our coworker has filled the office fridge with old, moldy food and refuses to toss it

A reader writes:

While you’ve spoken before about coworkers who are hoarders, we have a situation at my place of work where the office fridge/freezer are just about unusable due to one coworker’s hoarding. Over 20 people share this full-sized fridge, which makes space issues that much more annoying.

Everyone forgets stuff in the fridge/freezer, so we do regular clean-outs with warnings to label anything to save, but Office Hoarder (OH) will keep relabeling everything. This includes bags of bagels that are months old, dirty plastic plates/bowls/cups, frozen institutional sushi, moldy leftovers, etc. Everything is in plastic shopping bags to try and mask it what it is, but OH will just change the date on the her labels. (Meaning she’ll put her initials and the current date, but at the next fridge clean-out (which will be months later) will just cross out the date and write a new one. I think it’s supposed to signify that it’s a current food item, like that she hasn’t forgotten, except they clearly aren’t and it’s been many months for some.)

The plastic bag situation is bad enough now that it’s blocking the vent from freezer to fridge, and now the fridge isn’t working well.

We’re worried about OH’s health (some of this stuff is 8+ months old by my count) in addition to the frustration of lack of space in an already-crowded fridge/freezer. When we’ve tried to throw out stuff before (with ample warning to bring it home first), OH will leave angry post-it notes and confronts those she suspects of doing the deed.

Our HR is no help with this (or anything, really but that’s a whole other topic), and OH’s supervisor has spoken to her about this but with no luck. Can we just go rogue and start tossing stuff?

I feel like even if we instituted a twice a month fridge clean-out, she’d just move the many bags to her desk for the duration of the cleanout and then right back into the fridge. How do we deal with this? We just want to store our lunches in the fridge at work!

Your new rule needs to be this: “Items that have been in the fridge for longer than one month will be tossed.” Add an exception for condiments if you want.

If you find that she’s moving stuff to her desk during the clean-outs and then moving them back afterwards, then yes, go ahead and toss them. If she throws a fit, so be it; that’s not reason not to do it.

You can warn her that that’s going to happen — as in, “Hey, it looks like you moved things out for the clean-out and then back afterwards. We’re going to toss those because of the one-month rule, so take them home today if you want to keep them — but they can’t stay in the fridge because we’re running out room.”

Someone could also just say directly to her, “You have a lot of months-old food in the fridge, it’s taking up space that other people need, and now it’s blocking the vent. 20 of us need to share this refrigerator, so you can have 1/20th of the space in there. Can you go through your stuff and get rid of the old food and clear it out so others have space?”

Ideally this would come from her manager, who it sounds like gave up too quickly after the previous talk(s) with her. I’m not sure exactly what was said in those conversations, but assuming it was something like “hey, you need to clear your stuff out of the fridge,” it’s reasonable for her boss to now enforce that by tossing those items or by going back to her and saying, “We talked about this and it still hasn’t happened. I need you to take care of it by 5 p.m. today.”

But if for some reason her boss isn’t doing that, any of the rest of you have standing to intervene yourselves since you’re all being affected by it. Office fridges tend to be ruled by whoever is willing to step up and rule them (since it’s usually a job no one wants) — so if you and your coworkers are willing to do it, it’s very unlikely you’d need HR or your manager’s formal okay. You should be able to just institute the “we’re tossing after one month” rule and do the tossing.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 601 comments… read them below }

  1. Karyn*

    I would also add that mold is a serious health issue and for people like me with asthma, it can be deadly. I’m not sure how bad it would get being in a fridge, but I can’t imagine that it’s healthy for food consumption, either. You may raise that as well.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      That’s a really good point. It’s a health issue not just a politeness or cleanliness issue.

    2. fnom*

      I’m allergic to mold. I don’t have asthma, but mold makes me stop breathing, once there’s enough of it airborne. (It was rather interesting trying to figure out how to use my friend’s inhaler the first time this happened.) You can bet I’d be grabbing a mask and gloves to clear this fridge out the SECOND I thought there was mold from something a week or so old. Mold has SPORES. It grows on the other things, too. I’d be bleaching this fridge for my own health and strongly recommending anyone who transferred food from the work fridge to a home fridge do the same at home. It’s really no joke.

      1. Anne Noise*

        +1 for mold allergies being real business. When I was a child I had 3 allergy shots every Friday just to survive the world being full of mold. I can feel it in the air the same way someone with a peanut allergy can.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        +1 – I could not be around that fridge. My sinuses and lungs swell, I’m miserable, and if it gets worse, I can get respiratory infections.

      3. Ophelia*

        YES. I’m allergic to mold, which not only means I can’t sleep in your basement or take penicillin, but ALSO that I wouldn’t be able to store my food in the fridge in question.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Yes! Even without allergies or asthma, mold can be toxic. I think OP and her coworkers have an absolute right to demand that OH toss food that is over “X” amount of time old depending on the particular type of food…or any food that is obviously moldy or seriously malodorous.

          OH doesn’t get to expose everyone else to who knows what kind of potential health issues just because OH can’t manage to throw out what is in reality garbage. I mean if OH wants to be gross and a hoarder at her own home, so be it, but at work it’s a different ball game and all 19 other workers have the right to not be unduly exposed to potentially toxic situations.

    3. KL*

      Another asthmatic here. Mine is bad enough that just opening the fridge to grab my food could have me going for my inhaler.

    4. Chriama*

      That might be something to press with HR. This is now an OHSA issue and any worker suffering complaints could bring a worker’s comp claim against the company for failing to enforce this with Jane. That might galvanize them into action

      1. Anonymoose*

        Yup. When I read this I went ‘jeebus, this is a health code violation just waiting to happen’. Especially the vent being blocked.

        We have a policy (posted on fridge/emailed out) at our office that staff has the right to toss ALL items every Friday at 5pm. They also apply this to dishes in the sink. It took a few months but folks have finally caught on and do their best to toss anything questionable before they lose it unwillingly.

        1. AsItIs*

          If the OP’s company were to do that, it should add that no food would be permitted in the fridge over the weekend. I have the feeling at OH’s home/fridge is hoarded to the max and the hoarding has extended to the office fridge.

          1. MsSolo*

            I think the Friday rule would work better than dating stuff rule, because you can’t just change the date on an item. Friday, 5pm, that fridge is empty (barring any company bought products, like communal milk) and Monday, 9am, is when you can start putting things in it again.

            1. The OP!*

              We have people working on the weekends and in evenings, so the normal “close of business” or “empty in the weekends” doesn’t really work. Having more hours definitely complicates this sort of office admin thing!

              1. Kobayashi*

                I was going to suggest the Friday rule, too, but wondered if you were a more 24/7 type of operation. If people just start throwing out old items, hopefully eventually that will solve the problem. If not, it’s up to her manager, unfortunately, to really step in and say, “for health reasons, if you want to continue to be able to use the refrigerator, you’ll need to make sure you throw food items out if they’ve been in there more than a week.”

    5. Tuxedo Cat*

      That was what I was thinking too, health issues. I don’t know how contained the mold is if it’s a container.

    6. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I think the new rule needs to be “Items that have been in the fridge for longer than one month, or which have mould, will be tossed.” and perhaps add that this is to ensure that the fridge or freezer doesn’t create health risk and that mould can’t spread.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        Yes, and every item must be dated. Undated items will be tossed. Items with “changed” dates will be tossed.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Yes, that was the rule in my old office — anything that is visibly moldy or otherwise rotten will be tossed regardless of dates or anything else. People were ruthless, and it was great.

      3. rdb0924*

        The fridges in my office are cleaned out on the last Friday of the month. Anything left in them after 5 pm on that day is tossed. No exceptions for labeled food or condiments or coffee creamers. No savesies for “nice” food containers or expensive lunch totes, either.

    7. kb*

      It’s a really good point, but I think I’d not mention it to the coworker at first– people don’t react well to being told they’re unclean/unsanitary. I would start by pressing on the space issue and only bring up the hygiene concerns if she continues to resist after direct confrontation. While I am concerned for this coworker’s health, ultimately if the coworker keeps the old food put of the communal fridge/workspace, it’s not the company’s concern.

      1. Sally*

        I agree. If she wants to keep the old food, she can take it home and put it in her refrigerator. I have OCD, and I try to make sure it doesn’t affect/inconvenience anyone else. If I feel compelled to do something specific, that’s one thing, but if I needed other people to do something because of my OCD, just no.

        As an example: I usually ask my traveling companion(s) to not let me be alone when leaving our hotel room when checking out (because when I am, I feel the need to check under the beds, in all of the drawers, etc. – sometimes more than once). However, if it wasn’t possible for someone else to be there with me, I’d deal with it. I feel really strongly that it’s not OK to encroach on other people with my issues.

    8. Jojo*

      No more than 2 containers per employee in fridge. Any over you must take home or it will be thrown away.

  2. WellRed*

    I never hesitate to throw out other people’s old gross food. Damaging the fridge? Taking up more than your fair space? Toxic hazards leaking onto my perfectly good food? Nope!

    1. Hills to Die on*

      It’s beyond needing to ask or get support from management or HR if someone is being this unreasonable. Who cares if she leaves post-it’s it gets mad? She’s lost the right to reasonable discussions or polite requests.

        1. Penny Lane*

          I truly don’t get this “I’m so afraid if someone unreasonable pitches a fit.” So then you have — an unreasonable person pitching a fit. Who cares? No one is going to side with that person over you.

          1. WannaAlp*

            Some of us grew up in households where an unreasonable person pitching a fit would be a parent, who has very real power over you, and will wield it. Fear of what they might do to you is very rational in those circumstances, and is not easily shrugged aside for many people once they get to adulthood. There remains a deep-seated discomfort with such situations, and a strong desire to avoid, even though nothing really bad should happen.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I don’t think OP needs to feel bad about making her angry. She’s being wildly unreasonable; the OP et al would be completely justified in ignoring her outrage (and if she’s just putting up Post-Its but not being angry directly at anyone, those are easy enough to chuck as well).

        1. Michaela Westen*

          The only thing is, someone this unreasonable might react with unreasonable behavior like yelling or threats or backstabbing. So OP should get as much support as possible, in writing, and they and their colleagues should be prepared/take precautions.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s not often I think “Yup, go rogue” but this circumstance warrants it.

        1. Nonnon*

          My thought was just “Burn the fridge. And then use some of the really terrifyingly strong bleach on the rest of the break room, just in case.”

          Probably get permission from the manager before going down that route though.

      3. Luna*

        I agree, except LW also probably doesn’t want to become this person’s target. I think LW should also try to get buy-in from other coworkers or HR first, so she isn’t the only one tossing this person’s garbage.

        1. Victim of Dirty Work Fridge*

          Actually not. Your co-workers will have your back and be happy that someone tossed this dirty mess from the fridge they have to share. I would continue to send out the email that fridge is being cleaned and items will be tossed. And then toss her mess. My passive-aggressive office uses the notes in the kitchen. When the notes are blunt, people do get the message. For ex.) “No one here is employed to clean up your kitchen mess” with 1-2-3 instructions on how to dump food particles into the garbage can worked whereas “we do not have a garbage disposal so please don’t leave food in the sink drain” did not.

      4. A.*

        Right. Why are they letting the threat of a postit note stop them? I would throw out the note right along with the moldy food. I feel like it’s a bright line rule. If the food is moldy, throw it out. I wouldn’t even give a heads up before throwing out bad food.

        1. jo*

          ‘If the food is moldy, throw it out.”

          If someone notices you threw our their moldy food, your response is, “Yep, fixed it for you!”

    2. Pollygrammer*

      I used to feel a little bad about throwing out people’s tupperware, especially the nice glass stuff, but I got over it. If it was moldy and taking up space in the shared fridge, it went in the trash.

        1. Snark*

          Exactamundo. If you let your beef stew ferment in it, it’s not valuable to you, and it’s certainly not valuable to me.

        2. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

          I forgot about some chicken salad in a Tupperware container I’d stuck in the office fridge. I remembered it about a week ago…which was well over a month since I’d put it in there. The container was gone. It hurt a little (it was expensive, real Tupperware) but it was a moment where I said “Damn! Well, it’s my own fault!!” I don’t begrudge the decision.

          1. Artemesia*

            I lost a good plate one time that way; my fault. This is one to act on and it helps if several people decide to act and then just do it. Every Friday at COB. Any crossed out date is ignored. Just do it. And certainly toss the thing blocking the vent. And people need to say ‘you are taking way more than your share of space.’

            1. Susan Sto Helit*

              Our fridge gets cleared out every Friday night. Anything left in the fridge, apart from the communal milk, gets thrown away.

              If you want to keep anything that’s currently in the fridge, you have to take it home with you on Friday and then bring it back in on Monday (if you haven’t already used it). Thanks to this policy our office fridge is spotless and there is space for everybody’s food.

              1. M.R.*

                The office where I used to work went to the weekly clean-out policy after the fridge became so disgusting it was unusable. The worst part was most of it was takeout containers so the smell wasn’t very well contained. Ewww… The Friday night deadline did the trick. I once lost a lunch I brought on Friday, then went out to eat with a coworker and forgot to get it before I left. But the loss of the occasional item was worth it to have a usable fridge again.

              2. Ellex*

                At a previous job, I tossed out anything that was in the sink, on the counter, or in the fridge on Monday morning, with the exception of anything on the counter that was clean (I’ve worked with too many people who put dirty containers full of water and soap on the counter to “soak” and leave them there for days). I was always the first person in the office by a good 20 minutes or more, so if you hadn’t taken it away when you left on Friday, it went in the trash. I kept an eye on “best by” dates on condiments, as well.

                People weren’t happy, but I had the full support of the boss and the fridge and kitchen stayed clean.

                I couldn’t get anyone else to clean their messes on the counter, the microwave, or the toaster oven, but we didn’t have a fridge full of moldy food or a sink full of dirty dishes.

          2. irritable vowel*

            I always try to think of things like this (losing the tupperware) as a stupidity tax.

            1. Nervous Accountant*

              I always thought I was the only other person to use that phrase, aside from the person I heard it from (actually was a client who said this).

              1. sunshyne84*

                Judge Lynn uses it often on Divorce Court when people tear up their own items only to have to pay to replace them later.

                1. Just Employed Here*

                  I tend to think of my (very minimal, but regular) lottery playing as a stupidity tax: I know the odds are very much not in my favour, but I choose to play anyway.

                  (It also helps that the profit of the lottery organization in my country goes to charitable causes. So my stupidity is at least good for someone in need.)

          3. TC*

            i thought i’d lost my lunchbox doing something similar — i was bummed out, but it was 100% my fault. (in a twist of events, it appears whoever cleans the fridge cleans the tupperware as well! my lunchbox was found!)

            1. TootsNYC*

              If I were cleaning out a fridge, I’d try to keep the personal containers, unless the thing was SO moldy. That would probably cause drama, bcs someone would be complaining that “you saved Jane’s, but you threw mine out!”

              And I suppose if it got bad enough, I might abandon that and switch to throwing the whole container out.

              i did work somewhere that all the contents of the fridge were placed on the counter at like 3pm, and at the very end of the day, it all went in the garbage.
              That gave you a chance to salvage your container if you wanted.

              1. Mistressfluffybutt*

                I’ve worked for places where Saturday at midnight (it was open all week from 6am-11pm) was the set clean out time. There were signs, you were warned during training and we were specifically taught that the janitor was trained just to take an arm and wipe the entire shelf into the trash. I liked it. It was fair and you knew, you were warned. If you lost something that;s on you.

          4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

            I’ve been there. It was like a variation on the grief cycle.
            Anger: Where IS it? Geez, I was GOING to get it.
            Confusion: Wait. When was that?/Did I look in all the drawers?
            Embarrasment: Hope nobody knew it was mine. Guess I would have heard.
            Acceptance: bummer, that container was handy. Oh well. It’s my own fault.

        3. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I obviously don’t know the dynamics of your office so my thoughts are very situation specific. Throwing out the cheaper plastic tupperware is one thing (one of the reasons I use cheap generic plastic containers), but the nice glass stuff is another story. I usually only bring in food one day at a time and try to only take up minimal amount of space in the fridge. But I will admit there have been times where I brought lunch, and then due to co-workers b-day, or outside lunch meeting don’t end up eating the food. It gets pushed to the back of the fridge out of sight and it completely slips my mind it is in there. If someone threw out a nice/expensive glass container without giving me the chance to take care of it I would be upset. With glass containers you would be surprised how well a warm water soapy soak works, if it is really bad a very diluted bleach water soak works wonders (just make sure to thoroughly rinse after that.If someone is a habitual repeat offender I understand and that is a different story. If there is going to be a fridge clean out I think a warning is reasonable.
          I have had issues with co-workers before who read all sale-by, best-by, use-by, expires-on, as the word of god and thrown out food that was perfectly good without it having any mold on it. If it has mold again it’s a different story. 99% invisible had a good story on food date labeling.

          PS. Aldi has some lunch meat that come in good plastic containers come in small and large sizes, they are dishwasher safe, microwave safe, and freezer safe. I try to use those for work as much as I can. If one gets thrown out or goes missing I don’t feel bad.

          1. Jasmine*

            I agree about the glass containers, but at this point in their struggles with her, she lost the privilege of keeping. She’s not using them for months and allowing food to spoil in them and not bringing them home so she clearly doesn’t care about having them. If I treated something I owned badly as a child, my parents would get rid of it because I clearly didn’t care about it enough to be careful with it. Same concept here.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I agree OP’s issue is a completely different level and they have already given plenty of warnings that hoarder co-worker has not heeded.

          2. Anne Noise*

            The issue is that your old food is gross and taking up the food, and no one wants to clean you dish for you to take home, and no one wants to leave it sitting out for its owner to notice. Sorry if it’s selfish, but I’m not cleaning other people’s old food to make room for mine, I’m tossing that stuff.

            Our rule – cleanout every other Friday. If a tupperware is there for one cleanout, it gets a post-it that it will be removed next cleanout. Repeat offenders are relatively easily weeded out.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Right. It’s not about how easy it would be to clean the dish or check whether the food is still good despite having an expiry date. It’s that I’m not going to put that much effort into cleaning up behind people who have left things in the fridge. We DO put out a warning that the fridge will be cleaned and unclaimed items tossed at a certain time. At that point, anything left in the fridge gets tossed as per the warning. I will leave unexpired condiments, but if the expiry date is past, I’m going to toss it without launching an investigation into whether it’s still technically good.

          3. Colette*

            Sure, it’s not great to lose a nice container – but the solution for that is to keep track of what you bring to work and take it home within a day or two. It’s not up to the person who cleans out the fridge to track down the owner of every container and nag them to clean it out.

            1. Anonymosity*

              I take my containers home the same day.

              Exjob would post notices for the twice-monthly fridge cleanouts in plenty of time for people to grab their stuff. If you didn’t, too bad; so sad.

          4. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I’m very sympathetic to not wanting your stuff tossed out– it’s happened to me a few times, including when I was pretty broke and couldn’t really afford to replace the lunch that was tossed without warning– but it’s on you to make sure your containers get removed. I’m with Colette here. If you have to put a reminder in your calendar, as someone below suggested, then you do it. It’s not up to everyone else to keep your container front-and-center. It all goes back to shared spaces and shared responsibilities.

            I do agree with you about people being hypervigilant about sell-by and expiration dates, but to be honest, when I store things in a shared fridge, I have to accept that those dates are the best gauge of freshness/age and it’s what people have to go on.

          5. BadWolf*

            But the problem is that if I have fridge cleanout duty, I don’t want to stand around evaluating how nice/valuable someone’s food container might be. Or how moldy it is or isn’t. Or how wilted the salad is. I don’t want to be opening containers and dumping out who knows what grossness.

            1. Daisy Steiner*

              I used to empty containers of old food and put the container in the dishwasher. But then one day a colleague did this to someone’s old Mac and cheese. Oh. My. God. The. Smell. The kitchen was down a long corridor from our offices and we were still dry heaving at our desks. Now anything that is verifiably moldy from the outside goes straight in the bin.

            2. Kathleen_A*

              All of what BadWolf said, plus I also don’t want to try to figure out who the nice container belongs to, nor where to put it besides the trash. And I really, really, really don’t want to end up opening containers containing gross and disgusting food. I sometimes do that at home with my own food, but I absolutely don’t wanna do it with anybody else’s.

              The way I figure it, if I leave my container past Well Established Deadline X, that’s my fault. And I do think that’s how everybody should look at it. Asking a coworker to make a bunch of decisions about this container and that one is just…well, it’s unreasonable.

          6. Tuxedo Cat*

            In an office where people are reasonable, I think it’s worthwhile to send out a mass email and let people know that if spoiled items are not removed by x date, they’ll be thrown out. I don’t think this letter is that case, though.

            If someone doesn’t check the fridge to make sure they didn’t leave something, it’s on them then.

          7. No Mas Pantalones*

            Nope. No exceptions. If you leave it in there and it can walk out on its own, to the trash it goes. I don’t care if it’s glass. I don’t care if it’s made of diamonds. I’m not washing your disgusting dishes and I’m not leaving them in the sink for everyone to smell. You leave it, you lose it.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I don’t want anyone else to wash it or to have to smell it. If there is a set policy on fridge clean out than I am already on notice and if I forget its my fault no matter how nice the container. But if there is not set policy and someone takes it upon themselves to clean the fridge out, I say just send a quick short email to everyone or tape a note the the fridge with the date and time, after that practice your free throw or three point shot all you want.

          8. WellRed*

            I would move a nice glass container to the front, with a friendly note on it, because yes, people do honestly forget.

          9. CmdrShepard4ever*

            @ Anne noise: I agree no one else but me should wash my gross container. I am not asking for that. I don’t want anyone leave gross food out on the counter.

            @Colette I agree it is still on me to do it, and for the most part I would say 98% but since we tend to overestimate our ability I will say 90% of the time I am good about it. I don’t want anyone to track down the owners of every individual container. Just a general notice fridge clean out on such date, claim your items or it will be tossed.

            @Avon I don’t think anyone should keep my stuff front and center.

            @Badwolf If there is an actual clean out rule, e.g. every Friday or last Friday of the month, then everyone is already on notice and when that date comes I say through stuff out with reckless abandon.

            My issue is when there is no official fridge clean out policy and one person takes it upon themselves to pick a random date/time without notice to everyone else to just throw everything out of the fridge. I have had expensive containers thrown out that way and food that had been brought in that day or the day before. I am all for an official fridge policy and if I forget about the date then it is my fault.

            But if there is no written or even an unofficial policy, I would ask for a quick mass email or printed notice on the fridge that says “Fridge will be cleaned out on this date at this time.” before someone cleans out the fridge. No tracking individual people down, or sorting of containers, just throw out everything.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I agree with you about the warning. I’m pretty hardcore about throwing out things with no sympathy once people have been given a proper notice period. But yes, there does need to be a warning.

            2. KellyK*

              Throwing stuff out without giving any notice, particularly when it’s in nice glass containers and has been there *a day or two* is really over-zealous and inconsiderate, I agree.

              There might be some rare situations where it’s necessary (like you don’t have a policy and the fridge has already become an urgent health hazard. But, generally, there really needs to be notice of a day or two at the least.

            3. Just Jess*

              The OP’s situation is very different, but one of the biggest fridge war issues is that the people who volunteer to clean out the fridge tend to have the righteous vigilante streak. They’ve been passive-aggressively seething at the chaos in the fridge. Sometimes they’ve even got the martyr syndrome too and throw in some extra drama: “I took my own time to clean out that disgusting fridge and you want to critique my method?!”

              Go for it Batman, but please provide reasonable notifications. “Individual responsibility” needs to be partnered with compassion and direct communication.

              BTW, a three-day notice is not reasonable (unless there is a health emergency like OP’s situation) if someone happens to be on vacation that week. If the fridge has been a disaster for months then surely you can provide more than a few days of notice.

          10. Observer*

            Sorry, the OH *is* being given plenty of warnings. No one is obligated to wash her stuff for her. This is just not reasonable.

            If this were a once in a while thing, that would be one thing, but its a constant problem. Also, she’s made it clear that she’s not going to cooperate in any way shape or form, nor is she going to appreciate any attempt to be helpful. So why should anyone go through this kind of extra step?

            Especially since this is not a one or two day thing, but MONTHS. No one is throwing out something because it passed the “best by” date.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I agree OP’s situation is completely different and she has been given plenty of warning. I was responding to pollygrammer and hills to die on.

          11. TootsNYC*

            I’ve also had people dump the worst of the contents out, put the lid back on, and leave the container on the counter to be picked up.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              After that, they’ve already suffered through the worst part: opening the nasty gross container and dumping the contents out. That’s nice of them to preserve the containers, but if I look into a container and see mold and nastiness, I’m not going to open it. Bleh!

              1. Kathleen_A*

                Me either. I don’t want to – and I don’t think neither I nor anybody else should have to. In fact, I’m going to take it a bit farther than Mallory Janis Ian and say that whether it looks nasty or not, once Announced Deadline X has passed, everything will – no matter the container or the appearance of the food – go into the trash unopened. Because the thing is, you can’t always tell before you open it whether it’s nasty or not, and I am just not willing to take that chance with food in the office fridge. I don’t actually want to take that chance with food in my own fridge, but I do it there. Reluctantly.

          12. MarisaNova*

            Maybe everyone put their names on containers? That way, they can be put on the offender’s desk.

          13. Hey Karma, Over here.*

            Aldi containers have been a lunch and life saver. I have a collection of them. I can write on them with Sharpie, run them through the dishwasher. Feel no remorse if they get lost or thrown away.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I agree I’m starting to think I buy those food items more for the container and the food is just a bonus lol.

              1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

                That’s how I started. My best friend told me, “just buy the lunch meat in the containers. For the containers. $5/lb turkey is $5/lb turkey.”

              2. Flash Bristow*

                I bulk buy the plastic takeaway containers on amazon. I got 50 for about £5. They can be microwaved, frozen (although if you try to open without thawing they sometimes crack), dishwasher, and as you said can be dated with sharpie. 10p each, and I reuse most of them several times. The only issue is where to store them all!

          14. Plague of frogs*

            DH got a nice glass container because someone left moldy food in it for weeks, and finally he was sick of it and took it. You’re right, it did clean up nice. We’re enjoying using it, and we always remember to take it home in the evening.

          15. Jess*

            I have had issues with co-workers before who read all sale-by, best-by, use-by, expires-on, as the word of god and thrown out food that was perfectly good without it having any mold on it. If it has mold again it’s a different story. 99% invisible had a good story on food date labeling.

            Sorry, but if I’m cleaning the fridge, I’m not going to open containers to do an examination of if something is edible or not. If the date is only one or two days off, or a “best before” rather than “use-by” I might leave it but otherwise? I’m going to assume it’s past its date and has been abandoned.

            Plus – mold isn’t always visible. If you can see mold on the slices of bread at the bottom of the bag, that means that the spores are already in the whole loaf – a slice that LOOKS okay at the top is still going to have mold in it. Yuck!

        4. Nervous Accountant*

          Yes. I have lost many containers, many of which I threw out myself bc it’s been so long. I accept my own lack of responsibility, and I would never ever get mad if something was thrown out.

        5. Bea*

          For real. I’ll throw away my own if I let one rot in my fridge on accident. It’s my own damn fault and I’m not interested in scrubbing the spores at that point.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I once took a moldy Tupperware from the work fridge and told my boss I was going to toss it, and he said no, it was his and he would take it home and wash it. I am not a squeamish person and I believe in the power of hot water and soap, but… no.

        1. Katniss*

          A roommate once had a horrible habit of leaving food out. At one point he made himself beef stew in the crockpot, then proceeded to leave the bones and leftover broth in the crockpot, sitting on the counter, for THREE WEEKS. Then at one point he washed it, just in the sink with no bleach, and used it again.

          I’m still horrified, four years later.

          1. Your Weird Uncle*

            I also had a housemate with questionable food hygiene practices. She would leave food sitting out for lord knows how long, and then eat (most) of it. She also used to take food up to her room and not throw away the uneaten portion, where it would sit for god knows how long. The last straw was when my other housemate found a maggot crawling out of her room into the hallway….ugh.

          2. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

            I had a co-worker who left his leftover chinese food in his car overnight, then ate it for lunch the next day. Needless to say, it was a very messy afternoon for him.

            1. Starbuck*

              In the middle of winter where I live, that would be just as good as leaving it in the fridge! This time of year, definitely a recipe for the Danger Zone.

          3. MattKnifeNinja*

            My roommate would leave ANYTHING on the counter over night +

            Potato salad
            Fried chicken
            Tuna/chicken/anything with mayo base sandwich filling
            Deviled eggs

            Hell, pizza could sit out for DAYS.

            Never once got food poisoning. He must have a gut like a hyena.

            I learned to leave his food alone on the principle that while he could eat 4 day old room temperature KFC, I surely would die. Lol..

            1. aebhel*

              This is me, honestly.

              …I mean, I don’t do this anymore. But in college, I was kind of a clueless wreck of a human, and yeah, I definitely ate soup, potato salad, sub sandwiches and pizza that I’d left out overnight. Never got sick. It wasn’t until much later that it occurred to me how lucky I was.

            2. Nanani*

              If I tried that the next day I’d be eating cat-licked, paw-printed, furry leftovers (and possibly have a sick cat depending on what it was)

            3. AntsOnMyTable*

              I am not this bad but I am definitely more cavalier about food than other people. I will take food to work and oftentimes not bother to refrigerate it. Then something happens and I don’t eat it (most often my greek yogurt) so I will put it in the fridge at my house when I get home at 8 pm. Then take it in the next day, once again not refrigerate it, and eat it at like 4 or 5 pm.

              I have never in my life had food poisoning that I know about.

          4. Mischa*

            Got one better, sadly. My friend’s roommate had a Christmas party, made meat in a crockpot, and let it sit for 6 months. They finally threw it away (but why waited 6 months is beyond me).

        2. Avatre*

          Y’know, if someone is willing to take on responsibility for washing their OWN gross Tupperware, that’s fine. Just as long as *I* don’t have to wash someone *else’s* gross Tupperware.

          (In the situation of this letter, of course, the offending party is clearly not going to wash their own Tupperware, so I’m fully in favor of the LW trashing it.)

          1. Avatre*

            I suppose I should add the caveat that one’s gross Tupperware should be washed *in one’s own home.* No mold in the communal sink, please!

      2. Temperance*

        My jerky ex-boss used to say that we had to handwash any dirty containers that were in the refrigerator on our cleaning day. My coworker and I agreed that we weren’t doing that, and tossed everything out with glee. She tried to complain once, and we feigned ignorance about the “missing” containers.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          And I’ll bet you anything that the jerky ex-boss was the worst offender. I can’t imagine how you could even conceive of asking someone to wash out other peoples’ used food containers unless you are only thinking about it from the point of view of a food hoarder/keeper.

        2. SarahKay*

          Oh, heck no!
          I’m blowed if I’m going to wash a container when the owner couldn’t be bothered to do so. If it looked smart and on the whole people were good about not leaving stuff in a shared fridge then I’m prepared to leave it on the side for the afternoon (assuming good seal on the container) in case someone saw it and took it home.
          After that, I’m with Temperance and co-worker – bin, bin, bin!

        3. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Yep, I always disappear dirty containers after the warning period, and I never know what happened to them.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        My feeling is that if you open it, everyone will have to smell it, and that’s just not reasonable.

        If you don’t want your stuff tossed ,take it home in a reasonable amount of time.

      4. DArcy*

        I generously decided to rinse out instead of tossing a set of three fairly nice Tupperwares that had been in the fridge for *several months*. That said, if they’re still sitting out by the communal sink when I go to work tomorrow, they are going in the trash.

    3. Ama*

      At the job where I had to send out the fridge cleaning notices on behalf of our housekeeping staff, I always worded it as “items that are not labeled or which have clearly spoiled will be tossed, regardless of type of container.” We were lucky in that our senior management was willing to back us up on that if anyone got mad — I remember our director responding to someone complaining that we tossed their Tupperware filled with moldy food (instead of dumping the food and returning the container) with “[Housekeeper’s name] is here to keep the office clean, not scrape your leftovers.”

    4. Gross!*

      Seriously. I don’t understand how it has gotten to this point. Moldy food 18+ months old?? That is disgusting and a health hazard. Toss it. If HR or management won’t intervene to make her clean up her own moldy food, they aren’t going to get involved to yell at anyone else for doing it. They’ll probably be relieved.

      1. ginger ale for all*

        Perhaps sending the food to HR to do an evaluation would do the trick? Or would that be too mean?

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah; our office policies have always been that whatever’s in the fridge gets tossed after 2 weeks (the freezer is different, but it’s only really used by one coworker). It doesn’t matter if it’s labeled. No one wants to risk cross-contamination or mold problems because one person is obstinate about not handling their food.

    6. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      The only thing I’d do in this situation is to take a picture of the gross food prior to throwing away. That way if the coworker makes a fuss the photo evidence will show it wasn’t edible.

    7. Rachel*

      Eh. Different people have different standards for what’s still safe to eat and store in a fridge. If I had a roommate with a shorter time threshold than myself who decided to throw *my* food away because *she* thought it was too old, we would have a problem. But, an office is not a private living space, so stricter rules could fairly apply there.

  3. DArcy*

    Ouch, that sucks. I’ve been aggressively purging the office fridge in my office of old items over the past few weeks, but none of my coworkers have tried to push back at me like that.

    I would honestly stick to your guns. Just keep tossing out anything that is or even *appears* old, and flatly ignore her attempts to push back.

    1. Pollygrammer*

      I would honestly just start tossing stuff. If it’s got mold, it goes in the trash. Let her throw a fit if she wants to.

    2. JokeyJules*

      I’m with you, DArcy,
      if it’s moldy, then it is trash.
      If i’ve noticed it there since new years, also trash.

      1. DArcy*

        I’ve tried to be a little considerate with the stuff that doesn’t have a verifiable date on it, since I work graveyard shift — if I see that something’s been in there for 2-3 days, I’ll move it to the bottom of the fridge to give the owner one last chance to reclaim it. If it’s still there the next day, it’s in the trash can.

    3. epi*

      I have been slowly doing this with the freezer at my office.

      I am super lucky to have a coworker who will step up and clean the fridge occasionally. I’m also pretty self aware about not wanting to help do it myself. (I’ve already done a lifetime share of thankless lady jobs despite being a researcher.) So I can’t really complain that she never tackles our overflowing freezer.

      I do my best not to bring in tons of frozen stuff I don’t intend to eat immediately. But if I ever can’t fit my things, the first three expired/open/months-resident items are going in the trash. No one has ever complained.

    4. Hellanon*

      We have signs on all the fridges in the building warning people that *everything* gets thrown out on Saturday Friday afternoons, and the housekeeping staff does indeed do that. Every week. Without fail. And people manage to adjust…

      1. Media Monkey*

        we have the same – everything but labelled condiments gets thrown out on a friday afternoon. and once a month (after an email warning in case anyone has forgotten the date it happens on) all towels left in the shower room are removed, laundered and sent to a homeless shelter.

      2. Solidus Pilcrow*

        My previous workplace about 150 people sharing the refrigerators, so rules had to be pretty strict. Every month, EVERYTHING was tossed, including containers and condiments; no save dates or initials/names were honored. Laminated signs were posted on all the refrigerators, so no one could claim they didn’t know.

        With this hoarder, I’d go with the full purge option. Don’t give her a way to weasel out of it.

        1. MattKnifeNinja*

          Seriously, full purge.

          It’s not food at that point, but a biohazard experiment.

          Hoarding glops of bio ooze isn’t being thrifty, it screams in need of mental health help.

          If HR is so *meh* about the clean out, maybe they’ll be *meh* when ooze hoarder blows her stack. The HR passive aggressiveness may work in OP’s favor.

      3. Admin of Sys*

        Our office rule is once a month, but same thing – if it’s something you want to keep, it has to be out of the fridge over the last weekend of the month, because the entire fridge is emptied. (condiments are kept based on expiration labels on bottle). I think they even wipe down the shelves, which is really nice.
        And if something is growing mold, the assumption is that it gets tossed regardless of the container, because we don’t want to subject the housekeeping staff to dealing with the moldy food either.
        It’s kind of annoying to have to remember to take the cream for coffee home once a month, but folks adjust, and the result is a nice clean fridge.

      4. Autumnheart*

        My workplace does this as well (hard rule, strict enforcement, posted on the fridge door) and I like it. Yes, I’ve lost an item or two over the years, but I only have myself to blame.

      5. Bagpuss*

        the last time I cleared out our office fridge, I brought in some red sticky tape and put a strip on the various things I was planning to throw out, then e-mailed everyone to say that everything marked with red tape would be binned on Friday, so to take it home before then if you want to keep it. (it was mainly old condiments etc which didn’t seem to have an owner)
        I sent the mail round several days ahead of the clear out, and it worked pretty well, as it was hard to miss the bright red tape. (and in your case, you could use sticky labels which would be hard to remove without leaving a mark, to avoid Hoarder just taking the label off her stuff)

    5. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yup. Grow a spine and be willing to talk to her when she asks where her food’s gone. “Did you throw away my moldy sandwich?” “Yes. We warned you with a sticky note – remember?” “How dare you!” “Moldy food gets tossed. Next time, don’t leave your moldy food in there.”

      Just be matter-of-fact “yes, we did it and we’re going to keep doing it.”

  4. Murphy*

    Gross. Is she actually eating any of this food, or is she literally just hoarding it there and keeping it from getting thrown out?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      We laugh, but if the zombie apocalypse broke out tomorrow and they were trapped in the building for the next 3 years, they would start to look at those 8 month old bagels a little differently.

      1. Autumnheart*

        And then they would die of food poisoning if they ate them. Let’s not act like 8-month old moldy fridge experiments are going to save the world in any scenario. Botulism and salmonella and E. coli still kill people.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Yes but what if the people that do survive become immune to the zombie virus, and that can lead to synthesizing a cure for everyone else.

          1. Autumnheart*

            I can only speak for myself, but I have no intention of signing up to be the person who eats the rotten food to see if it kills me or not. If I have to have a last meal, it’s not gonna be month-old leftover spaghetti. :6

        2. WillyNilly*

          Clearly you compost the rotting food to start an indoor container farm as you start your own new society within the office building, having rendered the outside world unsafe.

    2. The OP!*

      I don’t think she eats any of it, I think it’s an actual hoarding issue. Most of it is stuff that doesn’t seem to be intended to actually get eaten. Like, much of the food in the freezer was stuff that would never defrost in an edible format, if that makes sense.

        1. The OP!*

          Other things, too. Her office space is an issue with those who share it with her. She can’t use her desk anymore in any way, it’s just covered with stuff. It’s Not Great :/

          1. Margo*

            Hoarding is such a sad serious thing. If it is building up outside of her home, you have every right to be concerned about her physical and mental health. I cannot imagine what her home is like. My grandma was a hoarder. We cleaned out her house after my grandpa died and we only threw out stacks of old mail and magazines and she ended up in the hospital after that from a nervous breakdown. That is when we realized it was bad. After we cleaned her house to sell it, we took several dumpsters of garbage from cabinets, closets etc. It was awful.

      1. MsSolo*

        I wonder if she doesn’t have a freezer at home (or has filled it with hoarded food) and has persuaded herself the office fridge is a good place to store food she believes she’ll cook at home some day.

  5. Hills to Die on*

    Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness rather than permission. Or screw forgiveness requests altogether. The only thi I would change is this:
    “ Can you go through your stuff and get rid of the old food and clear it out so others have space?” to this:
    “ go through your stuff and get rid of the old food and clear it out so others have space or we will throw it out.”

    1. Murphy*

      Yeah, if she’s taking up so much space that it’s affecting the performance of the fridge, I think it’s fair to be more firm about it.

      1. Admin of Sys*

        In my last job, the rule was you couldn’t use up more than your fair share of space unless you had an event that day (and even that was frowned upon). You could always make a rule that everyone needs to start labeling their things and if it’s unclaimed, it gets tossed, and if it is claimed, a person can’t use up more than one section of a shelf. The hoarder might still leave moldy food (yuck) but it’ll at least be limited?

    2. Kittymommy*

      This. I’d email everyone that “everything in the fridge on Friday at 430. If you want to keep something, you best have it out and hold it at your desk at 4:25.”

      1. GlitsyGus*

        The problem is that is what she’s doing- keeping half a fridge worth of moldy crap at her desk then putting it back.

        It’s time to take that away as an option. “The fridge is being emptied at 4:30. Everyone is allowed two containers in the fridge or freezer from here on out. All additional containers, along with ANYTHING moldy, will be tossed.”

    3. DArcy*

      Screw forgiveness. She doesn’t have any right to complain; her behavior is grossly unreasonable and actively endangers the well-being of her coworkers.

      With the outright attempts to sabotage keeping the fridge clean, the company would be well-justified in either firing her, or declaring that she (and she alone!) is forbidden from using the fridge.

  6. JokeyJules*

    …do we work in the same office?
    Maybe I work with OH’s twin…

    I would just continue to throw it out. If it is months old and especially if it is clearly moldy, that’s a health hazard for everyone who uses that fridge. Alison’s script on how to discuss with them is spot on, even though the unreasonable person has trouble with reasoning.

    My coworker now has the freezer full of frozen meals and other food “experiments” that are months old. They also like to leave their dishes in the sink for days (!!!!!) for “soak”.
    One battle at a time…

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Nothing should need to soak for more than an hour except in extreme circumstances, and even then, refilling with hot water every hour for a few hours should be all you need. I’ll sometimes give a grace period of one overnight, but after that, it gets put in the dishwasher (which is basically a big drying rack, as no one ever seems to run it).

      And if you feel the need to soak things for days, guess what? You can soak things at your desk! Yes, it’s more of a pain to the owner, but guess what? It makes it easier for everyone else in the office, rather than inconveniencing everyone else for one person.

      1. JokeyJules*

        I am 10000% sure that “soaking” is an excuse for just not doing them. Part of me thinks they keep those particular dishes dirty so that they can always use them.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          If you leave the dishes “soaking” long enough, then eventually they wash themselves and put themselves away. The offenders have determined this experimentally.

          1. JokeyJules*

            that too!
            I’ve mentioned this to our manager multiple times, and their resolve (rather than confront the coworker who also reports to them) is to just wash them themselves.
            Madness, I tell you. Madness.

      2. Amber T*

        I am guilty of “it needs to soak” – meaning I am too lazy to actually wash it for a day or so. But that’s only in the privacy of my own home, where my only roommates are my cats and they don’t give a damn.

        1. Ms_Morlowe*

          SAME. And when/if I’m living with someone, then I do them every day, and wash things that might be needed (eg pots and pans) as soon as I’m finished with them. Definitely wouldn’t do it in the office kitchen.

        2. JokeyJules*

          I’m with you on that one.
          Some of my dishes at home do need to soak (because I burned what I was cooking in them).
          But a tupperware or plate that’s had food on it for a few hours (days at MOST) doesn’t need to soak at all.

          1. Amber T*

            Lol everything “needs to soak” if my dishwasher is full… until my sink is full and I get off my ass and empty my dishwasher. If it’s actually something that does need to soak (per Cosmic Avenger’s rules – they’re probably right in how to properly soak something)… it still sits in the sink for a while and the water gets changed every morning and night. Dishes are the worst.

        3. Sam.*

          Yeah, do whatever you want if it’s your own space. Personally, this is my one line-in-the-sand when living with someone – dishes do not live in the sink. They need to be washed or put in the dishwasher every night before you go to bed. This person’s co-worker would make me really cranky!

      3. SunshineOH*

        I am the person who will dump put “soaking” dishes and toss them. Why is it always oatmeal?

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Me, too. If it’s been there for longer than overnight, it is an abandoned dish. They are never going to wash it. So I dump out the water and throw the dish in the trash. I don’t throw it away as soon as it’s been overnight. I wait until the dish has been in the sink at least one full day, and then if it’s still there the next morning, TRASH.

          1. Admin of Sys*

            Our office does this too – the cleaning staff throws out anything in the sink the next morning, automatically. We have a drying rack that’s allowed to keep clean dishes, but if they’re dirty, they’re gone.

      4. Canarian*

        Aghh, this! I have a coworker who eats oatmeal every morning and then leaves her bowl “soaking” in the sink all day and cleans it before she leaves. If you do this at home, fine, whatever. But here it means that the whole rest of the office basically never, ever have a sink without a bowl of oatmeal soaking in it. If she soaked it in her office or came back twenty minutes later (even twenty minutes is a lot, oatmeal is sticky, but it’s not like something that was baked onto the edges) it would be fine. The all day soak is just ridiculous.

  7. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Yeah…if it visibly has mold I’d toss it. And have done so at work. Nobody has gotten upset, it’s been embarrassment. But (to my knowledge) nobody I work with is a hoarder. That does add another level, but just stick to your guns and do a monthly clean-out. You can’t make her get help for that but you can at least be vigilant about the fridge and freezer.

    1. JokeyJules*

      I think my coworker has some hoarding tendencies, for sure. But they can’t raise a fuss about me throwing away moldy food when literally everyone else in the office agrees that it must go.

  8. Not So Recently Diagnosed*

    OP, if this is indeed a sign of a larger hoarding disorder (and she’s not just weirdly obsessive about her food storage), be prepared for all removals to result in things like angry notes or worse. The thing with this disorder is that the person gives these items emotional value, and when you throw them away, you will often have to deal with an emotional reaction from the hoarder.

    You should ABSOLUTELY still toss the items as per Alison’s advice, just be prepared for a negative emotional reaction, no matter how clear, reasonable, or empathetic you may be about it.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      This. Actual hoarders have a mental condition/illness where they will experience extreme anxiety if their hoarded items are removed, and will lash out and/or double down on the hoarding. (Not trying to remotely diagnose, just to prepare for the possibility of backlash.)

      1. Anonymosity*

        Yes, and food hoarding is indeed a thing. Hoarding also tends to spread–there were several cases I saw on one of the TV programs (and I read about a few others) where the hoarder had filled up their home and then bought or rented other spaces. But some of them started doing it at relatives’ homes. It’s entirely plausible that they might do it at work.

    2. Snark*

      This is why it’s probably best to do it without a lot of warning and discussion. Just bring in a trash bag, haul it out, put it in a dumpster far away. This is what a friend of mine had to do with an elderly relative who was into food hoarding – 30 trash bags of it.

      1. Atalanta0jess*

        Why though? So she can be totally shocked and surprised? I am not an expert on hoarding, but in general I think if you’re about to cause someone extreme emotional distress it might be nice to allow them a heads up so they can get some support in place.

        1. Temperance*

          So she doesn’t go into the dumpster and put all the rotten food back in the refrigerator.

        2. Natalie*

          The coworker has had that opportunity already, and she didn’t use it to line up support. I fail to see why trying again is going to have a different result.

        3. Fiennes*

          I think a standard rule “one week/month/whatever” is the best way around this. If you clean out a hoarder’s stuff with no warning, it tends to exacerbate the behavior; however, if you give them too much leeway, the junk never leaves. But a standard rule gives the hoarder due notice and allows frequent cleaning out.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            I guess this is what I’d be worried about, that the shock of it would send her into a really bad spiral one day – I’d even worry about potential workplace violence – but I have no idea if that’s likely given the condition.

            1. Jules the Third*

              It is very unlikely – hoarding is one of the anxiety disorders, and does not usually have violence as a symptom.

              The more likely thing is being upset, possibly vocally, and then intensifying the hoarding – like, keeping the food at their desk.

              1. Genny*

                Yeah, in my limited experience this would more likely lead to a combination of changing the hoarding pattern (things are now kept at her desk, in her car, in other “public” storage areas at work), extreme actions like digging through the trash for stuff, and/or out-sized emotional outbursts like yelling, accusing people of stealing her stuff, etc.

                To the last point about accusations, there’s a very real possibility that this woman goes to HR to accuse people of stealing her stuff. Given that possibility, I would definitely get as much top cover or group buy-in as possible, maybe even a witness or two who just happens to be in the room when the fridge is being cleaned out (this depends on how HR would handle her claim. If they’re generally reasonable/decent at their job, you wouldn’t need to go this far).

            2. Courageous cat*

              I don’t think workplace violence is a reasonable conclusion to come to as a potential result, that’s pretty far away from the initial issue of “coworker gets mad when we throw out her old food”.

            3. Grouchy 2 cents*

              This is going to sound harsh, but her mental health is not the responsibility of her office mates. Just because she assigns rotten food the emotional equivalence of a dying grandmother doesn’t mean they need to keep tiptoeing around and normalizing the behavior. If her manager or HR feel the issue is affecting her job performance and want to try to suggest help (which is always an iffy proposition) that’s fine. But everyone else can continue to follow the older than one month food gets tossed no exceptions.

            4. Mike C.*

              You can’t live your life as though any sort of potentially difficult conversation is going to result in workplace violence.

        4. Not So Recently Diagnosed*

          The problem with this is that, if this is indeed tied to a hoarding disorder, then the proper support would include professional therapists, and the OP has no obligation to go to those lengths to help a coworker. While I think fair warning is fair, as per Alison’s advice, once the rule has been put into place, it should really be fair game to throw things away, understanding that the hoarding party might have a very unreasonable reaction to it.

          All the OP can really do is treat the person reasonably, prep for the worst, and stick to their defined rules. If the hoarder goes and returns the food the next day, throw it out the next day, explaining to them why, and understanding that the explanation may do exactly nothing to calm the person down.

        5. Snark*

          They don’t get support in place, they just double down. It’s usually best to rip the band-aid.

        6. MattKnifeNinja*

          With food hoarding/general hoardering, a heads up does nothing if the items really gotta go. The person doesn’t have a come to Jesus moment, and becomes reasonable. It’s like trying to stuff a porcupine into a burlap sack. Misery for all.

          My aunt had 4 chest freezers (unplugged) full of rottening food. Someone called Adult Protective Services. While my aunt was being evaluated at the hospital. Family came in a purged all the appliances.

          It’s one thing digging through drug store receipts from 1974, a whole other deal where the whole place smelled like grim death because of the rot.

          Stuff had to go. There was nothing to discuss.

      2. Lil Fidget*

        I wonder if that’s true or not. For a reasonable person, I’d say giving them a few days warning is kindest, as if they do want the Tupperware they can feel like they had the chance to reclaim it. In our office, *everything* in the fridge is tossed out on a set, pre-announced day every four months, and I appreciate the head’s up, and it removes any anger I feel if my stuff gets tossed. I don’t know enough about the mental condition to know if it’s a different case for sufferers though.

        1. SignalLost*

          This person is not interested in getting rid of any of it. Giving her a heads up merely gives her time to pull the stuff out and put it back after the deadline, which solves nothing for anyone. She will be clearly unhappy anyway, based on described past behaviour, and is clearly not at home to office norms (presumably because of mental health, but that’s an explanation, not a free pass to make everyone else miserable) so OP might as well pitch the stuff, with the thought that at least coworkers will be happy to have a functioning fridge.

          1. Observer*

            Which is why Alison’s advice works. Give her standard warning (eg the kind of email that does out and says something like “anything over x days old or that’s moldy will be thrown out on Friday.”) Then DO it. And then, if she pulls this shtick, you do what Alison suggests and throw that stuff out, then tell her you’ve done it (via email so you don’t have to deal with her yelling.)

            Then keep up the pattern.

            1. SignalLost*

              Honestly, in this case, I wouldn’t provide notice. But I agree Alison’s script overall works. I’m just fascinated by how many people are putting their situation or response to a situation onto a letter like this. Office kitchens frustrate us all, evidently.

        2. Jules the Third*

          It is a different case for hoarders. I am not assuming OH is a hoarder, we don’t know enough. But for people with hoarding disorder, they are emotionally attached to stuff. The stuff makes them feel safe and helps soothe anxiety. It can also feel like ‘part’ of a person, the way your car is ‘part’ of you when you drive. A hoarder would be upset to lose their hoarded stuff, no matter what kind of notice there is.

          Alison’s got the right idea: 1 set rule for everyone that can’t be worked around . Give them a week’s notice, then implement. I personally would recommend ‘Every Friday’ for the actual rule for the first few months, then maybe reduce it to ‘First Friday’ once the habit is in place.

          For this OH, OP can NOT do anything to help them deal with a potential hoarding disorder. It would be incredibly rude to say that you thought they had a mental disorder, and OP does not have standing. The manager might be able to discuss EAP options, but OP should not.

          (I have OCD which is another anxiety disorder, and have cleaned up a couple of hoarding family members, and I constantly have to fight my desire to Keep All The Books; I understand the hoarding feeling)

      3. Gen*

        A dumpster they can’t easily locate if they’re anything like my old housemate- he frequently retrieved stuff from the trash both indoor and outdoor

      4. Jennifer*

        Oh yeah, my ex’s grandma had 20 year old food and once served up pasta with weevils in it. “Oh, I’ll just pick them out….”
        His mom had to pack it all out in the middle of the night and drive it far away so she couldn’t retrieve it.

        1. Fishes*

          I normally have a pretty strong stomach, but I was eating pasta when I read this and I almost threw up. I’m sorry you had to go through that :/

      5. The OP!*

        Our office fridge ended up needing to have a repairperson come in and fix it, so when OH was out of the office (coincidentally, but with a few day’s notice when OH was still here) a few of us emptied out the fridge, so OH couldn’t just yell at one person. OH was furious, and wanted compensation, but we all lost all our food sooooooooo

        1. Basia, also a Fed*

          Now that it’s all cleaned out, you have an opportunity to send out an email and/or put up signs saying that everything will be pitched once a month. It’s a blessing in disguise to have this fresh slate.

    3. Observer*

      It probably is part of a bigger problem, which may or may not be visible at work. But that doesn’t really matter. It’s quite possible that there will be more passive aggressive notes, and even some temper tantrums. But it’s also quite likely that after that point it will settle down. We can’t know.

      In any case, I do agree. Be prepared for negative reactions here. Just ignore what you can (eg notes) and escalate what needs to be dealt with (eg refusing to work with the person OH believes threw out the food.)

    4. Marley*

      Yep. It’s not going to be a pretty reaction, in all likelihood.

      As someone else mentioned, it’s best not to surprise someone with hoarding disorder with a clean out. That said, this is a workplace, not someone’s home. And, it’s not even this person’s office or cubicle, but a shared fridge.

      Sending a warning email might lead the person to go collect all that stuff to haul home, not a great prospect, but no warning means that the co-worker may very well hunt through the trash and try to salvage it. Not good options either way.

      If it could be cleaned out after hours followed by manager or HR having a sit-down with the co-worker that this can never happen again–that might work best.

    5. The OP!*

      Yes, we all suspect that OH has an actual hoarding issue – her office space is unusable nearly. Can’t put her feet under the desk anymore, can’t use the desk, and not because of work items on them, because of random odds and ends/garbage. She uses a table elsewhere for work. It’s A Problem, but that’s much bigger than the workplace can fix, I think….

  9. lalalindz22*

    Just. Throw. It. Out.

    If I see something moldy or well past its expiration, I toss it. If anyone came to me with an issue with that, I would say why, end of discussion. No one ever has because that’s insanity to keep stuff that long, and you guys are encouraging the problem by allowing her to keep her nasty food festering in the fridge.

    1. irene adler*

      Yes. Toss it. Gag!

      We’ve had the upset where the rotten food was tossed along with a very nice Tupperware container. Solved that by leaving the rotten food on the lunch room table with a note (“toss this yourself or lose the Tupperware!”).

    2. Snark*

      This. I’ve tossed, without warning or notice, tupperwares full of rotting leftovers. Sorry, pal, but it’s toxic and disgusting and the smell is nauseating, and if you really wanted that $0.75 container, you’d have taken it out and washed it.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        If you toss a nice glass container it can cost a lot more than $0.75. On amazon a Pyrex container set of 9 is $30 so $3.33 per container. OP’s situation is different, but I don’t think you should toss stuff without notice. A mass email or note on the fridge giving people a date to claim their stuff by does note take long. After such a notice toss everything with reckless abandon. As I said this above I am pretty good about not taking up a lot of fridge space and cleaning my stuff out, but I am not perfect, maybe others are, but I have occasionally left food in the fridge for 3+ weeks before remembering it was there or realizing its mine, I would be upset if someone threw it out before giving me a chance to claim it.

        1. SignalLost*

          Giving this person a heads up just gives them the opportunity to evade the clean out. A bagel bag is not glass Tupperware. Your situation is not OP’s situation.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I agree my situation is different from OP’s I said “OP’s situation is different, but I don’t think you should toss stuff without notice.” In OP’s situation the hoarding coworker has already been given plenty of notice.
            I was responding to the comment that Snark posted. I agree with you a bagel bag is not a glass tupperware. I stated it in different posts but I was not clear in this one, I was mainly referring to tossing nice containers. But even with cheaper plastic containers I think in most offices you should give people a chance to throw out and wash their own containers. If there is a set rule/policy in place regarding fridge clean out then everyone is already on notice, but if their is no rule you should give people a heads up before throwing stuff out.

            1. Autumnheart*

              If a person leaves their nice Pyrex container in the fridge for 3 weeks with moldy food in it, and it gets tossed, then the person only has themselves to blame. They did have a chance to retrieve it, they had 3 weeks to bring it home and they didn’t.

              It’s up to each individual to manage their own dishes and make sure they’re not imposing on the shared space. Everyone is an adult. Don’t rely on other people to make sure you get your stuff back.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                Yes ultimately it is my fault for forgetting about it and I shouldn’t rely on others. If there is a set policy/rule then there is no problem, but if there is not there should be a warning given verbal announcement to the office, mass email, or note taped to the fridge. I have had food thrown out that I brought that day (along with old food) because someone decided to conduct an random clean out of the fridge at 11 am with out warning.

                This isn’t exactly the same I know but parking spots are shared spaces, if there is no rule or signs that says don’t park here for more than 3 weeks, I would be upset if a cop came and towed my car without giving me a chance to move it, because they felt that 3 weeks parked in the spot was too much and I was taking up shared space.

                1. Autumnheart*

                  If there’s no set rule for throwing it out after a certain time, there’s no set rule that we have to tell you that we’re tossing your stuff.

                  And cops don’t come up and tell you they’re towing your car, so that analogy doesn’t work either. Except where, in both cases, it rests upon the owner to make it clear that the item in question is not abandoned and not a public nuisance. One does so with a car by keeping it in good repair and moving it periodically. One could no doubt do the same with a dish.

                2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  @Autumnheart your right you don’t have to, I just think it would be a nice courtesy. I try to be very vigilante about food containers and the space I take up in the fridge but I am not perfect and maybe once or twice a year I might forget a container in the fridge for a while. I appreciate if coworkers give me a chance to save and deal with my own mess. But this is why I now mostly use at work containers I get for free when I buy groceries or take-out. So that when the semi-annual victoria secret sale happens, I mean when I forget my containers if they do get thrown out its not a big deal.

                3. Plague of frogs*

                  “I have had food thrown out that I brought that day (along with old food) because someone decided to conduct an random clean out of the fridge at 11 am with out warning.”

                  Stop leaving nasty old food in the refrigerator and then no one will have to clean up after you and this will never happen again!

                4. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  @Plauge of Frogs When I said “I have had food thrown out that I brought that day (along with old food) because someone decided to conduct an random clean out of the fridge at 11 am with out warning.” they were not at the same time, I am talking over the years I’ve shared a communal fridge I have had both situations happen separately. I am usually really good about not keeping gross food in the fridge. I usually bring my food that day, wash my container and dishes and take it home. Alas I am not perfect, maybe you and others are, but during the course of the year I might forgot about a food container for a few days/weeks once or twice. I don’t want someone to clean and wash my container for me, or to save it for me forever. I make mistakes all I ask is to be given the opportunity to fix my own mistake. If someone is going to clean out the fridge give people a heads up before you do if no one claims/cleans anything after that then throw out everything in the fridge.

              2. What's with today, today?*

                You still don’t have the right to steal their Pyrex containers. And that is what it is, stealing. It doesn’t belong to you.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  If they actually clean it out, wash it, and take it home I would call it stealing. But if someone just throws out the entire container with food in the trash I don’t think it is stealing. I hate to lose containers but someone throwing it out is not stealing, yes they are “taking” something that doesn’t belong to them but they are not keeping it.

                2. DArcy*

                  No, we’re disposing of abandoned property that constitutes a safety hazard to employees.

                3. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  @ Plauge of frogs if you are trying to say throwing out someones container is not stealing I agree with you, but there is no need for that kind of language against someone else.

            2. President Porpoise*

              Also Cmdr, if you really really care about your pyrex, don’t bring it to work. In fact, don’t bring anything you really love to work. It could be lost, tossed, broken, stolen, or left behind if you’re unexpectedly let go.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                You are right I usually try not to, in fact most of the time I use the containers that my lunch meat comes in when I buy it from Aldi, or the to-go containers I get from my Chinese food order.

              2. tusky*

                President Porpoise: that’s kind of an odd response. I mean, sure, that’s one approach to protecting one’s stuff. But I also think it’s reasonable to expect adults in a workplace to treat each other’s stuff with respect.

                1. President Porpoise*

                  Huh, sorry you feel that way. It’s still relevant to the conversation about whether it’s ok to toss someone’s old/moldy/etc. food containers though. If you don’t want it tossed and there’s a possibility that it might happen, don’t bring it.

                2. SignalLost*

                  I respect the hell out of my boyfriend’s wine glasses, but I still dropped and broke one last week. Accidents happen, and President Porpoise’s comment was clearly aimed at the accident end of the spectrum of events.

                3. tusky*

                  I guess what I meant by “odd response” is that it seems like a rather extreme and impractical solution to the problem of having one’s container accidentally tossed. Yeah, don’t bring in your inherited crystal dishes, because it would be unreasonable to expect them to remain pristine. But an office of adults should be able to work out a solution so that you can be reasonably sure your container won’t get randomly tossed out of the communal fridge.

                4. tusky*

                  SignalLost–right, but I’m guessing the solution with the wine glasses isn’t “never let SignalLost around my wine glasses.” If we’re just talking about accidents, then sure, I agree with President Porpoise; but it didn’t read that way to me.

            3. SignalLost*

              But it doesn’t matter, because there is a policy and OH is ignoring it. In fact, is actively working around it. You stanning for notice periods and nice Tupperware is not useful in the situation, because OP isn’t asking if she can just impose a clean out policy by getting rid of everything everyone ever brought with no notice and doesn’t need to be held back. Granted, a lot of the comments on this post are more pile-on than crowdsource, because Alison had a solid and complete response to a letter with very little ambiguity to it and office kitchen situations drive everyone mad at times, but I don’t care how much your Pyrex costs from the moment it turns into a science experiment.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                You are right, my comments were not really directed at OP or their situation but rather at more general office fridge clean out issues. If you want to be strict about it my post are off-topic in that they are not strictly giving suggestions to OP, but people often discuss other similar issues or mention related experiences they have had. I agree with Alison’s response hoarding coworker in this situation is way out of line and I am not defending that behavior.
                I agree I have also been frustrated by co-workers old moldy containers left for long periods in the fridge, personally once the office has been given one warning/notice, I don’t care if the container is made of solid gold it should be thrown out.

        2. Leave it to Beaver*

          I have to say that if one has left their nice glass container in the fridge or sink or what have you long enough for the material it holds to get moldy and toxic. It’s obviously not a strong priority for one to keep or re-use said nice glass container.

          Secondly, OH is using the notification to update her records and keep old food that is no longer edible in the office fridge. The office is not your home. If you are not the person who pays the bills/cleans the house then one must abide by house rules. In all cases, one is not allowed to keep and maintain mold and bacteria in communal spaces.

          1. SignalLost*

            *waits for sandwiches from lab assistants and researchers who can, indeed, keep and maintain mold and mildew in communal spaces*


        3. Susan Sto Helit*

          Slightly off-topic rant:

          Over the weekend my last bottle of coffee syrup ran out – the bottle went in the recycling, the (purchased separately) pump was thoroughly washed and left to dry.

          I went out for the day, got back late…no pump in the drying rack. Or in the drawers. Housemate has emptied both the bin and the recycling. Both are outside on the street with everyone else’s, waiting for the bin men to come round in the morning.

          Cut to me and a friend outside at midnight, lighting the way with phones, going through the bins in search of the pump before it’s lost forever. It showed up in the recycling, randomly.

          Who throws away something that’s clearly been washed and then left in the appropriate place to dry, even if it is made of plastic?!

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I think that was a bad call on your housemate’s to throw it out without asking, I think they were wrong. But I have been to people’s houses and I will admit that I myself do it, where people wash, and dry recycling items such as glass containers, metal cans, plastic tubs, and other things. I don’t want the leftover food items to drain into my indoor recycling bin, and I don’t want water to collect and pool in the bottom of the recycling bin either. Not knowing your roommate I would guess this is what happened.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            We often wash, or at least rinse, and dry our recycling so the bin doesn’t get wet and smelly. I wouldn’t have recycled a pump simply because I’d have assumed it was made of mixed materials and would mess up the sorting, but washed and dried alone wouldn’t have ruled it out for me.

            1. Turquoisecow*

              I don’t usually bother now, but my mom keeps her recycling on the back porch, right near the door (until it’s brought to the street for pickup). Soda cans with the slightest drop of liquid, pasta sauce jars with a teeny bit of residue – these all attract bees and other insects, and occasionally larger creatures. So we got in the habit of at least rinsing all recyclables, if not outright washing.

              My house now, we keep the recycling next to a side door that we don’t use, and it has lids (my mom’s cans don’t) so it’s not necessary to wash. Sometimes I do, especially if there’s a lot of stuff left over, like salad dressing, but sometimes my husband is confused by this.

              Anyway, if you were throwing out a bottle, I might assume that you were also throwing out a lid that went with the bottle, even if you washed it, as liquid and such really build up in those pumps.

          3. WellRed*

            I wouldn’t have thrown away the pump, but unwashed recycling is…trash. and it can get gross and attract bugs.

        4. Snark*

          Well, then, natural consequences are the best consequences. Losing $3.33 might incentivize respectful use of shared resources.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I do exercise respectful use of shared resources, 9.5 maybe 9.9 times out of 10, I wash my containers and take them home the same day. I almost always only have one days worth of food in the office fridge. It might just be a fundamental difference of opinion, but I don’t think an occasional mistake needs to be dealt with so strictly. If there is an official clean out day and I forget about it and something gets thrown out no hard feelings. It is when someone randomly chooses to do it ahead of the scheduled date, or when there is no set date and someone just decides a date on a whim without giving people notice.

        5. What's with today, today?*

          Yeah, I accidentally left a new pyrex to go in our fridge for about a week. Not moldy or gross. My co-worker, who has control issues( and who fills out ENTIRE freezer with microwavable sausage biscuits that smell radioactive when cooked) threw it out. I was livid, and he had to buy me a new one.

      2. TootsNYC*

        Of course, if they decide to deal with it, they will open the container and throw the stinky leftovers in the garbage for you all to smell…

        (I’m the chump who will use a spare plastic shopping bag to scrape out the moldy food, tie it so it doesn’t smell, and wash the Tupperware or Pyrex or whatever, if it looks slightly expensive)

    3. Leave it to Beaver*

      Seconded. Tossed moldy tupperware that sat in the sink for two months yesterday. Did not feel guilty.

      It’s nice they’re giving OH all these chances to change her behavior. Except she doesn’t want to change her behavior. So, time to change theirs.

    4. No Mas Pantalones*

      Yup. I have no issue tossing stuff that’s disgusting and the entire floor knows it. Does it stink? Bye. Expired? Gone. Moldy? See ya. If people have an issue, they can come to me. No one has. They know I don’t throw out anything viable. I will move things to make space on shelves though. They all know that too. That sometimes involves removing things from grocery bags. No one has bitched yet. Give it a shot, OP.

  10. Courageous cat*

    My answers seem to have this theme lately, but in addition to Alison’s idea which is perfect, I’d say: let her write post-its and confront people if she wants. She’s the one who’s going to look somewhat ridiculous for doing it, especially once a month-long rule is in place, so who cares what she does afterward – her manager can deal with it. The fridge isn’t her personal storage.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Yes, this. So she gets angry, so what? Maybe it’s just a thing that’s been particularly present in my own life, but I want to rail against being held hostage by someone’s negative or heated reaction.

      1. Courageous cat*

        Yep. I see this a lot (and I’m guilty of it too!) but people are allowed to have bad reactions to things and you’re allowed to not feel responsible for changing that. In many cases, their reactions are on them and no one else.

    2. Mike C.*

      Yes, just deal with the fact that she’s going to be completely unreasonable and you get to have your fridge back. Sometimes you need to do this. It’s part of life.

    3. Line*

      Totally agree! It’s her against literally everyone else, so anyone she confronts will have the rest of the office to lean on for back up/moral support.

    4. Zona the Great*

      Yep! And I’d also remove any and all post-it notes I see each time I open the fridge. Those can go directly into the trash as well.

    5. No Mas Pantalones*

      Exactly. It’s one person vs. an entire office. The greater good does not side with the hoarder.

    6. Woodswoman*

      Yes. If you’re concerned about being the only person who tosses her stuff, are there others in your office who can also do the deed so you don’t become a personal target? If all she does is leave post-it notes, no biggie. If she escalates to make your days difficult, then it’s best to have a few of you involved so it’s not personal.

      1. Woodswoman*

        One more thought. Do you have someone on your staff who is responsible for facilities? If HR is no help, someone who manages your equipment may be fine with saying that this needs to be taken care of to keep your refrigerator working properly.

    7. The OP!*

      Yeah I’d generally agree here, but the OH tends to yell at a very very nice assistant who is the one that has to send the fridge emails, even if assistant didn’t throw anything out. So, I might go rogue and toss something, but assistant is the one that gets screamed at. There’s some extra complication with the manager deal in that OH is a union employee. It doesn’t make dealing with things impossible, just longer and more complex in terms of documentation…

      1. MaryHmmm*

        I don’t understand this part? She’s union so she gets to keep garbage? Document the heck out of things (every step) but Iknow my union contract doesn’t have any language about me being able to decide what I can keep at the workplace- I’m glad you Are going to say something about it, but wouldn’t the response be that there are other union employees that don’t deserve to be treated worse than her garbage????

      2. Observer*

        Please document your head off. HR is not going to like it – they clearly don’t want to deal with difficult issues. But if enough people bring enough documentation, especially of the things that affect others, they will have to deal eventually.

        And this will help the admin, not just in that it would provide some protection, but for her to see that you’re totally on her side, and what OH is doing to her is NOT NORMAL OR ACCEPTABLE.

  11. irene adler*

    Might also have a set limit on the physical space one employee can use to store their food in the refrigerator (and /or freezer) per day. Or per week. We have assigned places in our workplace refrigerator. And there is a shelf for those who are infrequent users. Some who have more food items are limited to using ONE crisper drawer. Those who store less food use the door shelves. But no one gets to hog all the room.

    Surprised no one has fallen ill from this practice.

    1. Washi*

      I wondered about this too, and it might help with the space issue at least. But even a small amount of moldy food can make the whole fridge smell horrific, so that piece would still be a problem.

      1. irene adler*

        But coupled with very regular “throw out” sessions, it could really help curtail things as the hoarder would have a space limit to adhere to as well.

    2. Lil Fridge*

      Yeah if there were fewer people in the office it’d be nice to have like, designated boxes in there or something. But with 20 people sharing the fridge they probably can’t spare that kind of space.

      1. Trig*

        I thought of that too! Or, if there’s not room for boxes, demark space with masking tape, maybe, with names Sharpied on? Then if the mouldy stuff overflows Lucinda’s space into Sharon’s space… well.. Sharon has every right to throw it out.

    3. mark132*

      That is an interesting idea, though I will say I don’t want to be the one to enforce it.

    4. Marthooh*

      Having a designated space for everyone in the office probably won’t work, but a designated space just for OH might. Like, “You can keep as much as will fit in this box, but anything else gets tossed.” Limiting the space will help to limit the amount of time things stay in the fridge, hence a lesser degree of mold.

    5. TikkiTikki*

      I was about to suggest something along that track. We had assigned shelves so if there are 4 shelves and 20 people 5 people to a shelf. Whomever groups them can do it in such a way that if they know john Paul George and Ringo don’t often bring lunch in they can be spread amongst the shelves. But this gives a physical restriction and if you notice her items overtaking the other shelves you can say to her “you have to keep it on your assigned shelf. If you don’t take those items home with you tonight I’m taking it as you giving me permission to throw them away”. And have her shelf mates be people who are not afraid to say ‘I need to store my lunch and your items are in the way. You need to make room now”. If all else fails see if you can get the company to spring for a cheap small dorm size fridge she will keep by her desk and her food is no longer allowed in the communal one.

    6. The OP!*

      I would LOVE this but I think there would be a lot of office arguments before this happened. Policies like this, anything requiring policing, are reactionary not proactionary in my workplace. The freezer is smaller (a normal freezer!) so that just gets more arguments in general. That and the crisper drawers…. I’m just using a lunchbox until this all gets figured out.

  12. Rosemary7391*

    … Why is Office Hoarder doing this? It’s not forgetfullness… who goes to an effort to try and keep mouldy stuff? Something else going on here perhaps?

    1. Snark*

      A lot of food hoarding comes out of food insecurity in childhood, but it really doesn’t matter why she’s doing it. She can’t and she needs to stop.

      1. Rosemary7391*

        Absolutely it needs to stop. But I can see this being an ongoing problem (food will accumulate again) and that’s exhausting for everyone. Sometimes understanding why something is happening can lead to more permanent solutions.

        1. Natalie*

          My understanding is that hoarding can be fairly treatment resistant, so I’m not sure a more permanent solution is an achievable goal here. And regardless, the coworker would have to be the one motivated to seek treatment and driving her own bus, so to speak. Pushing someone into therapy is rarely fruitful.

          1. Jules the Third*

            It can be treatment resistant, a lot depends on how much the person wants to stop, and how long it’s been going on. Your brain reinforces habits.

            But it’s not on coworkers to address this. At all. It would be bad for them to try to address it – mental health needs to to be addressed by professionals.

        2. Artemesia*

          No one in an office is going to cure hoarding. What they can do is not accept it in their personal refrigerator space. Relentless throw old crap out, every single week. Don’t announce it (after the first announcement that it happens every week and for all spoiled food whenever it is spotted) then do it.

        3. Autumnheart*

          Well, it can stop when the hoarder gets fired for continuing to violate health regulations with their moldy food after being told not to. You can’t stop a hoarding employee from hoarding, but you can definitely stop them from being employed.

        4. Observer*

          Like what?

          The only way for there to be a more permanent solution is for the person to stop working there or for the person to seek treatment. There really is nothing the OP can do other than routine fridge clean outs.

        5. Snark*

          But that’s not OP’s problem, and not OP’s responsibility, even if they could do something – which others have pointed out is not plausible.

    2. Let*

      It could be that she’s in denial that her food is spoiled and she thinks she’s going to eat it – I have done this with holding on to clothes that clearly don’t fit after gaining weight.

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      Hoarding itself is that effort to keep stuff that often shouldn’t be kept. When I was county level health dept, I condemned a fair chunk of hoarding houses. One was just filled to the brim with Prego sauce and 7-Up, with random moldly fruit thrown in. One was filled with moldly everything and cat poop and dead cats. But to each of those people, it was precious stuff that they couldn’t bear to throw away (one of them having previously been thrown in jail after pulling a gun on her sister who was helping her clear her house after previously been condemned by the health dept). My county had a local assistance program that offered counseling & other help for hoarders specifically.

      I’d say in 90% of the houses we condemned, food was not kept in the manner it should. Raw ground beef sitting out on the counter, moldly bread, moldly/fly-infested fruit, rotting vegetables. We had one where they had a back room that had three deep chest freezers, none of which were plugged in, but all of them containing either rotting pork chops or yogurt.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I think I’ve also heard (I’m no psychologist though) that it can be a manifestation of OCD. The repetitive/soothing behavior in this case is keeping stuff, even if it is trash. On the TV show I believe they used to often connect it to sudden unexpected losses in the person’s life, which make them feel insecure about things leaving them.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          That wouldn’t surprise me – though their homes were often quite literally filled to the ceiling, they often had ‘zones’ of stuff. Like, this is the Levi Jeans Corner, and this is the Moldy Orange Corner.

          The counseling/help center set up just for hoarders was really, really good, and they said they often help set up treatment for a variety of things at the same time as hoarding for most of those clients. I think OCD was one they mentioned, depression, anxiety maybe too.

          1. Anonymosity*

            I wish more communities had programs like these. There have been at least three hoardy houses in my neighborhood alone. One of them was condemned and had to be razed. There’s nothing left but a weedy lot now.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              We razed one that was <300 ft from an elementary school. We had to send in extra pest control to the school to avoid the hundreds of rats moving from Hoard House to the school basement. You know it's going to be a bad day when the pest control guy looks into the crawl space and starts cackling, motioning you over to see many, many little glowing eyes.

              The cockroach-eating cat horde was arguably worse. 750 sq ft house, 30 cats that I could count, all very fat from the terrifying number of cockroaches living off the decaying food. We didn't raze it, but iirc distant family came in and took over, and they tore down the home.

          2. Jules the Third*

            Hoarding and OCD are anxiety disorders – and yeah, there’s a lot of room to overlap. The Obsession could be ‘I will not have enough food!’, which drives ‘Keep all the foods’ Compulsion. But OCD’s defined by the Obsession being a fairly coherent thought, that hits a clinically diagnosed level when you spend over 4 hrs / day doing Compulsions to soothe the obsession.

            Hoarding isn’t always that *structured*, and it has a physical manifestation that many other OC’s don’t (my C is usually reading or counting, for example), so they usually treat it as a separate issue, but with the awareness that it’s likely to have other anxiety disorders associated.

            Cause – strong genetic component, that can be triggered by environmental issues like trauma. I clearly remember Obsessive flashes from when I was 6, but it was not ‘4 hrs/ day’ dealing with it until I had a kid.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              I do think some people spend a lot of time “sorting” the stuff, even if it’s like, old newspapers or as someone else said above, moldy orange peels.

      2. Genny*

        Oh this brings back memories of cleaning out hoarder houses for my mom’s company. Each and every one of them is convinced they’ll eat that food eventually or that the mountain of rusty metal cookie tins they got at the dollar store are worth thousands of dollars. They’ll open those QVC boxes eventually, and after they’ve done that, then they’ll shred the bags of mail.

    4. mark132*

      The number of reasons are legion. I will say as a misstatement to hanlon’s razor. “Don’t attribute to mental illness, that which can be explained by laziness/forgetfulness/etc.”. Mental illness like hoarding etc is far more rare, than some might assume.

      1. Agnes*

        Yes, but the fact that the person is going to the trouble to relabel the food argues that it goes deeper than laziness or forgetfulness.

        1. mark132*

          That’s a very good point. I think this could be a hoarder. I’m just suggesting that other explanations be explored first.

      2. Xarcady*

        Someone who’s house is a hoard, but who can let the stuff go, with help or without, isn’t a hoarder. They may be forgetful or lazy or lack mobility or overwhelmed by the heaps of stuff or whatever, but they can let stuff go without agonizing over every single piece of stuff in the mess.

        Someone who *cannot* let the stuff go, even with help, even if that means Child Welfare removing the kids, or a spouse/partner moving out, is a hoarder. This is the stage where mental health issues come into play.

        I’ve had to help two extended family members who were hoarders. It is a very difficult situation to deal with.

    5. Observer*

      Oh, it’s pretty obvious that something else is going on. But that’s not the OP’s problem.

      1. Red 5*

        Exactly, there’s an greater underlying issue here.

        And that doesn’t matter at all to what the strategy is for solving the problem. It only matters to the person who is hoarding moldy food, and she needs to get that help herself, nobody can make her do it.

    6. The OP!*

      To a lot of us at work it really seems like it’s actual hoarding tendencies. It’s in other areas of OH’s work, too, but the fridge is the one that most affects others. Food insecurity is awful, and I have a lot of empathy about it, but it’s just really tough when the food hoarding impacts the rest of the office’s health, too…

  13. Atalanta0jess*

    If there is someone in the office who is close to her, they might consider checking in about how she’s doing, and/or keeping an eye out on the day the food gets tossed in case she needs some support. It sounds like her actions are pretty deliberate, and it may cause her some significant distress when it gets chucked.

    I’d also advocate for giving her notice so that if it is going to be distressing, she has warning and can take some self care measures.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      She’s already been given notice. Yes, it will be distressing, but no, she cannot continue to do this.

      1. Atalanta0jess*

        Did I imply that she should be allowed to continue? Here’s a hint. No.

        Where does it say she has already been given notice? I’m saying she needs to know specifically that it is happening regardless of how she labels it, that items removed and then placed back in the fridge will still be chucked, and the date when this is happening. People deserve the opportunity to put supports in place when they are going to experience a major stressor. Life doesn’t usually work that way, but in the case where someone else DOES know the planned date? Give her a little respect, fill her in.

        1. Natalie*

          When we’ve tried to throw out stuff before (with ample warning to bring it home first), OH will leave angry post-it notes and confronts those she suspects of doing the deed.

        2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          She’s not going to use a warning to put supports in place though, she’s going to use it to kick up a fuss and try to demand her food stays. She is much more likely to try to find a loophole to rig the system again then to get support.

            1. Mona Lisa*

              How so? It seems totally in line with her past behavior of bending the rules by putting new dates on expired food and leaving angry post-it notes.

              1. Atalanta0jess*

                Right, but you don’t know that she didn’t also seek out support. Seeking support and continuing to engage in negative behaviors aren’t mutually exclusive. It may be that she was able to get some assistance in preventing other issues/heightened emotional distress.

            2. Courageous cat*

              Well it’s kind of similarly rude to assume that just because someone’s being a bit of an asshole about their food being thrown out means they’ll need *emotional support* when that day comes. Come on. Some people do stupid things or behave in stupid ways – we don’t need to take that as a cue to start armchair diagnosing them with trauma or OCD or whatever else.

              Given the context of this letter, I don’t think this person needs to be treated with such fragility.

              1. Atalanta0jess*

                I’m not diagnosing her, but when someone’s behavior is intense, it usually has emotion attached to it. It’s a kind thing to be aware of that.

          1. TootsNYC*

            She’s not going to use a warning to put supports in place

            Which (I think) is why Atalanta0jess’s first suggestion was that the OP and her colleagues be a bit proactive about making sure there’s some level of support for her.

            1. SignalLost*

              TBH, I am not a qualified therapist, and it isn’t my job to support a coworker’s emotional health on this level. In fact, I would worry that I was making it worse, along with opening myself up for bearing the brunt of her historical unpleasant reaction.

        3. Temperance*

          She’d been told in the past when things were going to be tossed out. This woman doesn’t think that she has a problem. She’s not trying to get help. Even if she was, that’s super not the responsibility of the colleagues stuck dealing with her filth.

            1. Temperance*

              We know that she’s not taking any action and is actively hostile when people throw out her disgusting food garbage at work. I’m assuming all of this because of the contents in the letter, particularly the pieces referencing how she acts when people throw out her nasty molded-over garbage.

            2. Atalanta0jess*

              Yeah, but it’s totally possible to know you have a problem, be actively seeking help for that problem, and still really struggle with it and/or act out when your negative behavior is challenged. You can’t assume she doesn’t acknowledge her problem or hasn’t sought help for it just because the problem continues to exist.

              1. OhBehave*

                Yet you are assuming she does have a problem other than just being a jerk. She has had warnings; perhaps not aimed directly at her; but warnings none the less. If this has happened more than once (people tossing her stuff), then she knows it’s a ‘thing’ that happens regularly WITH warning.

                They have reinforced her behavior by not calling her out on it and letting this continue. She’s learned that if she throws a big enough fit, she gets her way. I wonder if this is specific to food or if she does this in other ways at work.

    2. Torrance*

      I’d also suggesting looping in whoever is in charge of the EAP stuff; cleanouts can be extremely traumatic for hoarders, to the point of suicide.

      1. Dino*

        This doesn’t seem like a reasonable assumption. If this coworker is a hoarder (which I don’t think we have enough information to know whether or not that’s the case), I don’t think that cleaning one hoard pile would trigger suicidal ideation. If the whole office showed up to her house and started taking all her hoarded trash from her home? Yeah, maybe (and the office would be out of line, imo). But I don’t think cleaning the office fridge is something that needs the EAP looped in.

      2. Temperance*

        Yikes. I wouldn’t make this assumption, nor would I ever put it out there that if you throw out someone’s gross old food, they may end their own life. What you’re actually doing here is more or less putting any mental health problms that this woman has off on others.

        1. Ali*

          Yikes indeed, I read a story today of a woman who was immobilized by her father dying and her moving apartment at the same time and she just couldn’t unpack. Tgat made her feel so bad and she didn’t feel at home in her home and didn’t feel able to ask for help. Her friends came over, unasked, and she admitted it was a risk on their part as she could have reacted badly but for her she didn’t and it removed this huge weight that was immobilizing her, allowing her to recover. This scenario is as possible as the opposite one posited above. Her not having to do it might relieve her of the responsibility. All the co-workers can do is act like reasonable people who also need to use the resource. They are not to blame for unreasonable reaction.

          1. SignalLost*

            Those were her friends, however. These are coworkers. Generally, there’s a distinction between the two. And it is VERY DEFINITELY a case of know your target; I am not comfortable that I have EVER known a coworker that well to take on that responsibility.

  14. Temperance*

    Who handles the clean-out? The rule in my office is that you must label and date anything you want to survive the clean-out, and if it’s moldy or gross, it’s still going in the trash. Our cleaning crew handles it, so it’s no one who actually works here.

    1. The OP!*

      It’s not really specified – we don’t have a *true* office manager, so it may be an assistant’s job kind of but that’s not in the job description, so it’s really always been communal responsibility which…. is one of the reasons why this is complicated. It reminds me of being an RA back in college, when I first learned about the horrors of a communal fridge.

  15. Snark*

    Post a notice on the fridge: “Any food, dishes, or containers left in the fridge that is moldy, rotting, or more than two weeks old regardless of date on package, WILL BE thrown out without warning during regular refrigerator clean-outs and may be discarded at any time if it poses a health and safety hazard.”

    And then do it. No apologies. Toss the angry post-its without response and toss everything that’s currently in the refrigerator meeting that description. I realize that this is a fairly tragic problem and likely reflects some sad features of this person’s past, but if she needs to keep old food, she can do it at home. It is not feasible to monopolize a shared appliance with heaps of rotting organic matter.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      In our office we have a regular schedule, which makes it a little easier to plan around. The office cleaning crew does it. They do NOT go through each item, they toss everything – but I could see an “end of the month, all old food is going to be tossed” rule working too.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        We do this too. At 5:00 on Friday everything in the fridge gets tossed, no exceptions. Everyone with actual food in the fridge can deal with taking it home for the weekend. That way her food would get thrown out or she would have to take it home. If she takes it home and then brings it back on Monday – then that is some next level stuff and I think needs a direct confrontation.

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      regardless of date on package

      Yep. If co-worker is re-labeling things with fake dates, then there should be no hard feelings about tossing old items.

      1. Snark*

        That was a key proviso. No rules-lawyering around scribbled out dates – if it looks moldy or rotten, bye.

    3. aka Duchess*

      I would also add – any condiments, prepackaged food (like yogurt) , or anything with a clear expiration date, will be tossed if the date has passed

    4. Not So Recently Diagnosed*

      Yeah, agreed. If this is related to a hoarding disorder, it really doesn’t matter what OP does; the hoarder is going to react in an emotionally disproportionate way. OP needs to prep for the possibility that angry notes might not be the worst of it if a full clean-out occurs, but it is THEIR reaction that is unreasonable, not OP’s.

      I always promote empathy in everything. But empathy doesn’t come at the detriment of others.

      1. the_scientist*

        Indeed. It is possible to have empathy for the Office Hoarder and recognize that her behaviour may be a symptom of deeper issues in her life, while being firm about appropriate office behaviour. Monopolizing the single office fridge and filling it with moldy, disgusting, months-old food is not appropriate. Crossing out and re-writing best before dates multiple times (!) doesn’t change the fact that 1) the food isn’t safe or appropriate for consumption any longer and 2) other people in the office need space to put the food that they actually plan to eat. This doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process. It’s not up to the letter writer to solve what’s going on in the Office Hoarder’s personal life. Throw the food out, ignore the angry post-it notes, get your fridge back.

    5. Jules the Third*

      Needs to be simpler. ‘All food and containers except condiments will be thrown out once a week, starting on X date. Condiments will be thrown out at the ‘Best by’ date.’

      Once the routine is established, they can cut it down to once a month, but they need to do once a week for a while.

  16. lemonsforbreakfast*

    I would throw it all away. If the person leaving moldy food in their has no regard for the health of others and the fridge functioning properly, I have no regard for their food. No regrets, no guilt, throw it all away. What is the person going to do?

  17. CatCat*

    I once found a milk container that was a couple *years* old in the back of the fridge (along with some additional ancient stuff crammed in the back). With my manager’s blessing, we instituted a one-month rule. People still complained. You can’t win. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. irene adler*

      But it must be done.

      It’s not like the hoarders are being asked to curtail their hoarding practices at home. There can keep the mold and rot as long as they wish to.

      1. CatCat*

        I agree that it must be done.

        Just be prepared even some non-hoarders to complain. Because the fridge wars will never end.

        1. SunshineOH*

          Truth. This is the thing everyone want a to complain about, but no one wants to act on.

    2. Not a Morning Person*

      Yes, you win by ignoring the complaints. You can’t please everyone and it’s bad management to try.

  18. Sara*

    If she doesn’t know for sure who is doing it, and all she can do is be mad, then let her be mad. Throw that gross stuff out and let her realize its not an option to keep gross food there.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I do think it’s interesting – I understand hoarding is a mental condition, but it does seem that sufferers have some sense of boundaries around where they hoard and don’t hoard – their house yes, in the train station no. I hope some of the suggestion on the page, like frequently throwing out everything left in the fridge, can make that just an out-of-the-question place to keep nesting.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I assume it tends to be places where they spend enough time to “own” the space. Most of us don’t spend that much time at the train station, etc., but we do at home and at work. It’s pretty normal to keep a little food at work because you’re there all day and have to eat lunch. But you don’t generally stop and stay awhile at the train station–you’re moving through on your way to somewhere else.

        1. Lil Friget*

          Yeah, I guess that’s what I’m thinking – any way to help break her sense of “owning” the shared office fridge.

    2. Scubacat*

      I used to work at a homeless shelter. One of our clients was a diagnosed hoarder. One would think that without a house, hoarding would be difficult. Not so! The guy would collect shopping carts, fill shopping carts with Things, and then hide full shopping carts around the city. Whenever a shopping cart pile would reach an unreasonable level, the City would clear out the space. Thus starting the cycle again.

      It may be that the OPs work place will have to start a similar purge system.

  19. Glomarization, Esq.*

    Ignore the re-labeling and just toss. The new labels are obviously misleading. Toss.

    Even if you make an error and accidentally, totally in good faith, toss something that wasn’t actually old — who cares? It was a mistake!

    If you see she’s put something back after hiding it in her desk, toss.

      1. SignalLost*

        Yeah, this needs to go straight out the door and down the street. I wouldn’t put it past her to retrieve her food from a dumpster.

  20. Toss it all weekly*

    I had to institute a rule at my last job: anything in the fridge at 7:30 on Monday morning will get tossed, regardless of date or container type. I was usually the first person to the office every day, so this was easy to manage on my part.

    My husband used to work a place that had a similar rule. He once lost a really nice Contigo travel mug because he forgot it overnight. C’est la vie. It’s people like the OP’s coworker who make such rules necessary.

    1. Jenn*

      Yes, a past job had this rule. It was frustrating at times and I had to fish my lunch bag out of the trash can once but again, c’est la vie. I’d rather deal with that than deal with fridge disgustingness. Our current fridge is super gross and no one takes responsibility for it.

    2. WillyNilly*

      Yup. The best office refridge’s have this rule. I have worked in Monday offices, Friday offices, 15th of the month offices, but always a set, reoccurring day & time. Some allowed condiments with clear dates pre-printed (no hand written dates) on the packaging to stay, so long as the date was still in the future.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        I once started in a new place. After a month, I took a couple of small boxes and cut down the sides so they contained things but didn’t hide them. I put every single loose condiment bottle into the boxes, and labels on the fronts saying “If it’s yours claim it by xyz” (where that was at least a week out). A few days after that target date, I tossed it all. About 1/3 of the items had been claimed. So much more room in the fridge! Not a single shred of guilt.

    3. SignalLost*

      My workplace is big enough that we have many fridges in all the breakrooms. The schedule of cleanouts is posted on the door of the fridges, and one fridge is the amnesty fridge – your items will get moved there on the scheduled day, and then that has its own schedule for cleaning, which is non recoverable, because it all goes straight in the trash. This only works (or is reasonable) because we have thousands of people sharing four breakrooms. Granted, most of them are VERY LARGE, but still: thousands of people sharing four breakrooms.

  21. Aphrodite*

    If she’s a true hoarder, and it sounds like she is, talking to her will do no good at all. There are no accommodations she will make. I would be willing to bet a lot of money that she has filled up her refrigerator and freezer (or more likely multiple refrigerators and freezers) at home and what is here cannot fit there. There are only a few truly workable ways to deal with this:

    (1) Get rid of the refrigerator; ban personal ones in work spaces. People can bring insulated bags and thermoses.
    (2) Do not allow anyone to keep anything overnight. The refrigerator must be clean and emptied each day. (I supposed you could say every week but the danger here is that any inch will be seen as a mile by the hoarder.)
    (3) Toss everything at random times, but I do not recommend this. You do not want to punish others for this one in the same way you don’t take away privileges from a group because there is one problem person.

    It’s best in cases like this to recognize and acknowledge early on that any reasonable solution is unworkable. Hoarders will never respond to reason. Never. It really does have to be an “all or nothing” solution. And I am sorry for the other co-workers who will end up refrigerator-less.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      But why should they end up without a refrigerator? I understand that this woman is a hoarder and that hoarding is a very serious condition, but the rest of the office shouldn’t have to “suffer” to accommodate her disorder. Note that I put that in quotation marks– I don’t think it’s truly suffering to be without a fridge, but that’s me– but there are many reasons why an office would have a fridge, even if it’s just part of making workers comfortable. Like having coffee. Would you take away the coffee because one worker has a problem with K-cups? There are other solutions that don’t make the rest of the office completely change their habits.

      1. Aphrodite*

        The other co-workers should not have to go without a refrigerator. But this woman will never change. There is nothing anyone can do to reason with her. If the OP and/or her managers are unwilling to institute drastic changes (getting rid of the refrigerator, tossing everything at the end of every day, etc.) them this situation is going to continue. You cannot change a hoarder. Only if the hoarder wants to change and gets long-term therapy can change even possibly occur–and that’s no guarantee.

        What other ideas do you have? I am genuinely interested and not being snarky.

        1. fposte*

          The idea is to not make her behavior the focus but to have a workable fridge policy. If you toss anything that’s moldy and anything older than a month, that’s likely to take care of the fridge problem. It doesn’t have to take care of the hoarder problem–she can bring stuff home or stick it in a storage pod or whatever; she just can’t keep it in the fridge against the rules. If she starts taking up more space then you can put in a space rule; it doesn’t sound like she’s filled things up fast so far, but if that’s her response to loss, she’ll do it whatever the interval is.

          1. fposte*

            Too hard to police, though; you don’t know who’s stuff is what and you really don’t want anybody tasked with figuring it out. That’s why a person-neutral time-focused policy is more effective.

        2. Observer*

          Stop thinking about changing her. It’s not going to happen.

          The issue here is what can be done for the rest of the staff. And there is no reason why tossing everything on a regular basis can’t be done.

          1. Decima Dewey*

            I used to work with a librarian I’ll call Morna. Everyone knew that Morna could not weed (that is, remove outdated books, or books that haven’t gone out in years). She simply couldn’t let any book go. So whenever Morna was on vacation or out sick, we weeded the collection.

            Have the big clean out, with additional clean outs when OH isn’t in for one reason or another. Come to think of it, business trips or conferences would also be good additional times.

      2. fposte*

        I might take away the coffee, but I don’t drink it :-).

        Otherwise I agree with you. The goal here is to keep the refrigerator usable for the office, not to avoid upsetting Hoarding Coworker. And in general, workable solutions aren’t things that make everybody happy; they’re just the best for the greatest number. Change the policy to what it needs to be and not what will manage the co-worker, and let the moldy chips fall where they may.

    2. Temperance*

      It doesn’t matter that OH might be mentally ill. It’s ridiculous to put these conditions in place when you can just keep throwing out her stuff. It doesn’t matter if it triggers her, what she’s doing is a disgusting health hazard. I think the random toss-outs is a fine idea, since frankly she’s the only one leaving rotten garbage in the fridge.

      I store soy milk and lunch items in my office refrigerator. I’m not going to bring everything I need for breakfast and lunch every day because someone else is unreasonable.

    3. Glomarization, Esq.*

      All three of these suggestions are over-reactions to a problem that needs to be addressed with a single employee. There’s no reason to inconvenience or punish everybody in the office by banning the fridge or disallowing any food to be kept overnight. And random purging denies everyone consistency and predictability, never mind being irritating to implement.

      1. Aphrodite*

        They are, I agree. But the only other option I think might work is to, as Artemesia suggested above, ban the hoarder from using the refrigerator. Granted, it might have to be that way but that won’t be pleasant either.

        Do you have any other ideas? I truly would like to hear others that I can’t think of.

        1. Glomarization, Esq.*

          Who’s going to be given the rotten job of being fridge police versus their co-worker?

          People have given plenty of ideas about mandatory, regularly scheduled clean-outs that ignore expiry dates and labels.

        2. Observer*

          Why do you keep on insisting that REGULAR, SCHEDULED clean outs won’t work? Sure they won’t change OH, but that’s not the aim.

          1. Red 5*

            Regular scheduled cleanouts will work fine, even with this hoarder. They’ve worked for an untold number of other people in the comments here.

            Weekly cleanouts would be best, because it’s really hard for food to reach epidemiology experiment levels in a week unless it came in already that gross.

            Which is easily solved by saying “molded or expired food can be tossed whenever it is found.” But honestly, at my office I clean our fridge once a month and I rarely find mold anymore.

            That’s a really basic and simple happy medium. Post a set of rules, enforce them, with no exceptions for anybody, and you’re done. That’s really honestly all that needs to happen.

            She’s still going to want to hoard, but the system won’t enable it. And if she complains you can say that every single person is abiding by the rules so she can’t get special treatment. If she intentionally brings in moldy food every day that’s already gone off, then keep throwing it away because you have a clearly communicated rule that you are enforcing without exceptions.

    4. Ella*

      Since it sounds like the fridge clean out is being handled by the office, and not by the custodial staff, cleaning it out every day is probably too much. You would have to add that to some poor admin’s job duties. That’s not an insignificant chore.

    5. Someone Else Needs The Wood*

      What about medications that need to be stored cold or those who pump? You cannot be this dense and heavy handed because of one individual.

    6. Observer*

      Sorry, it’s just not true that these are the only options.

      And just as #3 is punishing everyone, so are #1 and #2 – even more so. But, it’s just not necessary. If you have a routine set up, that should work, even if she’s a true hoarder.

      Will she be cooperative? No. Will she “accommodate” anyone? No. But that’s not what’s under discussion.

    7. WillyNilly*

      This is ridiculous. Hoarding is a mental illness. And like most illnesses there are degrees and personal manifestations. Not all hoarders are exactly the same.
      While its unlikely anyone at the office can cure OH, its absurd to say there are no workable measures – with many hoarders there are.

    8. nonymous*

      I would revamp the cleaning process to exclude the practice of saving stuff. Schedule the cleanings for a Friday and just dump all of it every month. If OH is just moving stuff back and forth (as OP is worried about) also include wording about volume in the policy. OH can claim “in use” status all she wants but keep it neutral as a clearly arbitrary policy that everyone just has to follow.

      I think the bigger issue will be if OH continues to angrily confront whomever does the clean out. OP and coworkers should be empowered to redirect those complaints to supervisors, but if management keeps shrugging it off, I would personally opt out of using the fridge (and also any cleaning rota).

    9. Erika*

      There’s one clear answer to this nobody’s brought up yet.
      This person thinks the refrigerator is their space to fill up as they please.
      Tell her it’s not her space. Then enforce that.
      Hoarders don’t fill up other people’s space unless they’re allowed to take over and “own” that space. Her manager will have to help with this. I suggest handing the manager a bucket of soapy water with bleach in it and two rags to clean the walls and shelves of the refrigerator. It won’t happen again .

  22. MicroManagered*

    If it’s visibly spoiled, I think you can just go rogue and toss. If she confronts anyone about it, they simply need to tell her that the refrigerator was purged of anything with moldy or spoiled food and not engage beyond that. She’s not being reasonable, so there’s no point trying to reason with her.

    However, I also think it could be useful to take pictures of anything that’s visibly spoiled and being thrown out. This way, if *she* tries to escalate to her manager or HR or something (like tries claim food-theft or something) you have documentation of exactly what you threw out and why.

    1. Dino*

      I agree with the documentation idea, especially at first when the rule and clean-out routine is new. It takes an extra second per container, but I think the peace of mind of knowing that any reasonable person would agree that you needed to toss moldy things.

    2. The OP!*

      I’ve wondered how to do documentation for this but you’re right – the post-its with OH’s initials help with that. Yes, OH gets really upset when moldy/spoiled food of hers is tossed. Food-theft is one of the reasons claimed, discrimination another sometimes I think.

  23. Eliza Jane*

    Everywhere I’ve worked with more than 20 people in the office has had a much harsher rule: on the first Friday of every month, EVERYTHING in the fridge and freezer is thrown out. No checking dates, no evaluation of food. “Remember to use or take home your food before the first Friday of the month”, and then a clear, empty fridge for Monday morning.

    I find this tends to do a much less personal job of handling the fridge cleanout, because it’s not about ignoring someone’s dates or making judgement calls about their food: everything goes. If she brings back moldy food the next week, that’s a whole different level of issue, but one that no degree of scheduled clean-outs will fix.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      This is a great plan, and enforcing it across the entire office means it’s no a question of singling anyone out. Stuff shouldn’t be left in a work fridge over the weekend, anyway…

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      The most effective schemes I’ve experienced have been along these lines. Mandatory/Universal clean-out every week/month. Everybody will accidentally leave something they didn’t want to lose in the fridge past the deadline once or twice, but over the long term you end up with a reasonably clean fridge and a seriously lowered risk of mold or foodborne illness.

    3. Antilles*

      That’s the policy I’ve often seen too. You’re right that it makes it much less personal and more easy, but there’s another benefit here: The fridge actually gets a legitimate cleaning (spray/wipe) on a regular basis to remove all the various gunk, stains, leaks, condensation, small pieces of dropped food, and so on that build up inside the fridge over time.

    4. BadWolf*

      I feel like an everything goes regular clean-out like this is a good balance of keeping the fridge benefit and putting a hard rule on the OH.

      I guess there’s still the risk that she’ll take stuff out and put it back in.

    5. Lil Fidget*

      Yep. Just do it on the end of the day Friday to reduce the likelihood of hidden food being returned to the fridge once it’s clean.

    6. Amaryllis*

      A monthly sweep WAS the rule at my last job. Then a custom cake was placed in the fridge on Friday afternoon for an executive admin’s retirement party on Monday…and it got thrown out. The VP who ordered the cake lost his mind, and the fridge became a moldering wasteland afterwards because people were scared to throw anything out.

      1. Rosemary7391*

        I’m not suprised… those sort of cakes can be pretty expensive, can’t be replaced on short notice and was (presumably) obviously not mouldy or anything. Cake in the fridge is wierd though! So I guess it also had a fancy perishable filling – also pricey.

        1. Red 5*

          Leaving cake in a fridge will help it keep longer and stay fresher, at the grocery store they always keep the cakes in a cooled display case.

          That said, if you know the rule is that stuff gets tossed on Friday, and you put a brand new cake in there on Friday without a note, I’m not really sure you can get all that mad. But when has that stopped executives?

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        It kind of blows my mind that whoever was on fridge-cleaning duty saw a fresh-looking cake, sealed in a box, with (I assume) writing on it, and automatically went “eh, old leftovers, I’m throwing it out”.

        1. BadWolf*

          Perhaps it wasn’t in a cake box with a window and just looked like especially a larger take-out box?

    7. mark132*

      If you are going to have an office fridge, this policy, or some variation of it, is the only sane way to manage the fridge.

    8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes, we had that too. Friday by 4PM, everything needs to be out of the fridge. Friday at 5PM, the cleaning crew comes and cleans the inside of the fridge; if they find any food still in the fridge, they toss it. (Which will prevent the situation where OH takes her stuff out and then puts it back in ten minutes later.)

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        Yep! This is our policy – I’ve definitely lost milk and mustard this way, but I’d rather that than food just sit there.

        1. Lil Fridget*

          Yes, it’s hard on our office milk kitty (of which I am one) as it always seems that someone just bought a new full jug right before clean-out – but its for the greater good!

    9. the_scientist*

      This is exactly what happens at my office. We have a cleaner from an outside agency who is responsible for the cleanout and you can bet that she’s not opening individual containers and evaluating whether or not that half-empty jar of salad dressing is worth keeping.

      She will sometimes place nicer re-usable containers out on the kitchen table so people can come by and pick them up, if they have genuinely forgotten about them, but if it’s not gone by the end of the day it goes right into the garbage. I’ve never heard anyone complain about this policy and our fridge is always blessedly clean.

    10. KRM*

      We do this at work. The cleaning staff does it, so anyone who loses something can’t accuse a co-worker of deliberately throwing it out. Emails are sent to remind people to take it out or lose it, and every quarter the bottom drawers (where people put stuff if they want to save it) are purged as well. No second thoughts, no debate, just straight up purge. It works pretty well! The time I lost a lunch bag I was mad but also immediately realized that it was my own damn fault for leaving it there.

  24. ENFP in Texas*

    I’d start enforcing item counts because space is an issue.

    Each employee can have TWO standard plastic grocery bags (or coolers of comparable size) in the fridge at any given time. Anything over that amount will be thrown away.

    If logic and common sense aren’t going to work with her, then unfortnately you’ll have to treat her with hard-and-fast rules until she breaks the habit.

    1. LCL*

      Two standard grocery bags per person is way too much. We are having that issue here, sure, the food is good and gets eaten, but your full grocery bag plus whatever additional you brought is using up too much space considering how many people use the fridge. If you are going to make this a rule, make sure to include no hard coolers in the rule-they are spacehogs, can’t be compressed, and it’s a cooler it doesn’t need the fridge.

    2. Murphy*

      That’s probably too much. The only time I ever put a whole bag of food in the work fridge rather than just a day’s lunch/snacks was after a hurricane when there was widespread power loss for a week.

      But some kind of standard food limit for everyone makes sense. It can help counter any arguments from the food hoarder at being singled out.

      1. Ella*

        When I biked to work, it was really helpful to be able to keep a week’s worth of lunches in the work fridge, and not have even more to tote in my panniers every day. I checked with my coworkers, though, and they all understood why I brought in more than the usual amount, and I understood that if I brought in too much they would ask me to stop.

        1. The OP!*

          Ugh this was my jam, bringing a week’s worth of lunches in there. But most of the office has long commutes and wants to do this, so most people want to bring in a lot. My daily commute bag is much heavier now that I haven’t been able to use the fridge, and it’s been doing a number on my shoulder and back.

    3. Media Monkey*

      also putting the actual plastic bags in the fridge stops them working properly. i would also say no bags (especially if that is used to hide the mould – bleurgh!)

    4. SoCalHR*

      Interesting thought – they could order *small* reusable grocery bags and limit each person to ONE of these in the fridge (20 people using it is a lot). And then hoarder would be limited to one bag as well and then there’s no way around that.

  25. H.C.*

    A bit of sidestep but can you institute your cleanouts around end of day Friday? At least that will thwart her attempts to keep food at her desk & move it back in after the purge.

  26. Antilles*

    I find it ironic that, the first “similar post” is about a Dark Knight vigilante…because this is one of the situations that *actually does* call for a cold-blooded office vigilante dealing with issues and delivering justice without the slightest regard for the co-worker’s ridiculous complaints/aggressive post-its.

    1. Rainy*

      I am this cold-blooded office vigilante and I am undeterred by all-office emails attempting to shame me. I AM SAVING YOUR LIVES. You don’t have to be grateful, but I’m not going to feel guilty.

      1. SoCalHR*

        “You don’t have to be grateful, but I’m not going to feel guilty.” ugh – this applies to so many situations! haha

  27. Mary, Queen of Scoffs*

    My office actually has the rule that every week at the end of the day on Fridays, whatever is in the fridge is tossed. They do tend to stack any Tupperware containers on the counter next to the fridges so people can take them back on Monday, but the food is dumped out. Because they’re not in there long enough to get moldy, that’s fortunately not been an issue, but I think if they were moldy, it would be fine to chuck it, container and all.

    We have a catering staff in the office who take on this task, but it may be something you could get a janitorial staff to do as part of their cleaning duties.

  28. Millennial Lawyer*

    Did I misread, or does OP say that fridge clean outs months apart from each other? In my office, fridge clean outs are weekly.

    I agree with Allison that the rule needs updating and enforcing.

      1. Red 5*

        Before I was put in charge of ours, it was about the same. It basically was when somebody got too tired of it or it smelled too bad they’d step up and deal with it. It obviously was not a system that was working, but it’s what most people do.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Once a month. That’s what my office does. There are five fridges and over 150 people. There is a schedule on the wall and an email goes out at the beginning of the week. They are ruthless. And it’s fine with me. And everyone else.
      Actually, in the morning the fridges are packed, and by two the shelves are empty again. Only condiments on the doors. Nobody really stores stuff. Certainly not enough to block other people and sure as hell not enough to poison the division. How is this an issue?

      1. Millennial Lawyer*

        Wow! We have a mini fridge that doesn’t serve a lot of people (basically it’s if you use it, sign up on the cleaning list) and people are really good about cleaning it out every Friday. Our office-wide fridge is cleaned out weekly by janitorial staff.

    2. CmdrShepard4ever*

      Our office does not have a set clean out policy but we are a small 5/6 person office sharing a full size fridge. We don’t really have fridge space issues except after our holiday party when it is full of leftover food and beer. For the most party people are good about not leaving old food there. Usually if there is something really old and moldy it is easy to track down the owner and we have them throw it out and or wash it. But I would say a full clean sweep happens about once or twice a year.

      1. Millennial Lawyer*

        Wow! We have a labeling process – if it’s labeled, we don’t toss it. It doesn’t serve too many people but it would definitely stink if we went to once a month let alone twice a year! But then again it’s not a beverage fridge, people put their lunches in there, and it’s usually brown bag/homemade.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Our fridge is mainly a food fridge, it only turns into a beer fridge after our holiday office party. For the most part people are pretty good about keeping the fridge clean, but if an item does get moldy we just find the owner and have them clean it. With a 5 person office it is pretty easy to figure out who the container belongs to.

      2. LizM*

        Us too.

        If we find something gross, and it’s not labeled, it gets tossed, even if not part of a formal clean out. Unlabeled, packaged food that’s past its expiration also gets tossed if someone comes across it. More often than not, it’s something that got pushed to the back and forgotten, and is pretty rare.

        We have a few people that keep packaged food (coffee creamer, salad dressing, etc.) in the fridge, and they’d be pretty upset if they had to take it home every weekend. But I think they also understand that they’ll give up that right if things get gross enough that we have to institute a formal clean out.

    3. The OP!*

      Yup – it’s pretty much quarterly I’d say. And it’s volunteer based, as it’s no one person’s designated job. I wish we had an office manager. I normally volunteer, as I’m an “Ask a Clean Person” and love a clean fridge, but it’s definitely a lot of gross work with little reward besides angry coworkers getting mad that you threw out half a box of moldy cherry tomatoes.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Volunteer-based is nice in theory… ours is like that too, only I was basically the only volunteer. We never had anyone THIS bad (thank goodness), but our office kitchen’s fridge/sink/dishwasher all got super nasty and I had a bunch of passive aggressive signs up (which hate!) – rinse things before putting them in the dishwasher because it might sit for a week before it’s run and then it’s just caked on and comes out dirty… don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight because we don’t want ants AGAIN…. f you finish the coffee make a new pot… UGH.

        A few months ago I said “eff this” and stopped cleaning. Or even walking into the kitchen if I can avoid it. I literally have my own dishes/cups/silverware in my desk and a cooler for my own food under my desk.

        Can;t tell you how much my stress level has gone down since then!

  29. Rebecca*

    Just toss it if it’s moldy or gross! The refrigerator is there for everyone’s benefit, not as a storage box for rotting food. The other comments are correct: this person will not understand or change unless they want and get help. There is absolutely no reason 19 other people should be inconvenienced or potentially harmed by this person’s behavior. If the cost of the containers is an issue, as in they aren’t recycled plastic food containers, if you’re brave enough, dump out the contents and let her keep the containers.

    I had a family member who did this – it was gross. No one ate at her house, and if she brought food to a function, it was not touched (except by her) and we threw it out after. She was angry about this, but refused to get or accept help, so that’s what happened.

  30. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    When you toss everything, and you totally need to toss it, just make sure it goes in a trash can she doesn’t have access to. You don’t want revenant tupperware returning to your fridge from The Great Beyond.

  31. Anon for This*

    I am with everyone else who says to throw it out. Lots of excellent suggestions here for how to do this.

    I work with a hoarder. She’s not a food one, thankfully, but her office has been cited by the fire marshall repeatedly. The problem has gotten worse over time and will continue to get worse.

    1. Teapot librarian*

      Whoa, seriously? How does the fire marshall know to come and inspect, and what happens when she gets cited?

      1. Natalie*

        At least one city in my area required annual inspections of office buildings, and it was a detailed inspection – we got letters about extension cords in private offices, storage spaces with boxes too close to the sprinkler heads, etc. And they reinspect to make sure you fixed it.

      2. Anon for This*

        I work at a state university. They come through and go into offices accompanied by the facilities person. We get fined is what happens. Then I think the supervisor tells the hoarder she needs to clean it up. So far I believe she’s shifted stuff around.

        The inspectors are usually focused on things like enough clearance between the ceiling and the items; janky looking extension cords; things like space heaters that are not up to code, etc.

        1. Teapot librarian*

          I did tell my Hoarder two weeks ago that the fire marshal HAS commented on his office–no fine yet–so that’s a step in the right direction. He was also to get to me today a justification for keeping the dozen+ boxes of old newspapers that he “hasn’t gotten around to clipping yet”; he just got it to me and it says–I kid you not–that the boxes can get stored in the office truck so that they aren’t in the way. And he can finish the project in 6 months. Yeah right.

    2. DCGirl*

      My husband works with one. He’s a federal employee, and his office gets some sort of inspection/accreditation every four years. The last time it came round, they ended up just locking the door of her office and putting her nameplate on the door to one that was unassigned at the time. She’s an attorney and known to be litigious, so she gets away with it.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      And that, right there, is a good reason to make people move offices every few years. For hoarders, it helps keep the paths clear. For everyone else, it’s a good chance to empty paper file cabinets.

  32. A Nickname for AAM*

    Stay late on a Friday, toss it out, let her tantrum. The tantrums will become a problem that’s grounds for termination.

    1. MissCPA*

      I’m really surprised I haven’t seen more comments re: her tantrums because this is a workplace and something like that shouldn’t be tolerated!

  33. well_hi_there*

    As someone who sometimes has trouble throwing things away, I will add that it can be a kindness to have the decision taken out of your hands. It may be distressing for your colleague to have the things tossed, but it may also be a relief. Not that, as Alison and others are saying, her feelings are the most important thing here, but in case it helps you feel better about taking action.

  34. Blueberryhill*

    The new Rule should be:
    Anything in the fridge on Friday will be tossed out.

    Every Monday, you should start the week with a clean, empty fridge. The workplace refrigerator should not be seen as a long term storage unit. It is a temporary one, meant for daily use.

    Millions of schoolkids bring their lunch every day – it is not that much of hardship to ask adults to do the same.

    1. Blueberryhill*

      That said, I agree with previous posters that the coworker should be given clear notification on the initial refrigerator clearout deadline and the empty Monday policy change. If they are a hoarder, this is a serious issue and while the coworkder’s issues should not dictate how the fridge or office is run, does not mean that support and respect should be withheld.

  35. MuseumChick*

    Just chiming to agree with that others have said. Have a 1-month throw out policy. I would also add a mold/rotten throw out policy.

  36. Amaryllis*

    For those of us who aren’t hoarding but just darned forgetful with our leftovers: private Outlook appointments! As soon as I place something in the work fridge that isn’t for that day’s lunch, I make a reminder appointment for myself. Five minutes before end of day: appointment to grab lunch leftovers to take home.

    1. Another Person*

      I’m so glad I’m not the only person who does this! It has saved me so many times!

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      After having a nice 31 lunch bag tossed in the trash, I started sticking post it notes on my monitor that said “lunch bag”.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I may have to try this! Right now what I do is use a lunch bag w/ a built-in ice pack.

    4. Red 5*

      I have a co-worker who has written all my fridge cleanouts in her calendar, so sometimes I’ll get an email from her saying “I was out sick today and couldn’t take my soda home, can you leave it at my desk instead?”

      For her, I make exceptions. Don’t tell anybody.

  37. Rainy*

    I independently decided last year that the way we as an office were handling our fridge wasn’t working. We had fridge cleanout on the last friday of each month but there, as we all know, tends to be a lot of hesitation around throwing other people’s food out, and because it was a different person every time, they just weren’t capable of tracking when something had been left out of hesitation the last cleaning. Or six.

    So I started pitching everything out of date, moldy, gross, dehydrated, or without names or dates every Friday afternoon without fail. Larger containers of drinks, dips, or whatever, I would pitch if they were visibly gross but if they stayed, put a small mark with a sharpie on the bottom. If it got two marks (had been there 2 weeks), I would pitch it at the end of the third week. This did a lot to clear out half-drunk beverages, alternative milks that people put in the fridge and forgot about and then brought another, and utterly toxic old half-consumed hummuses.

    People didn’t catch on for at least three months. When they did, the director of our department personally thanked me. We’d been having a fridge smell problem for ages and it went away. We also had a lot more space in the fridge when it wasn’t full of gallons of moldy almond milk, giant costco packs of yoghurt cups that expired five months ago, and huge takeout containers with 3 tablespoons of badly desiccated burrito bowl left in them. Don’t get me started on the avocado halves that dry out to the point they slip down behind the shelves.

    What most work fridges really need is someone who has a running memory of what was in there last week and hasn’t been touched in the intervening time, so that stuff actually gets thrown away.

    Also: THROW AWAY OUTDATED YOGHURT. I ate an outdated yoghurt some years ago because I was a fool and I had the worst food poisoning it has ever been my misfortune to endure. I seriously thought I might die at one point. It took me years to be able to stare a yoghurt in the face after that.

      1. WellRed*

        I throw out so much unopened yogurt. People, just admit it: You don’t like yogurt. Stop buying it and move onto another snack.

        1. Red 5*

          It’s not just me????

          Seriously, how much outdated yogurt do people have? I swear I throw away at least two containers of yogurt every time. And one time it was one that the date on it was from before the last fridge cleaning, so when they brought it in it was already expired.

        2. Amaryllis*

          I freaking love yogurt, but only the pricey skyr. I would never risk leaving it in the office fridge.

      1. Rainy*

        I don’t remember where I read it–I don’t even think it was about food!–but it REALLY helped me know if it was the same disgusting half-used container of almond milk or a brand new non-disgusting half-used container of almond milk.

        Also: WHY DO PEOPLE PUT HALF-DRUNK STARBUCKS IN THE OFFICE FRIDGE. You aren’t going to finish it. You never finish it. Just tip it out.

        1. Rainy*

          My office doesn’t think so, haha.

          There’s actually a GoT meme about me that gets sent around my office periodically. It’s Sean Bean in furs and says RAINY IS COMING.

      2. Red 5*

        Seriously, I like it. If I was going to be more forceful with our fridge (which I’ve thought about) I’d adopt this.

  38. NB*

    My workplace maintenance team cleans out our fridge every Thursday. There’s a sign on the door warning us to label and date our belongings. Cleanings are routine and expected. I love this. I’ve never worked at a place with a fridge as clean as this one.

    1. MikeN*

      My office has something like this as well. There’s a big sign on the fridge announcing that it is completely emptied every Friday. The maintenance team is ruthless…literally everything is tossed. I love it…there’s no judgment, no whining, no nothing. The rule is the rule, and no one has any reason to complain.

    2. Higher Ed Database Dork*

      I wish our facilities team would do this…we have a small janitorial team that regularly cleans the building and it is sparkling, and I love it. But they don’t do the fridges, probably something in their contract. So we get emails periodically about needing to throw away our gross stuff. We use a lot of consultants and they will all go out to lunch, bring back leftovers, and forget them, and no one on staff remembers they are in there.

  39. pleaset*

    Get rid of the refrigerator. I wish my workplace did not have one – it just adds to work keeping it clean.

  40. SWOinRecovery*

    I wish management/HR would step up a little more here. I think the clearest solution, which OP can’t implement alone, is banning the hoarder from the refrigerator. She’s been warned and continues to game the system with fridge hoarding. Banning her use seems easier to enforce and doesn’t punish the responsible coworkers.

  41. Anita-ita*

    So gross. I say weekly clean outs are necessary, that’s what my office does. And someone needs to have a convo with her.

    I would love to say “Hey OH, this isn’t a culturing fridge for petri dishes. Take your science projects home!”

      1. Anita-ita*

        LOL I do that with friends as well. Also with them if they leave messes on the counter. “This is a place of work, not a frat house! Clean up your mess.”

        1. Rainy*

          When I judge a container salvageable, I will empty the food and leave the container on the counter with a post-it on top that says, e.g. “Sorry, these strawberries were HELL NAWberries” or “Sorry, this spaghetti was becoming sentient” etc. That way people who look at the container and think “it LOOKS like my storageware but my strawberries were fine Thursday” will know it’s theirs.

  42. TreePeople*

    We solved this problem with a rule that people are only to bring what they need for one or two days, and that everything goes home every Friday. (Condiments are the exception to both rules.) Anything left in the fridge Friday at 5 p.m. gets tossed.

    Really, when you have 20+ people sharing a refrigerator, this is a reasonable rule. No one should be using it for storage, whether they leave things too long or not. It’s not fair to everyone else.

    1. Luna*

      This is a good idea, it addresses both the gross moldy food and the overall space issues. I’ve never understood why people think they need bring weeks worth of food to work anyway.

    2. mark132*

      Even condiments can get to be a problem in time. You get to where you have condiments from people who left years ago.

      1. Red 5*

        That’s why I tell people they have to put their initials or name on their condiments. Then at least I can say “Jane? Nobody named Jane works here anymore…”

        Or somebody else can say “Jane? There’s no Jane here, so hey, free ketchup!”

        When I cleaned out our kitchen I found an item in there that had expired ten years before. It wasn’t in the fridge, but in one of the cabinets.

    3. Rainy*

      We made that rule because we were running out of fridge space (like, crammed full) and inevitably the only people who obeyed it were the people who weren’t the problem in the first place.

      Looking at you, Ms Brings-a-Full-Grocery-Bag-of-Salad-Fixings-Every-Monday-Whether-You-Finished-the-Old-Ones-or-Not.

  43. Another Person*

    Agree you need to not punish everyone for the misdeeds of one person. Add a line to the policy that says anything that is obviously moldy/rotten/out of date can and will be thrown away outside the regular cleaning schedule, and consider adding guidelines for the amount of space to be allotted to each person. Make it reasonable and clear it is for the proper functioning of the refrigerator.

  44. KR*

    Hey OP, I agree with all the others that you get to toss this food without being a jerk in any way. If it had been in there for a week or so, okay maybe your coworker has more questionable standards around food sanitation and you can remember that at office potluck time. If something has been in there for over a month and is moldy it isn’t even one of those situations where someone can reasonably skew it to your co-workers side. It needs to be thrown out. Something else to consider (and I’m sure you’ve thought of this) is that food tends to absorb the odors around it so if someone has a cheaper Tupperware or lunch box that doesn’t seal well, their food is being exposed to yucky odors and bacteria (think about grapes in the same drawer as onions – grapes are porous and absorb the smell of the onions). If coworker wants to hold onto this stuff for months (!!) they can do it in their own fridge and bring in enough food for a week or a couple days at a time like the rest of us.

    1. The OP!*

      Yes the odor thing is FOR REAL! One time a coworker just left.. half an onion uncovered in the fridge. I just. Why. Why.

  45. MissCPA*

    I’m all for throwing the stuff out and with what most others have commented (haven’t gone through them all). It is interesting to me that I haven’t seen any comments about her overly emotional notes? This is a workplace! We told you to remove the old, moldy junk, you didn’t, we tossed it and you don’t get to be mean to your coworkers about it?! I get that maybe there are underlying factors into the reasons why this woman is hoarding food, but she needs to get the emotional piece under control and the outbursts after the fact shouldn’t be tolerated, IMO.

    1. Iris Eyes*

      Good point. OP has mentioned the nice Admin getting yelled at. Hopefully anyone in ear shot can be empowered and encouraged to stop that shit as soon as it starts.

  46. Office Person*

    I’m the last one out of the office on Fridays. I have no problem throwing out everything in the shared fridge before I leave, and everyone assumes it’s the cleaning people (who also come in on Friday). Luckily, no one seems to care.

  47. Lch*

    It’s a sounds like we all agree the wording should be changed to “have been in the fridge longer than [time span] or have begun to go bad/are moldy.”

  48. it_guy*

    Our office has a simple rule, the first thing Monday morning before anyone else get’s in, the fridge is cleaned out and anything that is not a condiment get’s pitched. No exceptions. There’s a clearly labeled sign on the door and any plastic containers are rinsed out and left in the sink.

    This is probably more draconian than you want to do for your office. The key thing is to determine what the policy is, put a big sign on the fridge door, and if she doesn’t like it, have her get her own fridge.

    1. Antilles*

      I don’t know if it really is too draconian, because there are a *lot* of commentators above (including me, FWIW) who have said their company operates on basically the same policy – the actual time it happens might be different from company to company (seems like Friday afternoon is more common than your Monday morning), but the general concept of “every week we throw everything out, that’s the way it’s done, sorry-not-sorry if you don’t like it” seems to be fairly common.

    2. WillyNilly*

      That’s not draconian at all. In fact rinsing containers is exceptionally generous – most places just chuck everything, regardless of how nice or expensive the container might appear.

      1. Red 5*

        Yeah, I’m actually really impressed that containers get rinsed out at all. I’d never go that far (I do wash and rinse out people’s dishes they leave in the sink sometimes, but that’s actually because I’m trying to avoid attracting bugs).

    3. TootsNYC*

      When I start my own company, I’m going to hire someone whose part-time job is to come in early every morning and:
      -turn on all the lights (no sleepy-dark hallways to lull the first arrivers into a slow, sleepy start)
      -power up all the printers and fill the trays with paper
      -start the coffee
      -clean out the fridge on Monday mornings

    1. fposte*

      I disagree. They’re space hogs and they don’t need to be stored at work, the difference between “opened” and “unopened” is often minuscule, and it’s going to make the fridge cleaner’s job harder. People will be fine without the privilege of storing an unopened soda bottle in the fridge for a month.

      1. President Porpoise*

        Hey, if it’s non-perishable (like soda) and unopened – take it home and drink or put it on the kitchen counter with a note saying ‘up for grabs’. Unless it’s individually labelled – then just put it on the offender’s desk with a note saying ‘keep this at your desk not the fridge’ – if you even care about doing that much.

        1. fposte*

          Much as I love the idea of the fridge cleaner getting “tips,” I think that opens up the whole process to ethical scrutiny, and salvaging and returning gets too much potential for extra labor and differential treatment. There’s 20 people sharing one fridge and one employee to rule it all; the approach needs to be simple and savage.

          1. President Porpoise*

            That is true; I just hate seeing perfectly good beverages going to waste. But I concede the point.

            Our office has the fridge (serving at least 100 employees from two refrigerators) cleaned on posted dates about once a month. Prior to this, they were foul smelling waste bins. Once I noticed that there was a bag of shrimp left in one for the week long Christmas break – where the power to the building was turned off. They stayed til March.

            I commend fridge vigilantes everywhere. They perform a vital, underpraised service.

            1. fposte*

              I once lost a delightful leftover (just from the day before) to an unscheduled fridge clean. I was sad, but I consider that posole stew a gallant soldier in the war against fridge nightmares and an acceptable loss.

              1. The OP!*

                I’ll pour one out for that posole. We’ve all lost loved ones in the fridge wars, it seems.

            2. Emily S.*

              PP and fposte,

              I should have written “labeled, unopened beverages.” At my office, the fridge rule is that everything has to be labeled, with at least the owner’s initials. Large signs on the fridge say this. As the Admin and fridge policewoman, I have authority to toss anything that needs to be tossed — and I remind folks of that in periodic emails.

              I’ll also add that my office is fairly small, with <30 employees at our location, many of whom don't use the fridge at all. So it's easier to manage than a larger office.

              1. fposte*

                Yeah, I’m still thinking that’s more trouble than it’s worth here. People can store soda at their desks if they want to; when they’ve got a problem with too much stuff in the fridge for too long, I don’t see a reason to make liquid an exception.

                1. fposte*

                  @Emily–to be clear, I’m not saying that your arrangement couldn’t work anywhere. People keep stuff like that in our work refrigerators and it’s fine. But there are a lot of arrangements that could work in some workplaces that would be too much trouble once you throw a hoarder employee into the mix.

            3. smoke tree*

              I think part of the benefit of a really harsh, unambiguous cleanout is that it trains reasonable people not to leave their unopened bottles of soda there in the first place. There may have to be one or two sacrifices to get there, though. Maybe their caps could be placed on stakes as a warning.

  49. MLB*

    Put a note on the fridge that states that it will be cleaned out once a month and EVERYTHING left in the fridge will be thrown out NO EXCEPTIONS. Allowing people to label stuff is ridiculous. Once OH and some others lose tupperware and other things they were saving, they’ll be more likely to remember to remove it from the fridge on a regular basis. Ignore the nasty notes from OH.

    1. Observer*

      It works in a lot of workplaces. Whether it will work here is a good question. But, most of the time it’s not an unreasonable standard.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      There could even be a monthly email reminder: “tomorrow is the day when EVERYTHING will be thrown away. Take things home tonight”.

  50. EB*

    In order to avoid the issue all the offices I worked at had a “everything personal in the fridge will be tossed Friday at 3pm” rule.

    Everything was tossed, no exception. This avoided, the “how old is this bottle of milk?” or “should we throw away this tupperware container? conundrum. The fridge was emptied, the only exception being company purchased single use items (e.g. single serving creamer cups, coffee). It didn’t matter if you had a nice glass container, it was gone.

    1. Lil Fridget*

      This is our rule too and the result is I learned not to bring nice glass containers to work – it’s not so hard!

  51. blink14*

    She’s had warning, several warnings, and now its time to just start tossing stuff. My department used to be located with a larger department, and the total disregard for cleaning out the fridge from 90% of the people I was located with was so annoying. There were 2 fridges for about 25 people, and it got to the point that one of the fridges smelled so bad, you could barely open it. Me and a few other people who had enough just opened the fridge one day and started tossing anything and everything. There was plastic wrapped food in there from a retirement party that had been 4-5 months earlier, a container full of straight up mold, and all sorts of half eaten meals.

    Not one person complained about their stuff being thrown away – in fact, everyone said it wasn’t theirs which leads me to believe they either genuinely forgot (which does happen) or they were glad someone else dealt with it.

    Mold is a serious, serious health concern. Throw all her stuff out and deal with her anger – its a lot better than people getting sick from her molding “food”.

  52. Jady*

    Seems like a simple rule of “If any food has been in the fridge for a month, these items will be trashed AT ANY TIME.”

    Don’t make it a twice-a-month-fridge-cleanout rule. Make it a constant rule.

    1. Lil Fridge*

      This might work in a smaller office, but it would be hard to implement in a big shared fridge – who wants to keep a running tally of when that tuna salad got there versus that jug of milk? The once-a-month rule or the once-a-week rule is to make it as easy as possible on the person doing the cleaning – especially when the rule is “pitch everything” versus “look at each container and try to determine if it’s still good or not.”

      1. Red 5*

        The only way around it that I can think of is what was done at one of my workplaces where we sold food, where you actually could use a date gun to print stickers with the date on it. We actually had employees use it to date their own items when they put them in the fridge, but clearly she would abuse that privilege in this instance.

        Another place I worked required you to actually tape your receipt on your food, because nobody really brought in outside food, our employee discount was too good. But yeah, otherwise you need a central person who is either putting dates on the food or remembering what is in it.

        It’s easier to just say “this is the day we trash everything.”

  53. Heats kitchen*

    Change the clean out policy to “whatever is in the fridge at 5pm last Friday of the month will be thrown out.” That’s our policy regardless of labels

  54. Detective Amy Santiago*

    My old job had a policy that the fridges were emptied every Friday evening and that seemed to work pretty well.

    (This may have been suggested, but I didn’t have a chance to read through almost 200 comments) :D

    1. The OP!*

      What we really need is Detective Amy Santiago on office fridge duty. That’d fix it! But (and I mentioned this in another comment) we have staff that work on evenings and on weekends, which means that no matter what day you choose as a clean-out day, it’s always someone’s day off. But then you end up giving a lot of notice, and OH and others will just move stuff temporarily and put it back.

  55. Guacamole Bob*

    Oh this is bringing back bad memories of cleaning out the fridge in the student lounge at my grad program. The whole room smelled terrible every time someone opened the fridge door, and there was no room for anyone’s lunch because of all the accumulated crap. I think there was stuff in the back that was well over a year old.

    I don’t think anyone was doing this kind of intentional keeping of spoiled food, but it reinforced for me that communal fridges shared by more than a handful of people need some sort of ruthless cleanout schedule.

    1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

      Makes me laugh. When I was in grad school, we jealously guarded the fridge in our student lounge and kept it in pretty good shape. (Maybe because we were living off of $5,000 a year and weren’t about to waste or forget about food? Discuss.) It was the FACULTY fridge in the faculty lounge that was its own Bio-Dome experiment. OMG. I can still remember opening the door and having half a dozen moldy grapefruits roll out and across my foot.

      1. Traveling Teacher*

        May I just say: I love your username, I assume you’re a big fan of Caliban, The Wednesday Wars, or both? :)

  56. Third username*

    We do full clean out every Friday. It’s fair, it’s posted everywhere and it’s reasonable. I’ve lost something I wanted to keep, but I recognize it’s my fault, and I am grateful for a clean fridge. It can be that easy. Once a week or month everything goes, no matter what.

  57. Ella*

    It’s weird, the things that remind you that most of the working world has regular weekends. I work in an academic library that’s open 19 hours a day, 7 days a week, so the “Throw stuff out on Friday before everyone goes home for the weekend” suggestion doesn’t work for us. The fridge does get cleaned out about once a month, though, so we generally manage to avoid science projects in the fridge.

    1. The OP!*

      Yes, we also have people working evenings and weekends. My “Friday” isn’t everyone’s “Friday” – just to complicate the situation more, in regards to office communication!

  58. puzzld (I see there's a Puzzled here, I am not that Puzzled)*

    I personally would schedule a refrigerator deep cleaning and “cooling test” for this weekend. Post a notice / send an all staff email saying the fridge will be down all weekend. Take your tuperware, dishes, etc., home… If I could schedule an exterminator to come in for roaches, mice, whatever vermin you worry about, I’d do that too. Anything still there at zero hour gets tossed. Fridge gets a good cleaning, fresh ice cube trays and all. Everything gets cleaned, coils get vacuumed etc. We start fresh on Monday with a one or two week drop dead date. Then I’d assign people to keep it up with a spot check every few weeks just to keep things clean. If the mold reoccurs, the fridge goes. Followed by the whole dang staff room and everyone can troop over to the cafeteria if they get hungry.

    We may have already done this, and our fridge stays pretty nice.

  59. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

    I agree with the poster who said her tantrums should be ignored and may become grounds for dismissal.

    Come up with a rule about how often the fridge will be emptied, post it on the fridge and stick to it. Any confrontations should be met with a firm “I’m not discussing this with you”

    Is she is a true hoarder, that is very sad but her office mates are not responsible for her mental health. This is a disgusting situation and should not be tolerated.

  60. Madame Secretary*

    Around here, we give people several days’ notice that the fridge will be cleaned out, and if anything needs to be saved it should be marked so. On the day of, I will throw out bad food, containers and all. I have never had any push back. I get that hoarding is a mental health issue, for sure, and should be handled with sensitivity – which it seems like you all have for months on end. But this can’t go on. You can’t spare her feelings everyone else’s expense.

  61. Elle Kay*

    When our fridge starts to get to this point I take advantage of holiday weekends. I send an email (usually) on Thursday that says I’ll be cleaning out the fridge on Friday before a 3-day weekend and then I dump everything short of condiments around lunchtime on Friday.

    My rationale is that I’m keeping things from going off on the long weekend.

    And, yes, anything moldy goes. in. the. trash.

  62. LuJessMin*

    At my previous workplace, our refrigerator was cleaned once a month by the Facilities group. There were notices taped on the fridge that ANYTHING left in the fridge/freezer would be tossed. The admin of our group would send emails each day during the week of cleanup, reminding folks to clear their stuff out if they didn’t want it tossed. People would still be upset when their stuff was tossed. One woman was furious that her frozen entrees were tossed. I had to point out to her that “everything” meant “EVERYTHING”. She was not amused. :)

  63. dreamingofthebeach*

    Sounds like establishing all the clean out protocol (who, what, when, etc) will be key, but her manager or HR needs to step up a bit here and also let her know this is the office fridge, not her personal storage unit. She probably has multiple sweaters, jackets, etc taking up space somewhere in the building as well. Her own fridge at home is likely filled to the gills with stuff, and thus she brings in a month or two worth of food for meals at work instead of bringing in a day or two worth of food.

  64. My Thoughts*

    I worked for a company that would do a complete fridge clean out once a quarter. They would send several emails the week of to take your food home Friday. Anything left in the fridge was tossed, period. It didn’t matter if it was Tupperware, condiments, anything. Maybe this is something HR can pitch or as a collective group, majority rules type of thing and once a quarter or month, someone is responsible for the clean out. I would do it after hours so OH cannot just keep her stuff at her desk until it’s over.

  65. Chatterby*

    During the next clean-out, change the notice from “put labels on things you want to keep” to “Remove it or lose it–everything found in the fridge during clean up will be thrown away” Even condiments need to be removed for the cleaning, and can be put back afterwards.
    It’s way easier to leave things in place if all you have to do is cross off and write a new date on something. After all, cleaning out the fridge sucks, and you’re busy with other work things.
    If she has to pull everything out, take it home for the weekend, then bring it back on Monday to return it to the fridge, I bet she’ll wind up throwing more of it away or keeping it at home.
    This may result in her having a horrifying fridge at home, but that won’t effect people at work, or having a smelly desk if she tries to hide things there while waiting for the cleaning to be done. But a smelly desk is easier to approach and say “You cannot have this, it’s affecting others, throw it away” than “You use the fridge in a technically correct way we still don’t like.”

    1. Katie the Fed*

      This. I don’t really see the point in labeling things. Two week limit – every other friday it’s a clean sweep, and I don’t care if your name is on it.

  66. A quick note*

    We had a similar issue in my office & I found that purchasing clear containers for each employee was helpful.

    It limits what any one person can bring & everyone knows that anything that smells or is old will most likely get thrown out by the end of the week

  67. Marley*

    Management and HR really aren’t stepping up here. If a simple reminder was going to fix this, it would have already. No reasonable person behaves like this–and one of the defining features of hoarding is that the person suffering from it “lacks insight,” in other words, just can’t see the problem.

    Chances are, the LW’s co-worker won’t react well to a clean out, so I’d be sure to get an authority figure’s blessing before cleaning out the fridge–that authority figure needs to be prepared to deal with the fall out.

    1. Media Monkey*

      exactly. and i would be asking the authority people who don’t want to deal with her what their plans are for coverage of work if/ when everyone ends up with food poisoning/ salmonella/ listeria from one of her science experiments and is off sick for a week.

  68. animaniactoo*

    I’d say you’re looking at this too limitedly.

    A rational, sane person would not be hoarding food in the fridge or getting upset when moldy food is thrown away. Therefore, I think you need to assume that your co-worker has some sort of issues around and cannot be expected to react rationally to anything you do. Therefore, you need to not let yourselves be hemmed in by her reaction and be clearer about having concise boundaries and guidelines that will keep her issues from affecting the rest of you this badly.

    Towards that, I would call a group meeting about how fridge stuff is handled – she’ll protest, she’ll be outvoted. And these are the rules I would propose:

    1) No one is allowed to store anything other than condiments that they do not intend to eat/consume within the next X days. (This is to prevent her from seeing the fridge as an extra storage space that she has unlimited use of, and to be fair nobody should be storing stuff that they’re not going to eat that week either due to the number of people sharing the resource).

    2) Anything that has visible mold will be thrown away as soon as it is discovered.

    3) If something is emitting an odor that indicates it might be rotten or moldy, anyone can check on it even if it means they have to open a plastic bag or lunch bag to do so.

    4) The fridge will be cleaned out on a regular, scheduled, basis. Nothing will be left in it except condiments after the cleanout. If you want to save something, bring it home with you. Nothing goes back into the fridge until Monday. (Assuming you have a M-F office and are doing the cleanout on Fridays) Figure out who will be responsible for doing it – but make sure you rotate the duty so that she cannot take exception with one person over and over again.

    All of these are rules/conditions that are reasonable to enforce on the rest of your co-workers as well, even though they will really be about keeping her issue under control from your standpoint. But it will be easier to approach as a group issue rather than a Minerva issue.

    However, you still need to expect that she will react poorly. Not just to this new setup. But every time the fridge is cleaned or something of hers is tossed. Be prepared to deal with it calmly and matter of factly and not give in to it. “Sorry, as per the group agreement, nothing that is older than 3 weeks can stay in the fridge” “It had gotten very moldy” “It was obvious from the odor that it had spoiled so it had to be gotten out of the fridge”. If she leaves post-it notes, throw them away without comment.

    I understand the concern for her health, but this sounds like a problem you guys cannot solve – and might not be close enough to even raise with her. If you try anyway, be prepared for her to react poorly. Sometimes you do stuff because you need to know that you at least tried, with the expectation that it will be shot down because that’s just what the circumstances are.

  69. Lady Phoenix*

    The only problem with putting up a sign saying, “We will clean stuff that has been in there for a month” is that she will pull it out, redate it, put it back, and yell at you for tossing her fraud food.

    She has had ample warning enough. Photograph the most egregious stuff (covered in mold, dirty, sushi) and then throw her crap up. Then if she tries to get HR or a boss to come in, you can show the pictures and tell them the food is a health hazard.

    She knows she has a problem, but doesn’t care enough to FIX it. She just wants to have HER food in HER fridge space and yell at anyone who messes with it. So poop on her, her stuff goes to the trash. Her porblem is not OP’s or the coworkers’ problem.

  70. Anonforthis*

    I think it’s fair to just yank her fridge privileges entirely.

    Of course, she’ll probably end up hauling a mini-fridge into work and filling THAT up.

    1. SusanIvanova*

      They’ll need to enforce the same rules if they don’t want to re-enact this hazmat situation from a few years back:

      ” Nobody really knows what it was in the offending refrigerator that prompted an evacuation Tuesday morning and ambulance rides to the hospital for seven people, who were overcome by the stench and fumes from an ill-fated attempt to clean it.”

  71. Antti*

    I’m pretty shocked that management/etc. has let this go on for so long. I don’t know this for sure, but this sounds like something that could result in an OSHA violation. But even if it doesn’t, ew ew ew ew ew. I think Alison is right on here. And someone above pointed out how at this point, you just can’t expect OH to react rationally to a reasonable action/position, and I agree with that. There will be fallout, but it’s well beyond reasonable now to just purge the fridge.

    Also fwiw, my office has it set up where anything that’s still in the fridge by end of day Friday every week will be discarded, container and all, and there are signs plastered all over the fridges in the breakrooms that state that. I don’t think a weekly purge would be unreasonable for 20 people.

  72. Fridge Police*

    We had one of these gems in my office. We started a Friday Clean Out every Friday at 3:30. Anything left in there that wasn’t a condiment, got tossed…even if it was in tupperware. We had one person who liked to leave their food in there for months and would “hide” her things around 3:30. So, our boss camped out in there one afternoon and caught her doing that. She was told if she kept this up, she would be written up because our health was important.

    You gotta lay down the hammer and let her flip out. It’s her problem. Not everyone else should have to deal with this.

    1. Red 5*

      That’s actually part of why my “fridge” cleaning day also includes all the cabinets and the rest of the kitchen.

      I leave food stuff in the cabinets longer if it’s got an expiration date printed on it because it’s more shelf stable but if I find somebody’s leftovers on a shelf while I’m cleaning the fridge, they also go into the bin.

  73. Canadian Public Servant*

    In addition to a clear schedule for clean ups, and a limit on the amount of space food for any one person can occupy, a NO CONTAINERS IN BAGS rule should be instituted (unless that is how the food was packaged – ie bag of carrots). Every individual item should be labelled with a name (leave a roll of painters tape and a marker on top of the fridge for this purpose). All unlabeled food, or bagged food, will be thrown away.

    On a random note: the fridge where I currently work gets out of control at times. I tried to get a mandatory, all-levels cleaning schedule implemented, after four women dealt with the grossness, and was told it could only be voluntary. Which: no. Because it was already voluntary, didn’t work well, and would just entrench the gendered nature of the activity until people could point to likely the same four women as responsible for this. Ugh.

    1. The OP!*

      I feel for you re: trying to get a mandatory cleaning schedule!! Most of my office consists of women (and some gender non-conforming folks), including OH and those of us who clean the fridge, so there’s less of a gendered aspect to the labor. Who knew one fridge could cause so much drama though…

  74. stitchinthyme*

    Reason #1,027 why I bring my lunch in an insulated bag with ice packs, and keep it at my desk until I’m ready to eat. Office fridges can be nasty even without a Jane to make them worse.

    1. Oxford Comma*

      Yeah, I just can’t deal with the fridges anymore. I bring my stuff in a bag and it works out fine.

    2. The OP!*

      I’ve started doing that. But oh man the extra weight on the commute is not fun. I’m rethinking my glass tupperware here, for the weight factor alone..

      1. EddieSherbert*

        It doesn’t lead to the best meals… but I have a stockpile of “things that can last awhile at room temperature” in my desk drawer that make up at least part of my lunch every day… Instant oatmeal, granola bars, trail mix, easy mac, ramen noodles, cup of soups, various crackers, individual applesauces, etc.

        Disclaimer: I do still try to bring in a “legitimate” lunch a couple times a week, and supplement my “food drawer options” with like carrots sticks (or other things that don’t take much space and can sit out for a few hours) the other days!

  75. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Our fridges are cleaned out on the last day of the month by the cleaning crew employed by the realty company. They put up a schedule and send an email at the beginning of the last week. Take it or lose it.
    Can your company tap the cleaning crew to clear out the fridge once a month? Throw it all away. After hours. Done.

  76. gator32301*

    In my previous job, the refrigerator was cleaned monthly. They gave a few days advance notice, but when it was cleaned anything left was thrown it. I feel this is the appropriate action as opposed to food being dated.

  77. LiveAndLetDie*

    Folks who overfill a shared office fridge and treat it like their own personal fridge are already a plague on the workforce, honestly. There’s one guy in my workplace who just goes to the grocery store on his way to work sometimes and basically does a grocery trip just for work, and winds up taking up like half of the fridge space by himself. It’s ridiculous. You know how many people work in your office, you know everyone needs to eat. Don’t be that guy.

    OP, just toss the stuff with mold on it. It’s moldy. Nobody should be keeping it or eating it. This hoarder is going to pitch a fit regardless, so just toss the crap. You’re working toward the office’s greater good and shouldn’t bend to accommodate one employee’s dangerous and unhealthy fridge habits.

  78. Student*

    I think you should set a space constraint, rather than trying to out-game her hoarding. She gets X amount of space, and if she goes over that, food gets tossed – in addition to the regular cleanings.

    If there’s moldy or rotten or expired old food in the fridge, just toss it when you see it. No need to have a special day with warnings and such. It’s rotted food. You don’t need her blessing, her approval, or to give her a warning – because it is rotten. It’s harmful to everyone else’s food.

    Engage with her manager because you know she’s going to throw a fit. If possible have her manager tell her that she’s got to stay within her space, and she can’t have rotten food in the fridge. If not, give the talk yourself – this is basic fridge-sharing and doesn’t require you to walk on eggshells. It’s like telling someone they have to wipe up after themselves if they spill food in the lunch room. If I had to do it, I’d get her in the lunch room off-hours, set out all her food. I’d tell her how much space she can have and show her how far over her space allotment she is. Then I’d point out all the rotten food and tell her it was rotting other people’s food, and it’s not acceptable to keep it in the break fridge. She will complain and huff and maybe cry. Stand firm about the rules while she does.

    If she gets huffy enough, maybe she’ll get an office refrigerator that she can have as disgusting as she likes.

    1. The OP!*

      Yeah I’m thinking everyone is right about the space constraints. We’re about to hire some more people too, so the fridge will just get worse. We don’t all work the same schedules, so there are certainly opportunities to deal with OH’s mold tupperwhere when OH isn’t around. I just need to come up with a proposal for The Boss and have them agree to a) put someone in charge of the fridge and b) enforce the fridge policies about space.

  79. Health Insurance Nerd*

    You can’t reasonably be expected to keep track of how long food has been in the office fridge, so, “items more than a month old will be thrown away” doesn’t make sense. A sign needs to be placed on the fridge stating that on the first Friday (or whatever day) of the month all of the items in the fridge, and I do mean ALL of them, including lunch bags, unopened food and drink, etc…, will be tossed. End of story.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      Especially since OP knows Jane simply rewrites the date of her food.

      I would just toss it. Screw her and her piggy ways.

  80. Argh!*

    New Rule: Fridge & Freezer must be EMPTIED by COB on Friday.

    Problem solved…. for the fridge.

    For the human, stern talking to and referral to EAP if they can’t handle the new rule.

  81. Nanc*

    I’m so grateful that at the one job I worked where there was a large communal fridge the department head took it upon herself to clean it out every Friday at 4 p.m. She would send a reminder at 8 a.m. for folks to come and get their stuff prior and then at 4 p.m. she started tossing. I offered to rotate with her as long as she was the one making the rule but she declined–she said it was therapeutic. As I recall when folks first pushed back she pointed out that she instituted the policy because our fridge looked and smelled like we were getting ready to cater a Deathday party and the other option was to remove the fridge permanently.

    OP, I hope your update is that decayed food hoarder turns over a new leaf!

    1. Canadian Public Servant*

      I love your department head. But am also not surprised she was a she.

      On the therapeutic: I am known to go in and rename electronic documents in the repository using the correct naming convention when I am stressed and can’t do “real” work but want to be productive. This is about 5 levels below my pay grade, but it is soooooo soothing to see all those correctly named documents.

    2. WellRed*

      I will ocassionally do this late on a Friday afternoon when I simply can’t edit another article or what have you. So therapeutic and I am still being useful.

    3. The OP!*

      I love the Deathday party part!! Bless that department head for her service in the fridge wars.

  82. Teapot Engineer*

    Maybe this has been stated, but could be helpful. Our fridges are emptied every other month. Signs list the dates the fridges will be cleaned out, stating ANYTHING, regardless of date, left in fridge will be tossed. I’ve lost some good food containers when I left my fresh lunch on the 31st, and came to work on 1st to find it had been tossed. The fridge and freezers are defrosted and scrubbed every 6months.

  83. watersquirrel*

    Doesn’t anyone think it is weird that the OH takes the time to update the dates? I mean, I can understand just being lazy and leaving the stuff in there, but that they go and update the dates on obviously moldy food….so strange.

    1. animaniactoo*

      They all think it’s weird. But my sister descended into hoarderdom for a couple of years. Various attempts were made to pull her out of it. She knew she had an issue, but had been able to convince *herself* that she had it or could get it under control. Even at the point that she was completely out of control and about to be evicted.

      We group rescued her at that point and she never got as bad again, but she didn’t get really better until the underlying issue was solved. Underneath all that level of grime and gross was a newspaper with an obituary of a former partner. So she couldn’t just get rid of stuff, she had to manage around it until she had time to tackle it, and of course that ultimately meant that here in reality stuff kept adding to the pile and piling up and up and up. Given that she has ADD the possibility of it *ever* having happened under her own power was slim to none. The cleanup effort had to start at the point of telling her we did not have the time to carefully check to find the obituary. She had to accept that either it was lost in order to not be homeless, or that it would hopefully be findable on line.

      The group effort got her cleaned up and organized enough that she didn’t get evicted (we were time limited, literally, we had one weekend to do it before inspection). One sister had to go and help finish the rough sorting to get her fully back on track or it’s quite likely she would have ended up spiraling out of control again. Ultimately she’s ended up in a long-term relationship and having someone else around serves as a rationality check and also helps her not feel alone and overwhelmed when it’s time to tackle cleanup stuff (that and he takes care of a bunch of it himself).

      We knew it was weird. We just had limited ability to help due to physical distance, etc. OH’s co-workers have a limited ability to help due to emotional distance. But they know it’s weird.

      1. The OP!*

        I have a lot of empathy for those dealing with hoarding themselves or in a loved one. I’ve had a small amount of experience with it in my family, and it’s just so difficult to work with, especially if the person with hoarding tendencies does NOT want help. It’s so sad. I’m glad your sister seems to have help and support with hers!

    2. Oxford Comma*

      If this person is a hoarder and it sounds like they are, you can’t apply rationality to her actions. It’s not about the stuff. It’s about control and the OH’s disorder.

    3. EvilQueenRegina*

      My grandad used to be a food hoarder (although not so much stuff that went bad in the fridge), and I was always trying to get him to throw it out. He had this bar of cooking chocolate once, best before June 1991, and I remember him writing “1994” over the date to say it wasn’t out of date because he was fed up of me nagging him. Of course, then it got to June 1994 and it was still in the cupboard…

      Although I think Grandad changed the date as a joke and I don’t think that’s what this person’s doing.

  84. EmKay*

    Oh hell no.

    This is not a normal situation, so don’t treat it as one. Take all the old and rotten food out of this fridge and throw it out. Do it at the end of the day so she can’t fish it out of the trash and put it back. THEN implement a regular cleaning schedule and stick to it ruthlessly. If she whines, pick whichever choice you are comfortable with: feign ignorance, send her to her manager, or send her to HR.

  85. Not a Mere Device*

    When I was using a shared office fridge, the main reason we labeled things was that people were less likely to help themselves to milk and cream if it was labeled with someone’s name. Of course, given that that was the reason, quarts of milk rarely lasted long enough for the date to be relevant. (And yes, I lost at least one because I decided I wanted milk in my tea enough to buy another container the day before fridge0cleaning day. I figured that the loss from a 2/3-full quart of milk was less than the price of a takeout cup of tea.)

  86. prgrmmngr*

    A friend told me her workplace uses a shoebox method to limit the amount of space people can use – everyone gets a box and can use that much space in the fridge. Could be a tool to limit the hoarding going forward after the fridge is purged.

    1. The OP!*

      That size might actually work! Except then the people who bring in soymilk for coffee would complain. At this point, I just bring in a small amount of milk for my coffee for the week. I use a jam jar, and that way I know it’s not going to be bad or I won’t lose a ton. I think that’d fit in a shoebox, too!!

      1. Not a Mere Device*

        My girlfriend sometimes transfers soy or almond milk into a half-liter plastic iced tea bottle to bring over here, since I only keep cow’s milk. If people are putting names or initials on their containers, they can tape an “NAM Device” label on a plastic bottle almost as easily as writing “NAMD” on a soy milk carton.

  87. Traveling Teacher*

    This situation just makes me so sad… What is driving this person to save this food? They’re going to quite a bit of trouble to keep it around, so this goes beyond passive collecting. And, the inability to distinguish between food waste (unfortunate, but it happens) and hanging on to rotting, hazardous food is deeply troubling to me.

    I hope that this person reaches out for help.

    1. Observer*

      Yeah, the wounds that cause this kind of thing can be very deep and painful. But accommodating this does NOT help the person. Even if it keeps them from freaking out, it’s not helping them.

      1. Traveling Teacher*

        Yes, I agree that this isn’t something that can/should be accommodated, especially in a shared situation, and that’s not what I was suggesting.

        I guess it just reminded me of the smelly kid in school: this person who is like a kid who either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that this behavior is effectively making her a pariah among her peers. Just like you have to address the smelly kid at school, your heart breaks for her after holding classes with the windows open in the middle of winter in -0 temps to let out the stench after the long holiday break, during which you doubt she’s bathed or changed clothes even once.

        We did everything we could to encourage healthier habits. One of the teachers took her dirty clothes home and washed them in her own washing machine. We gave her deodorant and soaps and shampoos and offered her access to the girl’s gym locker room to wash before school started. We gave her clothes we bought with our own money (she wore the same t-shirt day in and day out). But that couldn’t change the underlying neglect and lack of love this girl was experiencing at home. That couldn’t make them care about her, and she knew it. Even reporting produced nothing but a disappointing paper trail leading nowhere close to a solution.

        I just wonder: is this person able to get help? Does she realize that her behavior is highly problematic but feel trapped? What is making her the smelly kid?

  88. UtOh!*

    Clearly this one, irrational person can not dictate what she can keep in the fridge, because, she’s irrational! What you will have to do, and continue to do, regardless of her post-its and confrontations is to band together as a group and keep to the schedule. If she puts food back in the fridge that is obviously moldy or inedible, keep throwing it away. As long as you keep up the process, as a group, hopefully it will wear her down that she cannot continue with this habit. I think this is the reason why hoarders get so out of control when they live alone, there is no one who is continuously challenging them to change their ways. I’ve seen those shows about hoarders and they can get incredibly contentious around their *disgusting* stuff. It’s scary to witness someone so angry over what otherwise sane people would consider garbage.

  89. Red 5*

    Okay, I’m in charge of my office fridge and here’s the thing: you make strict rules and you stick to them _no matter what_. With our fridge the rule is that on the day I clean it out, I clean it out. Everything goes, because it also gets defrosted and disinfected, so it’s turned off for a long while for that to happen. Condiments that have people’s initials on them get to stay because they can sit on the counter for a bit until the fridge is clean.

    If the food is prepackaged and has an expiration date? Trash. Always. Straight in the trash. If anybody complains? I can say “it was expired.” Stuff like leftovers or things you’ve brought from home? Well, if it’s there for a cleaning day it goes in the bin because that’s the rule. But the first hint of mold, it’s trashed too.

    When I was put in charge of the fridge and started my regime, I gave people a week of amnesty to get their stuff. Then basically it’s just clearly conveyed rules that are strictly enforced across the board. It doesn’t matter who it is or what fit they pitch, because I know the higher ups want the job done and they know that I said what I was going to do and followed through, so if somebody complained they really have no footing for it.

    Mold has no place in a communal fridge. You can draw the line there. Anybody that argues with that is going to look horrible. And if they leave passive aggressive notes? Take them down and put those in the bin too. If she comes to anybody to complain, just calmly say “I was following the rules, they’re posted on the fridge. Do you need another copy of them?” And just lather, rinse, repeat.

    1. The OP!*

      Can you come manage my office fridge?? Because this is what we need I think – someone to be put in charge of the fridge and given the support from above to make and enforce fridge rules.

      1. Red 5*

        Yeah, the support is really the kicker on making it work long term. I’ve actually thrown out my boss’ lunch before. I felt bad about it but she refused to let me take any blame because she’d forgotten to check the sign, so I know that if somebody else came to her to complain she’d tell them to get over it. Without that I probably wouldn’t have been willing to take it on, it’s almost completely thankless. But the place smells better.

  90. The OP!*

    There are so many helpful comments on here, thank you all!! A followup is that we did have to empty the whole fridge after it broke. OH was furious. The problem is, OH will yell at one poor assistant about any fridge issue even if the assistant doesn’t really deal with it. So if I go rogue and toss OH’s moldy stuff, the assistant is the one that gets yelled at.

    Someone mentioned a mini-fridge – I think that’s what’s going to end up happening once we start keeping a more frequent and thorough clean-out of the fridge!

    1. Red 5*

      I’m glad that the problem is at least mitigated a bit.

      I do hope that you might be able to empower the assistant to a-repeatedly tell her he/she had nothing to do with the fridge and b-report the harassment after the OH doesn’t stop the first time they’re told to.

      Because at that point, that is harassment, and it could be an angle to deal with the problem if anybody in management is willing.

      Good luck!

    2. Observer*

      You mean a min-fridge for the OH? That might work.

      But, in the meantime, if she yells at the admin, other staff need to step up and stop her. AND they need to get her manager and HR involved to keep her from yelling at the Admin.

      “Someone threw out OH’s moldy food and she’s yelling at Samantha. It’s upsetting everyone.” This should always be reported by at least two people – and always by people who weren’t the ones who threw out the food that time.

    3. OhBehave*

      So glad you commented! OH gets what she wants when the yells and throws a fit. Please empower the assistant to find her polite spine. A doesn’t deserve that treatment whether she cleaned out the fridge or not.
      The mini-fridge is going to end up being in the same state as the communal fridge. Hopefully she has her own office so that an office-mate won’t have to suffer the smells.
      Management and HR are really being spineless in this case. I would keep management and HR up to date on this situation so they know the other side of the story should OH complain. This is indeed a dangerous situation. What if her bag blocking the vent caused a fire? Moldy food causing illness? Not acceptable.

      1. The OP!*

        Oh I agree mini-fridge would end up in the same state. But I bet this is what OH’s manager will do first. Because that then shifts the responsibility away from the office and onto OH. HR really doesn’t care at all, they just avoid conflict, especially with union staffers (which OH is one of).

    4. Jennifer Thneed*

      Can you go physically stand between OH and that poor assistant? (I do mean this literally.)

      1. CatCat*

        A+. Management is super awful here in not dealing with this behavior in the workplace. If you can do anything to mitigate this, I hope you will.

        A strong, but calm: “OH, yelling in the workplace is inappropriate. Stop it.” Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Until she stops. And if she doesn’t and totally melts down, just walk away and throw a lifeline to the assistant. “OH, I am going to walk away now. Assistant, would you care to come with me?”

    5. A*

      Ideally whoever is in charge would deflect the OH’s ire to themselves (Regardless of whether they were the one who truly cleaned it out). It’s something that I think isn’t taught enough at leadership levels, but as a physician if I notice someone is being particularly mean to someone “under” me (staff/nurses/assistants/secretaries, junior physicians, etc) I do tell them to cut it out and if they have a problem to take it to me directly.
      If need be I will have staff switched or, rarely, patients can be fired (or discharged, if it’s a soft call to keep them in, being rude to my staff is a quick way to get pushed out) but anyway, you get the idea. Hopefully someone will step in here. What I’m getting at is OH supervisor should get involved if OH is lashing out at random folks, and if supervisor won’t I think it’s reasonable anyone who is senior to the person being yelled at by OH to step in and tell them not cool, etc etc.

      1. The OP!*

        Seconding this, in that this is something that isn’t taught enough and needs to happen. OH’s manager right now seems to think that everyone’s feelings and positions are valid, which means nothing really happens. Because then who’s pain is worse? OH’s at losing her seemingly treasured food, or the assistant’s at getting yelled at? To the manager, I think it seems equal.

      1. The OP!*

        I agree!! We’ve brought it up with HR, but the documentation they say they need to do something seems extreme/unpractical. Like we’d have to have an interaction on tape first or something.

        1. Observer*

          I think that there is a bit of smoke being blown here. HR doesn’t need the interactions on tape. If enough people come to HR enough times, they WILL have to act – they can’t claim that they didn’t have credible information.

          All of the staff needs to decide that each one is going to email (do it in writing so that the paper trail is there) HR each and every time OH goes off on the assistant. If several people come to HR about this, they really don’t have much of a leg to stand on, especially since this won’t be the first time.

    6. Emily S.*

      It’s good to see an update, thanks for posting this, OP.

      I’d love to hear another update in a couple weeks or months. I’ll be very curious how the situation plays out from here.

  91. Blue Cupcake*

    The problem isn’t just needing a cleaning schedule. The OP suspects she will move her stuff and then Put It Back after the cleaning. Toss it after she puts it back. No mercy. Put up a sign that says “The fridge will be kept empty from 5pm Friday until 7am Monday. Everything in there between these times will be thrown away.” Put up an additional sign that says “Expired foods and foods with visible mold will be thrown out at any time.” Take pictures to CYA.

    1. The OP!*

      That would be lovely… we do have people that have to work on the weekends and in evenings, though, so I’m wondering how to do this without punishing them.

      1. Not a Mere Device*

        How about “5 pm Tuesday until 7 am Wednesday, the first and third weeks of the month”? That will still inconvenience some people, but it doesn’t put the burden on people who are already stuck working weekends.

  92. Brihanne LeMarre*

    You inspired me to toss a few items in one of our office fridges I know have been kicking around for far too long, including the mystery container labeled “Feb 6/18”. Gross.

  93. EvilQueenRegina*

    This is reminding me a bit of my grandad’s food hoarding (it wasn’t so much the fridge, but stuff in his cupboards that was out of date) and how I used to nag him. Yes, he once changed the date on a bar of cooking chocolate, although I think he was joking.

    This was 1996 in the UK, and some of you Brits may remember an old advertising campaign by IKEA with an annoying song about “So chuck out your chintz today”. (Apologies for any earworms caused). 14 year old me thought the way to address Grandad’s food hoarding was to basically rewrite the lyrics to Chuck Out Your Chintz, change it to out of date food items in his cupboards and sing it to him.

    “So chuck out your chocolate and chuck out your flour, chuck out your haggis and chuck out your beer, chuck out your raisins, there’s plenty of reasons to chuck out your food today!” was the first verse.

    Not necessarily recommending it as a way to deal with this coworker, but it did bring that memory back.

  94. Cat Lady*

    Yikes. If I SAW mold on anything, I wouldn’t think twice about trashing it period. I’m pretty vigilant about what I keep in the fridge at work, and I take my lunch just about every day so I always notice stuff like that. At my last job a coworker bought a liter (or 2 liter? The big one) of coke to clean her corroded car battery. She then “gifted” it to us and left it in our tiny mini fridge. Nobody in the office drank soda, it was flat anyway after the first day, and took up about a third of the space in that fridge. Coworker was notoriously lazy, so I’m sure she just didn’t want to be bothered to throw it out and had some weird urge not to let it go to waste. That wasn’t the first time she shirked some chore off on me so I was probably more upset than reasonable ha. After a couple of days of disbelief that she STILL hadn’t tossed it, I walked it over to her desk one da and set it down and said HERE. This is yours, throw it away. I probably came off a little unhinged but she got the message!

  95. CoveredInBees*

    A former employer had a “everything in the fridge but condiments will be tossed at X date and time” at least once a month. Maybe twice. We never really had hoarders, so it was never bad, but that seems like a reasonable line. It was towards the end of the day on Friday, so it minimized inconvenience. Someone in the office had a medication that needed refrigeration, but that was given a clear pass.

  96. animaniactoo*

    For OP:

    Suggestions based on other info you wrote above:


    1) Anything being thrown away gets a picture snapped with cell phone of the moldy reason it was tossed.
    2) Witness statements as documentation, stepping in between the assistant and telling OH to stop unloading on someone who had nothing to do with it – you can do that as a bystander, don’t have to be “in authority” over OH to do that. Also – interaction on tape? Cell phone camera to the rescue again, except video.

    Documentation is unwieldy and laborious, but that doesn’t mean it’s a reason not to do it. If HR or her manager won’t, you/assistant/others can start compiling it and turning it in. As proof of *your* complaint(s).

    Amended fridge rules with weekend shift:

    1) Fridge will be empty at EOD “daytime” shift once every two weeks. Evening/weekend shift workers can start putting stuff in fridge again after 6? 7? PM.
    2) People can bring in 2-3 days worth of food at a time, not a whole week. Get strips of colored sticker dots and rotate the colors to indicate what day food went in to the fridge. Simple emoji stickers or other icons/shapes could work even better. Get enough so that you have at least a whole two week’s rotation of stickers. If you search Amazon for “Sticker Dots” you’ll come up with a bunch of options.

  97. AnonyMouse*

    So I work in a small office (there’s at most 10 people in on any given day). But we share a mini fridge for all of us (we also have access to the upstairs fridge, but it’s going out of your way to store stuff there. We’re pretty strict with our clean out policies. If it’s been in the fridge for over a week, has no name on it, and/or is going bad it’s getting tossed. The fridge is too small for us to play around with keeping things in there forever.

    I’d say define what your fridge rule is going to be, and then enforce it with documentation (a few people mentioned this up thread, and it is tedious but it will get the point across). If you throw out something of OH’s that was moldy or has clearly been in the fridge for over a month, you’ll have proof with photos. I feel like that may be the only way to get through to this person because it sounds like they aren’t being reasonable.

  98. MissDissplaced*

    At the past 2 places I’ve worked, EVERYTHING left in the fridge at the end of the month gets thrown away. NO exceptions! Note or no notes. A cleaning crew does it overnight.
    It’s kind of annoying because they sometimes throw away perfectly good items, from unopened waters & sodas, to tote bags & coolers, but that’s the rules. Your OH wouldn’t stand a chance!

  99. Robert*

    It’s simple. Coworker is creating a physical obstacle that prevents others from using a shared resource.

    Coworker blocks hallway with table: move table.
    Coworker fills conference room with boxes: move boxes.
    Coworker fills fridge with moldy food: throw away food.

    None of these scenarios require talking to coworker ahead of time or identifying the people who took action.

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