LESS than what was on the wrapper. You get a few more unpopped kernels but you don’t burn it as often.

                  tl;DR most times on popcorn packages are incredibly subjective based on microwave power and your ability/desire to listen for the pops.

              3. Popcorn Shame*

                I accidentally burned popcorn at work once and I almost died of shame. That is the worst smell and the microwave was almost unusuable after that. I swear, I only stepped out of the kitchen for a second!!!

          2. seejay*

            Broccoli’s one of those foods that when it goes bad, it is utter STANK. I love broccoli but when it starts to turn in my fridge, it doesn’t even make it to the compost bin, it goes straight out to the garbage or external composter. That isn’t sitting in my apartment.

            1. T3k*

              I love broccoli but the next morning that trash bag is in the trash bin outside because the scraps smell so awful.

      2. D.W.*

        I love to eat all cooked vegetables cold. I bring in cold broccoli and just taking the top off my dish emits a very strong, pungent odor. I don’t need to heat it up!

      3. ClownBaby*

        Someone outed me for heating up Brussels sprouts. I felt terrible. I had no idea the smell was that unpleasant! No spices or anything…just roasted in a drizzle of oil with salt.

        Fish seems like it should be common sense not to heat up in a communal microwave/room…but maybe everyone is as dopey about fish as I was about Brussels sprouts….and apparently broccoli…I don’t think I’ve ever brought broccoli to work, but now I will definitely make sure that I don’t!

        1. seejay*

          Interestingly, brussels sprouts are ok when you first make them. It’s when you reheat them that they turn into the most gawdawful unholiest of stenches. The first time I made brussels sprouts with fried (fake) bacon, they were awesome. I put the rest in the fridge for later, then when I took it out and reheated it, I almost yarked. The rest went in the garbage after that, I couldn’t eat them. Basically, only make enough that can be eaten all at once.

        2. T3k*

          As someone who’s half Asian and grew up on a regular diet that included fish at least once a week, it never occurred to me that others wouldn’t like the smell of fish like I do. Nobody ever said anything though at work when I’d bring leftover fish to heat up (maybe twice a month?). Brussels sprouts though, ugh. My mom and I get into yelling wars over how awful it smells (to me) while she loves it.

      4. just don't*

        My old boss used to reheat leftover broccoli and salmon together. It was gawdawful.
        It came in handy when I was interviewing for my current job as an answer for “What would you change about your current supervisor?” (He was otherwise an okay boss.)

      5. Mrs. Fenris*

        Oh goodness…I left broccoli in the microwave once the night before we WENT ON VACATION. We came home to 5 day old broccoli in the microwave. Never again. I am fanatical about making sure the microwave and the kitchen trash can are pristine before we go out of town.

      6. annejumps*

        Oh my god, yes. YEARS ago someone microwaved a BOWL of broccoli and I remember it clearly because it smelled like hot garbage.

  4. callietwo*

    I loathe fish, the smell makes me queasy and I work in cubicle hell with multiple fish microwavers… it’s awful. I said something once and was promptly shut down and told to stuff it, basically.

    And don’t get me started on the gross, gross, gross state of our microwave units. I recently brought in white vinegar and steam cleaned both as they were just that bad. And I don’t clean, my husband cleans, so you know it’s bad when I do it. I brought out the two microwave steam covers and sent an email letting people know we actually have the covers. Still only took two days for it to be gross again.

    1. Still Lurking*

      The microwave at work (reason I mostly bring a salad from home or use the microwaves in the café that are cleaned daily) and the state of the bathrooms by 1pm are the reason why I never participate in potlucks nor eat whatever *most people have brought in from home. I don’t like health related surprises.

      1. D.W.*

        Same. Unless I’ve been to your house, seen your kitchen, and ok’d it. Hard pass on any food folks cook and bring in. I don’t trust people. And people have very different ideas of what “clean” and “sanitary” are.

      1. nonymous*

        Clean! I’ve worked with guys who leave dirty dishes (scraped but not rinsed) in the sink. They definitely don’t do that at home. Some people will just push it as far as they can.

        1. Amadeo*

          Yup. I was going to say this. People (in general) are more likely to mistreat and neglect items that they won’t have to pay to replace/don’t belong to them. So the microwave at home is spotless, but who cares if food spatters in the one at work? Someone Else (TM) will clean it up.

  5. Falling Diphthong*

    From Alison’s response to the first linked letter:

    I’m pretty sure that the issue of how to keep the office kitchen clean will still be unresolved on the day that our dying sun goes red giant and consumes the earth.

    1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

      Ha! This is so true. I am so grateful that my department decided to solve this problem by throwing money at it – in that they hired a full-time custodian for our building only. He is a Magical Glorious Unicorn and I love him. The kitchen, the bathrooms, everything is so clean!

    2. Overeducated*

      Let it be known that I made a delicious fish curry for dinner last week and, out of pity for my colleagues, ate the leftovers at home instead of packing them for lunch.

  6. Fabulous*

    I confess that have been a perpetrator a couple times… but in my defense it’s a frozen dinner tilapia, breaded with a parmesan crust! You can’t even smell the fish!

    1. Hc600*

      Yeah I microwave the lean cuisine of that and I don’t think it leaves a smell, especially not compared to other things people bring in.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Sometimes someone in my office will heat up breaded frozen fish in the toaster oven, and you’re right, it’s hard to smell. At least, it smells like breaded/fried food, not like fish.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I am the owner of a very highly tuned sense of smell. I can smell fish being microwaved on another floor. I can smell the Filet-O-Fish someone brings back for lunch. I can smell the tuna salad sandwich before I see it when Panera caters one of our meetings. None of these are horribly offensive, and I’m sure your frozen tilapia isn’t, either, Fabulous. But I guarantee you somebody else can smell the fish!

      Don’t get me started on people who apply fragrance like they did in those Jean-Nate and Aqua Velva commercials in the 70s.

      1. Temperance*

        I’m one of these, too. The biggest turnoff, for me, is the smell of yogurt. I can smell it yards away, and it smells like rotten milk.

      2. Nic*

        There’s a person in my building who uses too much fragrance. I can tell they’ve arrived for shift from three rooms away.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Likewise. I actually love seafood but it’s the kind of thing you re-heat at home, with the exhaust fan and air purifiers on ‘High Speed’.

    4. Cath*

      The Lean Cuisine fish absolutely smells.
      Source: that time I was throwing up in the breakroom garbage can from the smell and noticed the box.

    5. LT*

      I’ve had mixed success with microwaving fish in the office. If I have to microwave something that will splatter or that might have a strong smell and could stand some steaming, I usually drape a wet paper towel over my container and it seems to work as a splatter guard and to somewhat contain any aromas. However, I tend to not bring fish into the office that much, anyways, because I do want to be mindful of any smells that might come off of it.
      Someone microwaved fish in the office today and it stank! I was semi-fortunate to be having congestion issues and being unable to smell much anyways.

  7. shep*

    I’ve found myself in a lunchtime pinch where the only thing I had prepared the night before was tilapia. I’m consumed with shame but also conscious of my budget, so if I have the fish, I’m probably gonna eat the fish.

    It happens maybe once a year, but it happens.

    1. Observer*

      But, it’s very rare that you can’t eat it cold. That’s what I find puzzling about a lot of this.

      1. Hotstreak*

        I microwave my fish for 30-45 seconds. Long enough that it’s not fridge temp, but not so long that it’s hot enough to start smelling.

  8. jmm*

    Candy dish on the desk = everyone is welcome to 1-2 pieces every day or so
    Candy hidden in my desk = my special delicious treasure trove that helps me to cope with work ;)

    1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

      I bring the bulk of my kids trick or treat horde into the office. I go around filling the random jars and dishes that are all over the office for everyone to enjoy. I hold back several handfuls of my favorites and stick them in a desk drawer or in a jar that I keep wedged behind the monitor on my desk (not the bit accessible or on display. It even has a sealed lid that requires effort to get it off.) There is one woman in my office who has actually opened my desk drawer (while I’m sitting here!) to try to access my stash. I’ve also stepped away from my desk and have come back to find her leaning over my desk to try to put the jar back in it’s position behind my monitor. I think I scared her the last time she did it because I yelled – literally raised my voice at her which is something that I never do.

  9. Case of the Mondays*

    Here’s a tip if you are ever desperate to eat hot fish at work. Microwave some rice until it is steaming hot. Take it out, and bury the fish under the rice. Keep the whole thing covered. Wait 5-10 minutes. The hot rice will heat the fish. The fish never goes in the microwave and it doesn’t smell. You basically steam reheat your fish. Could work w/ veggies too but I’ve only done it with rice.

    1. Jesca*

      This is genius. Not just for fish (i hate fish), but my brain is already turning on so many other things that microwaves ruin!

    2. JAM*

      This is my secret too! You might still ping on the radar of the person who can smell fish within 500 miles but you’ve done the polite thing and kept it out of the microwave.

    3. Anion*

      An added tip if you have a rice dish to microwave reheat: add a splash of water to the bowl. It will help the rice stay fluffy and soft, as opposed to that weird hard texture it can take when reheated. (It works with any cooked pasta dish, too, and in the oven.)

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

        You can do something similar with bread in an oven. Sprinkle water on it, wrap it up in foil, and throw it in a moderate oven for a while. Exact time will vary but what you want is for the steam to permeate the bread with no soggy bits.

        I’ve done this with stale hard rolls by just running the whole rolls under the faucet and then baking them in foil, and they came out like freshly baked soft rolls!

  10. BBBizAnalyst*

    I bring fish but it’s usually salmon that I’ve tossed over greens to make a salad.

    I actually find that microwaved broccoli is worse than microwaved fish. That stinks and I love broccoli but never will I bring it to work.

  11. kas*

    I love fish but I refuse to bring the leftovers to work because I’m afraid it might smell. Another food I don’t think belongs in an office is boiled eggs, I cannot handle the smell.

    1. jmm*

      Last spring, my office experienced the Boiled Egg Disaster of 2017 — someone put a pan of water on the stove with several eggs in it, heated it up, and completely forgot about it. The next morning, we all arrived to a horrible burned/rotten egg smell that permeated our entire (huge) building. Gross, gross, gross. No one ever admitted to leaving the pan cooking on the stove, and our big boss declared that we were not to use the stove ever again.

      1. NLMC*

        This happened at a friend’s house in college and the smell was just awful. As much as I hate fish in the microwave I’ll take that over burned hard boiled eggs any day.

      2. ClownBaby*

        I just gagged.

        Once I was lazy and didn’t immediately clean a pan that I used to hard boil eggs, though I off course poured out the water…the next day my apartment reeked. No one else seemed to think the odor was as nauseating as I did (they just said it smelled like boiled eggs)…but it made me a very fervent cleaner whenever I get a hankering for deviled eggs.

        That smell lingers though. I can’t even imagine eggs left over night…

  12. Merida Ann*

    I have congenital anosmia, meaning that I was born without a sense of smell. I know (mainly from this blog) that fish and popcorn are basically off limits, and I don’t ever eat anything with curry (which I know is a more debated issue), but since I can’t smell anything myself, I have no idea what other foods might “linger”. Are there any other food items that must be avoided at all costs? Usually the only items I’ll bring in to heat up in the office microwave for lunch are frozen Lean Cuisine type meals or leftover pizza, but I’d rather know what to avoid just in case. The only time I’ve had a coworker comment on the smell of my food was to say “ooh, pizza” once when he passed me in the hall right as I left the kitchen, but I’m always paranoid since I have no idea about the range of the food’s smell. (And, yes, I do still have a sense of taste even though I can’t smell.)

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Brussel sprouts and cabbage are on my avoid list.

      Personally, I also hate the smell of chicken fried steak, but it doesn’t linger, so I can deal with it. I think the problem with a lot of smelly foods is that they stink and/ linger.

      1. JeanB in NC*

        Yes, it’s definitely the lingering part of the equation – I mean, I can put up with a lot of smells temporarily but often someone will heat up something that makes me nauseous and it just lasts all day!

    2. Sylvan*

      Seafood in general, not just fish. Microwaved broccoli smells bad, but it’s fine cold. A lot of people have strong opinions on the scent of onions and garlic (both cooked and raw). While the smell doesn’t “carry” as far as fish does, it lingers for a very long time. Would comparing scent to another sense help my comment make more sense?

      1. Sylvan*

        Oh, also, eggs.

        My sense of smell is on the really bad side of normal. I’ve kind of done a lot of trial and error and asked people which scents bother them. Fish, burnt popcorn, eggs, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage seem to be the worst offenders in the microwave.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      Unhelpfully, my experience is that if you ask the Internet at large what you should not eat in the workplace, you will get a list so idiosyncratic as to be unhelpful. Like one person will put applesauce or almond butter or marinara sauce on the “clearly ok” list and another on the “no you fool who would do that?” list. So best to ask your nearest coworkers something like “Hey, I’m planning on warming up my spaghetti for lunch, will that bother you?”

    4. JAM*

      Both of my brothers have anosmia and I have some smell issues too so I’m used to being this kind of life coach. You’re right that curries are debated but I tend to find those with a tomato base go over better in the microwave wars. Green vegetables and eggs can be trouble too. And some people comment on deep fried things being reheated, but I’m not sure if they are complaining. I think that smell just lingers, even if it isn’t offensive. Hot dogs are another one that I’ve heard come up but we had a guy who would heat up like 10 hot dogs and eat them all day so that smell definitely lingered.

    5. SusanIvanova*

      Frozen fried chicken. When microwaves were new people would heat up fried chicken that was meant to be heated in a normal oven. I think it’s the bones cooking, and that’s why there’s more boneless frozen chicken now.

    6. Popcorn Shame*

      Eggs and seafood are the worst offenders for me personally and for (at least most of) my coworkers. I personally love the smell of roasted veggies like broccoli but I know it bothers other people. Same thing with parmesan cheese, really most hard cheeses have a smell that bothers some people.

      Oh, banana peels! I eat a banana most days but I always throw it away in the covered kitchen trash (not my desk trash can) because it will really smell after a while. Not “bad” but just a very strong banana smell.

  13. just another day*

    I get it – I really do (and I don’t cook seafood in the microwave), but I have a question:
    What about fish or seafood chowder that I bring in that I warmed at home or bought as ready-made at the store (and I eat it in my office, but the door is open)? I have a terrible sense of smell and I have no idea if I am driving my co-workers crazy. Thoughts?

    Now I’m paranoid that people will think that my question is a fake post (!), but I really am wondering about this because fish is one of my primary proteins (I have to watch my mercury levels!).

    1. Infinity Anon*

      Freshly cooked fish has a different smell than reheated fish that doesn’t bother most people.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I find that it’s the act of cooking something in the microwave that makes things linger. Not to say that your chowder is scent-free, but to me, it’s kind of a different animal. Personally, I do eat things in my office that are kind of smelly (canned salmon, leftover strong curries, kimchi, homemade pickles) but I wouldn’t cook them in a communal space or vessel. (I’m lucky and close my office door when I get paranoid.) Those smells dissipate, especially if they’re cold or contained.

      We cannot expect our offices to be entirely free of smells. I would much rather smell your chowder– which also has potatoes and spices and other yummy things in it– as I walk by your office than the scent of heated mackerel as I try to prepare something in the communal kitchen. Other people’s mileage may vary, of course.

    3. just another day*

      Thank you so much for your replies! I was hoping that I wasn’t just fooling myself into thinking that bringing it in already warm was different than cooking it!


  14. RB*

    It’s sad to me that in the whole realm of “good smells” vs “bad smells” something as healthy as a heated salmon filet got lumped into the bad smells category. There are lots of weird cooking smells, e.g. cooked cauliflower, cooked liver, burnt popcorn, certain ethnic foods. People shouldn’t be lambasted for eating their preferred lunch in their preferred medium (hot vs cold). If that’s the worst thing you have to deal with regularly in your office life, you’ve got a pretty good job. Why are we such delicate souls when it comes to smells? Be glad you don’t have a really smelly co-worker in the next cube.

    1. SeltzerForever*

      Because smells can give me a really terrible headache, for one thing. And then I have to go home because I can’t focus on my work. And then someone else has to pick up the slack for me. Maybe even the person who brought in the fish in the first place.

      1. RB*

        I know that certain smells can cause adverse reactions for certain people, but, not being one of those people, I thought it was usually perfumes, or artifically-scented items like cosmetics, candles, soaps, room deodorizers, etc. I didn’t know that might also apply to food odors. Are there certain categories of foods that would set off that reaction?

        1. JeanB in NC*

          I will literally get sick to my stomach, to the point of almost barfing, at the smell of frying butter. Granted, that doesn’t usually happen in an office, but it’s an example of a strong reaction.

        2. JB*

          Turkey Bacon.

          Another really fun one is the layered effect as people heat food during the day. Eggs and turkey backon, then fish, then pasta w/ garlic sauce, then popcorn.

        3. SeltzerForever*

          Fish tends to do it the most for me. It may be all in my head, but it’s related to my mom cooking fish at home for my dad, and that smell permeating our whole tiny house and just be horrendously disgusted by it.
          Same goes for canned spinach cooking or the La Choy canned chow mein stuff. Those three smells can give me a blinding headache.

        4. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

          Sometimes any strong smell gives me a headache, even if I find the smell pleasant. Roasting chicken in the oven, banana bread baking, real Christmas trees, incense, and my favourite soap are all things that have given me a headache at one time or another. I really don’t know why, and it doesn’t happen every time.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*


      Foods don’t smell pleasant just because they’re healthy. Fish is used as an example, not the alpha and omega of foods you shouldn’t microwave at work. Other foods also have strong smells that are generally considered unpleasant, as you pointed out. People shouldn’t be lambasted for having aversions or strong reactions to certain smells. And please don’t play the “other people have worse problems” game. It’s neither kind nor helpful.

      (BTW, when I cook salmon at home, I don’t even like the way it makes my house smell. It would be thoughtless to make my office smell like that, no matter how yummy and healthy my salmon is.)

      1. Antilles*

        And please don’t play the “other people have worse problems” game. It’s neither kind nor helpful.
        Especially given that every job in the modern US is practically Heaven on Earth compared with what people dealt with for most of human history. I mean, no matter how bad it gets, my job will probably *never* be more miserable than a factory worker from 1887 or a peasant farmer from the Middle Ages. Does that mean I’m never allowed to complain?

      2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*


        I do like fish but I nearly always cook it in foil and put the foil in the trash outside as soon as dinner is over. It smells good while I’m eating it but not so great the next morning. It has nothing to do with how healthy it is.

        1. Mrs. Fenris*

          I love fish. But I hate having ANY food smells lingering in my house. As soon as dinner is over, that stuff needs to be GONE. Trash gets taken out, pans get washed, often set outside on the deck to cool off before they are washed. I mean, GONE.

    3. kas*

      Some people are very sensitive to certain smells which makes it hard to work. Also the smell of burnt popcorn makes me sick. I love fish but I would never bring it to work because I know others might not like the smell … I try to be considerate of others.

      1. Hlyssande*

        There are days when I cannot abide the scent of coffee without nausea and a massive headache. I sit very close to the coffee nook in the office and it makes things…unpleasant sometimes.

    4. Temperance*

      It was frankly nauseating to have to smell stinky fish first thing in the morning, nearly every day. It wasn’t a mere “weird smell”, it was strong, pungent, and wafted out to the reception area, where our guests would occasionally comment on the smell.

      1. Artemesia*

        This is when management needs to step in hard. A professional workplace should not stink and that goes triple for one in which clients are present. I once was in a small office suite that had a kitchenette and the AAs discovered the stove and decided to fry chicken. Important clients were coming in that day and our whole office smelled like a KFC. That was when the manager indicated that no meals were to be cooked in the kitchenette and that nothing pungent was to be heated in the microwave. It is pretty bad management to allow someone to heat stinky fish every morning that wafts out to the reception area.

    5. circus peanuts*

      Strong colognes and perfumes are migraine triggers for me. I am sorry if you consider me a delicate soul for that.

      1. Artemesia*

        I stayed locked in the office for 3 mos one time because a visiting expert from the Middle East doused himself in horrifying cologne and it permeated the whole floor. I would get a headache in a meeting with him. As a woman I felt I could not approach him on this; I begged the man who brought him in to say something but he refused. It was horrifying. If it had not been for the international cultural awkward thing I would have been pretty aggressive about it and if I had not had my own office, I would have felt compelled to do something.

    6. The Other Katie*

      It’s an actual problem, not a delicate flower sort of situation. I’m actually allergic to aerosolised shellfish proteins (which happen in fish microwaving). What is a “live and let live” situation for you is an “actually could kill me one of these times and make me intensely sick until then” situation for me. I’d actually prefer the stinky co-worker, since BO doesn’t cause breathing problems.

      1. A Girl Has No Name*

        This is the same issue for me, except with fish. I am allergic to fish, and I have a genuine and strong physical reaction to fish smells. I’m not being a precious snowflake about it; I am actually allergic and strong fish smells put me down for the count (nausea, severe headache, weakness). I physically wouldn’t be able to continue work.

    7. callietwo*

      The fish is the worst culprit because it makes the microwave unusable for hours due to the transfer to other foods. It’s beyond just annoying to me as it makes me so sick to my stomach. Nothing like having a nice meal (or beverage!) to warm up only to find it’s inedible.

  15. RB*

    I agree with the broccoli and boiled egg comments but it seems rather juvenile for us to have to keep a mental list of which heated foods might offend the sensibilities of our co-workers. The great thing about weird smells is that if you’re around them for a few minutes you stop smelling them (“olfactory adaptation”). It will only start bothering you again if you leave the area and come back in (before the odor has dissipated).

    1. Brandy*

      Soo true. You eat a delicious dinner, you head outside for a second and come back in full from dinner, and no matter how good it was your full, it smells bad.

    2. clow*

      First, this isnt always true, sometimes the smell keeps being smelly even after a few minutes, second, people dont just dislike smells, they can leave very lasting consequences, for example, I threw up and had a headache because the jerk next to me microwaved fish first thing in the morning (I wouldnt have called him a jerk except he then, after i threw up, complained how many people complained to him all the time about his fish). If I throw up and get a headache because of someone else’s food, than yes, it is still bothering me after a few minutes. To me, it is juvenile to keep heating up food that you know bothers the majority of people around you. Most especially when that food is quite easily eaten cold.

  16. Really?*

    Can I be contrary?

    Is it okay to microwave fish in the office kitchen? Yes, always.

    Why is it the norm that we think someone should be considerate by not eating foods that are acceptable to eat? And not that we should be considerate and not complain about someone eating food that is acceptable to eat?

    I have no problem with coworkers heating fish. It doesn’t smell pungent or strong to me. Or other “smelly” foods because they word here is “foods.” If someone was making crack in the office microwave, I would have a problem. But we’re not talking about smelly, non-food items. We’re talking about food. That is acceptable for people to eat. It should be acceptable to eat it in the office.

    I do hate the smell of artificial cinnamon – so should my coworkers be prohibited from chewing cinnamon gum around me? No, that would be ridiculous. Just like someone who likes to eat fish shouldn’t be prohibited from doing so.

    We’re talking about food that a majority of the world consumes. Lets act like it.

    1. Artemesia*

      There are two ways of looking at the commons. When I was young I was taught ‘don’t be loud (run around, cook smelly foods, throw things etc etc) in the public space because it belong to everyone and we should be considerate of how what we do impacts others) Today a fair percentage of the population seems to view public space as ‘well it is public and so I can do anything I want and screw everyone else because it is a public space.’

      1. Allison*

        In other words there are two approaches: 1) be considerate so everyone can enjoy the space and 2) it’s there for everyone to use, so take advantage, if people don’t like it they can either learn to deal or retreat to a more private space.

      2. PainScientist*


        Will add, context changes this a lot. Kids don’t get a pass but get more understanding, *especially* if they’re really little (just-started-running-age to six or seven). Many behaviors in the commons of a park or on the street are acceptable with no judgement that wouldn’t be in an office breakroom, public transportation, or in a library.

        Intentionally inflicting smells on other people that you know many people take issue with, even if you personally do not? Especially in an enclosed area that others have no ability to flee? That seems pretty cruel. A coworker chewing gum with a smell you don’t like (a smell you can probably avoid by moving a few extra feet from that coworker) is not very comparable to a coworker creating a food smell many people find nauseating that will permeate the entire space (not avoidable).

      3. SoCalHR*

        this is a very articulate way of describing the situation, as well as describing the decline of enjoyment of public space.

    2. AnonAnonAnonBATMAN*

      You’d have an issue with the smell of crack being made, but not the fact that crack itself was literally being made? LOL

      (I know that’s probably not how you meant it, it’s just how it struck me. LOL)

    3. AnonToday*

      I agree that this rule can get sort of out of hand quickly. I personally don’t like it when people pop popcorn in the microwave, even though I like popcorn, just because its such a strong smell that gets everywhere. I feel very grateful that my office’s microwaves are a) cleaned constantly by our custodial staff and b) far from our desks. But I do think policing what food people eat at the office veers into dangerous territory- the woman on the other side of my cube wall eats durian (stinky fruit) at her desk, but I put up with it.

      1. AnonAnonAnonBATMAN*

        Durian?!?!? Oh heck to the NO! That’s a food I would ban outright if I was The Office Queen.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        I mean, the list of foods that I have seen people describe as offensive includes

        – fish
        – popcorn
        – cabbage
        – garlic
        – onion
        – Brussels sprouts
        – pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.
        – Freshly cooked eggs
        – Cold boiled eggs
        – peanut butter
        – other nut butters
        – chips and crackers
        – bagels and pretzels
        – cream cheese
        – apples
        – oranges
        – other citrus fruits
        – bananas
        – tomatoes
        – tomato sauce
        – curry
        – all Indian food
        – Chinese food
        – “ethnic food” (wince)
        – yogurt
        – granola and cereal
        – dried fruit
        – jerky
        – cookies
        – hard candies
        – candies with cookie or caramel parts
        – drinks with ice
        – tea and coffee

        I’m sure I’m forgetting some. And this is just on AAM!

        Which leads me to believe that the only realistic thing to do is to ask your coworkers. It might be that they hate the smell of plain yogurt but are fine with your Brussels sprouts and salmon curry. Or vice versa. But there is simply no way to be universally inoffensive. Focus on being inoffensive to actual coworkers.

        1. emmylou*

          Agreed. There is such an apparently endless list of things people are sensitive to that it really should be about your particular context/coworkers/given day. Back to the “slightly awkward conversations solve a lot of problems” message of AAM ;-).

          1. Turtle Candle*

            And after posting I realized that I’d forgotten bacon, ham, mustard, watermelon, cucumber, feta, hummus, refried beans, sushi-rice, broccoli, seaweed, baby carrots, celery, ranch dressing, Italian dressing, blue cheese dressing, blue cheese other things, cheddar, corned beef, mint, cilantro, mapo tofu, and sautéed bell peppers as other peoples’ no-fly foods!

            Which, yeah. At some point you just gotta say, “Hey, I’m preparing/heating up my lunch in here, let me know if there’s anything you’d really rather I didn’t cook.”

        2. nonprofit fun*

          Blarrrrgh I hate complaints about “ethnic food”. All food is “ethnic”, because it was all created by someone with an ethnicity. Sometimes I feel that complaints about food smells veer pretty dangerously into punishing people who don’t eat food familiar to white Americans. I love all kinds of food, but I am an Indian person, I cook Indian food at home, and that’s what comes into the office with me for lunch.

          Although, I’ve never personally had complaints from folks at the office. Most comment that my lunch smells delicious!

      3. Artemesia*

        In the far east there are signs in the hotel that durians may not be brought on the premises; there are signs in public transport that say ‘no durians’. It is insane that someone should be eating limburger cheese, or durian (which is slightly worse) or very pungent fish in a communal space.

    4. fposte*

      Because the non-intrusive preference generally is dominant to the intrusive preference, and the ultimate purpose of the venue is dominant over the secondary purpose. Which means–stuff you do at work that gets into other people’s faces and makes it hard for them to work has less right than their desire for that not to be done.

    5. WeevilWobble*

      Most people don’t consume fish by microwaving it (which is a unique smell.)

      If you share a space you should be considerate of the majority of people there. It’s kitchen democracy.

    6. Big City Woman*

      I agree. While there may be times that someone’s microwaved food creates unpleasant odors at work, it would never occur to me to have any sort of food banned or hassle someone about it.

      I think the bigger problem is that, usually, not enough thought has gone to where the kitchen is located, ventilation, etc. Find an out-of-the-way spot, don’t have cubicles or offices right next to it, and make sure that there is a way to ventilate smells without circulating them throughout the workplace.

      And a kitchen shouldn’t be an expectation. I worked for over four years in a place that had no kitchen. We had a fridge where we could keep food, but no microwave or water cooler, and we were not allowed to put food in the garbage cans on any days that garbage collection was not scheduled (we stepped outside to the trash cans on the street). People get so up in arms over “kitchen conduct,” but forget that it’s not a necessity.

  17. ladycrim*

    My company’s former office had a small kitchen that was next to the area I sat in. One day a co-worker brought in a George Foreman grill and cooked fish on it. The office was a cloud of fish stink all day. Please don’t cook fish at work!

  18. Anon please today*

    This reminded me of a fun but slightly off-topic story. There is a department in my office that has a secret tradition of a toaster-oven Christmas party. It’s secret because it would be considered a fire hazard if word got out. It has apparently been going on for many years as a very low-key thing. People bring in a toaster oven and a dish that can be cooked in a toaster oven. I’ve never smelled any of those foods but I’m one floor away from them.

  19. LadyKelvin*

    I work in a fish-adjacent field in a culture where fish is the primary protein which people consume, so fish in the office microwave is a daily occurrence. Thankfully most people heat their food in the microwaves in the cafe instead of in the offices, so the fish smell is generally masked by all the smells from the restaurant.

  20. Allison*

    Slightly tangential question, is it okay to be possessive with the food you bring in to have on hand. I’ve come in to find that someone finished off my cream cheese, or noticed that someone has pilfered a cheese stick from the bag I brought *and* labeled. Does anyone find it selfish when someone is unwilling to share stuff like that? Does labeling it imply a rude “this is MINE and you CAN’T HAVE ANY” message to anyone?

    1. AnotherAlison*

      You’re in the right. People who are *stealing( your food are ridiculous. There are over 100 people on my floor, with one fridge. If 10 of them took a little of my salad dressing when they forgot theirs, that would be the end of my salad dressing. (And then I would end up where I was today, eating salad covered in plain yogurt because I forgot to bring a new bottle.) The only possible exception is if you have a small number of people sharing a small fridge, and you bring in a Costco bag of cheese sticks. You would be being rude by hogging the fridge space, so you can beg forgiveness by sharing!

    2. clow*

      Actually, I think its rude for people to take your food without permission. If I bring in food for myself, it is mine, if I want to share something, I will let people know. Just taking food labeled as yours, without your express permission, is theft. I never find it rude that someone isn’t sharing with me, I am not entitled to a single thing another person brings in.

    3. Susanne*

      Are you seriously asking the question whether it’s rude to label your own food that you bring in for your own consumption (but happen to store in a communal refrigerator)? It’s unclear from your comment, because you seem to be asking if it’s ok to be possessive with something that you, well, possess.

    4. WeevilWobble*

      That’s unbelievably rude of the other people.

      I often bring in stuff that is perishable and I won’t finish on my own. And when I do I label it “all” or “help self.” If it has my name then it’s mine and I want it.

    5. NorCalPM*

      It’s rude to take other people’s clearly labeled food, just as it would be rude to go into their home and take food out of their refrigerator. Taking someone else’s clearly labeled food is stealing. That’s not OK. You forgot to bring your lunch and don’t have money for lunch and you’re hungry? Ask! (Oh, and don’t make that an everyday thing.)

    6. Anon please today*

      We could have an entire thread on this on the open-topic Friday, there is so much to say. My rule of thumb for myself in regards to other people’s things in the fridge is that if it is a condiment AND it doesn’t have a name or person’s initials on it, then I might use a little of it from time to time. This usually only applies to ketchup, hot sauce, and salad dressing. If it was an actual food item, like cheese sticks or a loaf of bread, I don’t think I would take any, even if they hadn’t put their name on it. That would be too much like taking someone else’s lunch.
      As for half-and-half and non-dairy creamer, our rule is that if you don’t label it, people are going to assume that it was left over from a meeting and that it doesn’t belong to anyone.

  21. nonymous*

    my two fish stories, both with the same company and involving immigrant staff.

    At the blood center, some people would microwave fish which could be smelled by donors. Even with healthy donors, nausea is a common side effect. Just imagine donating blood while the smell of microwave fish wafts! It was a quarterly occurrence, despite large signs reminding staff not to.

    A satellite location was two blocks away from Ranch 99. For those who aren’t aware, this asian grocery chain offers the free service of deep frying fish you buy in the seafood department. Every year or so, someone would buy a whole fish (freshly fried) as a potluck item.

      1. JulieBulie*

        I agree. I love fish AND I have a sensitive nose. A lot of food odors really bother me. The smell of freshly cooked fish would not bother me at all, but microwave reheated fish? eeeeeew.

      2. nonymous*

        you would think, right? Unfortunately it was a strong smell that did linger, and seemed to move towards the admin cubicles for a few hours.

  22. WeevilWobble*

    I don’t eat fish (although I actually don’t mind the smell that much.) But the week I started at my current job (so about four years ago) my admin burst into my office hopping mad and demanding to know whether I heated up fish in the microwave. Apparently she “followed the smell” to around my office as if she were a bloodhound or something. I said no but I could tell she was really skeptical. It was actually the woman in the office behind me (I guess my admin could trace scent???) who works in a different department and was also newish. She came forward and apologized minutes later.

    I love my admin but she’s a mother of six and can be terrifying the way a mother of six has to be.

    1. NorCalPM*

      I’m the oldest of six kids. My mother was not “terrifying.” What that admin did was unacceptable. I would have told her so. Good manners and proper office behavior don’t go by the wayside just because you have six kids. My mom would laugh at such an assertion.

      1. WeevilWobble*

        Telling someone upset over a clear breach of office protocol that asking about it is unacceptable is weirdly aggressive and not exactly politie. Maybe you have more in common than you think.

        1. Observer*

          Well, according to you, she didn’t “ask”, but “stormed in”, was “hopping mad” and “demanded” answers. Oh, and then apparently implied that you weren’t telling the truth.

          If that’s not what happened, then you should realize that most of us are not mind readers, especially over the internet, and can only go by what you actually post.

    2. Observer*

      can be terrifying the way a mother of six has to be

      Seriously?! You REALLY need to drop the inane stereotypes. I have 6 kids, and I think my kids (not adults) would fall on the floor laughing at the thought of me being “terrifying”. I also can’t think of why I would have “needed” to be terrifying. I’m not saying my kids were angels, but if the only way you can manage a crew of kids is by “terrifying” them, you have a MAJOR problem on your hands. (By the way I know people with a lot more than 6 kids, and they are not “Terrifying” either.)

      I do happen to know someone with a large brood, and I’ve heard her described as a “battle Ax”, which is as close as I can get to what I think you really meant. But, she’s the only mother of a large family that I’ve heard described that way – and I heard that about her BEFORE she got married. Which is to say that to the extent this description was accurate, it had nothing to do with her being a mother.

      Your Admin was out of line. But that’s her problem and has nothing to do with her status as a mother.

        1. Observer*

          As Allison says, it’s totally not about me but about the stereotype. I happen to be able to talk to it because I have personal experience. I also, if you noticed, pointed out that I know a number of people with even more children who don’t fit the stereotype.

  23. JS*

    A certain coworker eats canned fish daily (DAILY!) in the breakroom. For a while, coworker had convinced another coworker to do the same. I now eat lunch in my office.

    1. Robin B*

      Had a coworker who would bring canned sardines all the time. He finally stopped after a minor flood pushed an empty can under his desk (and under the cubicle wall) and for weeks no one could find where the smell was coming from.

  24. Nicki Name*

    I’ve never heard of Miracle Whip pasta, and is it wrong that now I want to try some? Just once though.

    In a past office which had occasional potlucks, there was usually a sign-up sheet with different categories (entree, dessert, etc) to make sure there was some balance in what was brought.

    1. A.C. Stefano*

      That sounds like my mother’s World Famous Pasta Salad (stolen from the Miracle Whip jar). It is, hands down, my favourite meal ever. Tomatoes, cheese, pasta, and broccoli? And meant to be served cold/room temp? Perfect.

  25. Free Meerkats*

    Just fine here!

    Two of us regularly (as in almost every day) nuke eggs for breakfast. Sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and other brasicas are regular microwave residents. Hot sauce/kimchi/curry? You bet! Canned fish right out of the can. Yeah, we’re a smelly bunch here.

    But even we draw the line somewhere; the Engineering Tech who dried his wet socks in the microwave in another office is never allowed to use ours.

  26. Toronto IT Grunt*

    I don’t know if this is a situation local to certain areas? I work in downtown Toronto in a SUPER multicultural office. Like, about 25% of the office is white, and half of those aren’t even from North America.

    We have a large number of Asian employees and there is a lot of food you guys are describing as stinky. I (a Canadian-born Canadian) am certainly glad I work with people who bring curries and fish and broccoli, etc.

    I would be offended if someone told me not to microwave fish. It’s nutrition. It’s widely eaten here. It’s a staple of a healthy diet. I am so glad my office isn’t like that! My last two offices were also filled with multicultural foodies, and I think that means people are more accepting of food smells.

    1. kas*

      I’m in the same area as you and I’m anti-fish in the office. My office is multicultural as well and I don’t mind most things but fish and boiled egg smells really get to me. I’ll eat fish at home but I wouldn’t bring it to work.

    2. emmylou*

      I kind of feel the way you do — I put the smell diversity in the category of desirable diversity ;-). (Also in the Six as the kids say)

    3. KV*

      It really depends on the culture! I think a lot of people don’t realize that unpleasant smell you associate with a food isn’t as strong or has a different connotation to someone from a place where that food is the norm. Nobody bats an eyelash at me microwaving fish in my office because more than half my co-workers eat fish for lunch.

      You know what people do comment on though? When I heat up spaghetti and it makes a strong tomato scent, because that’s not as common. A lot of people in the west wouldn’t think “tomato sauce” smell could be bad, even though it’s very powerful. I don’t think there’s a perfect solution, but I do think people need to re-frame the issue as a consequence of diversity, and try not to dwell on it.

  27. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    I guess I don’t have a very sensitive sense of smell. I have not seen anything on this list that I would ask someone not to microwave. Now, *burnt* popcorn, okay that can get pretty strong and people should be very careful not to burn popcorn. I do realize that there are people with very sensitive senses of smell. My wife is one of them.

    1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      Having said all of that, if someone were peeling onions, my eyes would be burning and so watery that I would not be able to see.

  28. Karma*

    Fish is a heinous crime but you should all be glad no one at work brings in durian fruit. We once had a gas leak scare because someone brought in some durian and it never occurred to them that it might have been the source of the smell our entire office was freaking out about.

    1. Artemesia*

      When I was in SE ASia I had read about Durian but never seen or eaten it. One day I was walking in the market and smelled this horrible smell; my first thought was ‘I’ll bets that’s durian’ It was.

  29. KV*

    *listening to this while eating salmon I just heated up in the microwave* Oh, yeah, don’t do that, totally.

    Disclaimer: I live in Japan, where fish smell is really not a big deal.

      1. Ladybugger*

        Presumably someone with a fish allergy that severe would notify their floor/company rather than roll the dice, in which case of course I would not cook fish in the microwave. If other people have to make accommodations in order for you to be alive, definitely don’t keep that info to yourself.

        1. Lissa*

          Seriously…microwaving fish is not known to usually cause death, if this is going to happen then for crying out loud tell someone! Otherwise this person had better hope they never end up in a super multicultural office as described above….and honestly the reason fish microwaving is so widely disliked is because in western culture it’s considered super strong/stinky, not because it’s extremely common to have a deadly allergy to its presence more than any other food. Allergies that strong are far less likely to be a reason than just “I don’t like it.”

      2. Avangeliz*

        It is silly. The smell of lotion triggers my allergies. I still would not say that people in my office should not wear lotion. I don’t think that people should have to eat their fish cold. That is going way overboard. Everyone is sensitive or allergic to something. They need to come up with a way to neutralize all of these smells instead of letting people eat their food cold.

  30. Jerilynne*

    As far as reheating fish in the microwave at work….. the employee guidelines/handbook at my current job explicitly forbids reheating fish and popping popcorn!!

  31. Milton Waddams*

    If the break-room has become a point of high drama, it’s time to get proper ventilation installed. People are supposed to feel refreshed after their lunch break, not drained over worry that their meal will offend others.

  32. Sy*

    I have a food related etiquette question.

    My work supplies us snacks and lunch and has a drink fridge. One of the employees is known for hoarding all of the food. Like he doesn’t take one banana, he takes 4 and leaves them on his desk throughout the day. At the end of the lunch day if it’s buffet style, he will take ALL of it, not just what’s considered a regular portion. For example he’ll fill up a gallon zip lock bag with leftover green beans, in addition to taking as much as he can of the other dishes. He also fills up a vitamin water bottle with milk every day that is meant for coffee, etc. to take home. I know all of this because I sit very close to our kitchen/pantry and it’s very obvious. At what point is it over the line? We’re given free stuff and it seems rude to just try to take it ALL. Also, he works in a position that is likely pulling in 6 figures+ so I don’t believe he’s doing it because he can’t afford the food. It seems more compulsive than that.

  33. AC6*

    Welp, I heated up a salmon sandwich on Monday; guess I won’t be doing that again.

    Not trying to be dense: our kitchen has a closed door and is not a “break room,” by which I mean there aren’t also tables in there to sit and eat. It’s just a place to prepare food. I’ve never walked by it and noticed smells from outside the closed door. Do all these rules pertain to kitchens like ours?

    1. KC without the sunshine band*

      I had a similar situation. We have a kitchen, and I heated up fish. I was told it left a smell in the microwave and one of the other ladies had to clean it with white vinegar to get the smell out. I lost my sense of smell about 20 years ago, so I never even thought about it. Since everyone knows I have no sense of smell and don’t get offended when I’m told about a smell I created, they let me know, no big deal. I haven’t brought fish in since.

  34. Annie at her Desk*

    I have to be honest–I got fish banned from my immediate office area, and I often don’t participate in social events at restaurants because of the fish thing. I do have a good reason though!! I’m severely allergic enough to both fish and seafood cause my throat to close. I’m an EpiPen-carrying, anaphylactic, paranoid person. I’m lucky that I haven’t gone to the hospital for my allergy yet, but I’m hyper aware that it could happen. I’m lucky enough at work the upper management was willing to enforce my request for a fish free area, and that there’s another person with a near identical allergy on another part of my floor. I will admit though–when I was a student, I was working at a fantastic co-op and was offered an extension at the end of my term. I turned it down, and the only reason was the open concept office. The kitchen was in the middle of the room and it wasnt possible for me to get away from the fish. There was nowhere else to go. I still feel disappointed about that sometimes.

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