I’m worried my coworkers’ food handling is going to make someone seriously ill

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I am about four months into a new job, and my coworkers have been very nice and easy to work with. However, I am very concerned about the way that they manage food safety. We are going to have a potluck soon and I don’t think I can bring myself to eat anything after witnessing various food-safety related incidents. They also have a tendency to frequently offer leftovers to other departments and guests in our office park, which is making me increasingly worried an unassuming person could get sick.

1. About three weeks into my new job, someone brought a meat/cheese platter to an all-staff meeting. The meeting was postponed to later in the day, so someone left the platter in the conference room for four hours. Then, during the meeting people passed around and ate the visibly sweating and warm meat and cheese. I politely declined each time it was passed to me on account that I had just eaten lunch and I am a vegetarian, but they kept offering the cheese.

2. We had an off-site meeting that had catered sandwiches delivered at 11:30 am. There were a bunch of leftovers but no way for them to be refrigerated. When the meeting ended at 4, I went to throw them away, but my director stopped me. I said they were not safe to eat anymore because we wouldn’t return to the office until 7 pm. He insisted that someone take them to not waste them and ended up dispersing them to other staff and interns. Some of those sandwiches and salads were brought back to the office the next day and shared with other departments.

3. Another higher-up placed raw chicken on the countertops of a break room that is shared with many different companies in my office park. She wiped the juices up with a dry paper towel.

4. Someone brought bagels and cream cheese, and the cream cheese was left out for eight hours a day for three days.

5. When traveling, people left their leftovers in the hot car for five hours and then ate them later in the day.

I am absolutely appalled by the lack of awareness of food safety amongst my peers. I’ve tried politely sharing what I know (I have a ServSafe Manager Certification from a past job), but they laugh it off or argue that food shouldn’t be wasted. I don’t feel comfortable accepting any perishables or honestly unpackaged food based on the incidents I have witnessed.

Aside from being seriously concerned that someone could get seriously ill, between being the only person who declined to participate in an office weight loss challenge (*sigh*) and refusing food offerings, I’m starting to feel like I am alienating myself as a new staff member, or coming across as someone with very weird food behaviors. I’ve even caught myself humoring the idea of scheduling a doctor’s appointment during the potluck so I don’t have to deal with it. I truly have no idea how to handle this.

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 931 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    There are a ton of opinions below about how serious an issue this is or isn’t. The letter writer is asking for advice how to handle potlucks (without alienating herself from her team) and how to handle unsuspecting people from other depts being offered food that they don’t know the history of. She clarifies this below, where she wrote:

    The question I had wasn’t how to stop or teach my coworkers, as I’m not interested in being the food police either. My question was how do I handle attending potlucks when I don’t feel comfortable eating any of their food after realizing that their practices make me uncomfortable and concerned for my health/safety? And how do I handle the fact that they give food to unassuming outsiders in our park. The people in our office parks are completely different companies.

    Please focus advice on those things!

    And a reminder that if you disagree with people here, you need to do it kindly and civilly.

  2. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    Aside from the raw chicken, which is a genuine issue, I think I’d just let adults adult on this one. And occasionally say ‘eww…’

    1. Justme, The OG*

      Same. The raw chicken one was gross but the other ones can be adults making adulty decisions.

      1. Sally*

        Why the heck did someone have raw chicken at work anyway? Do they have a full kitchen with people using the oven/stove during the work day?

        1. Justme, The OG*

          My old office did have a full stove. But I don’t ever remember seeing people cook from raw, just reheating.

        2. Emily K*

          Is it weird that I’m slightly more grossed out at the idea of the counter touching my food, than my food touching the counter? Like I don’t lick the counter or put it in my mouth, so if I spill a bit of food and wipe it up I’m not too worried – but I pretty much operate from the assumption that all surfaces that aren’t clean dishes are dirty and I’m not going to put anything into my mouth that had direct contact with a counter. Even if it’s been cooked – I don’t really worry about germs because I have a strong immune system. I just worry that I might be able to feel the texture of a contaminant like grit or dust with my tongue while eating which would be so awful I’d probably gag and projectile spit up food all over my keyboard.

          1. adarkthread*

            That was my thought as well! I felt bad for the person eating the chicken after it had touched counter

          2. CheeryO*

            No, I think that’s a very safe way to operate in any shared kitchen. I’ve seen someone use a dish scrubbie to get mud off of his boots after visiting a wastewater treatment plant. You really never know what someone will do, either out of ignorance or malevolence.

        3. JokeyJules*

          i have a coworker who brings in raw meats and cooks them in the toaster oven we have here sometimes. We have a small kitchen counter, fridge/freezer, microwave, and toaster oven.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I have to second your coworker, having a toaster oven to to cook “raw” meats is really awesome. I hate having to cook certain items at home and then reheating them in the microwave, it often leads to dry overcooked food. I usually put tinfoil under “raw” foods I am cooking to prevent runoff of juices (usually water from frozen foods).

            Also often food that looks raw is often already cooked, like hot dogs, chicken/turkey burgers, chicken nuggets etc.

            1. Vemasi*

              My roommate has a toaster oven, and she just keeps foil on the tray at all times. That way crumbs, grease and spills can just be lifted out instead of having to wash the little tray.

              I also just discovered air fryers, which can be used for things other than frying! It’s essentially a tiny oven, great for cooking for one. I hate microwaving leftovers, so it’s great.

        4. Mel*

          I’ve worked at places with a full kitchen. As you might expect, way too much time was spent on company lunches.

    2. Tasha*

      Agree. The raw chicken one is the worst, 1 and 4 aren’t even bad, there’s so much processing in that kind of meat and room temp cheese isn’t a problem.

      1. Emily K*

        I think it would depend – cured meats were basically invented as a solution to food spoilage in a pre-refrigeration era and I wouldn’t bat an eye at those being left out. Sliced deli meats would be another story.

        The other things, well, food service operations have higher standards for food safety than is really necessary for people in their private lives – the risk tolerance is a lot lower for a regulated business selling food to customers, where they could be getting a lot of customers sick through what would likely be some kind of criminal negligence so even a very small risk is unacceptable. But in our own homes we often are more lax about food safety because ultimately the risk of getting sick is pretty low and some of us feel that we have iron stomachs and are willing to throw the dice. I regularly eat leftovers wayyy past when all the food safety authorities would say I should have thrown them out (like cooking a couple pounds of chicken and putting it in a container in the fridge that I take 2-3 weeks to go through adding it to dishes here and there) and I can’t remember the last time I got sick from food. Even though I wouldn’t serve it to others, I’m comfortable with the risk level there for myself personally. Bacteria don’t spontaneously arise in the food, they have to be there to begin with, and the official food safety guidance for obvious reasons has a very generous buffer between recommended times and the point at which the food is more likely to be poisonous than not – it’s not like all food that sits out will definitively become poisonous within a matter of hours. Most won’t.

        1. HappyRetiree*

          My adult child works for that East Coast grocery chain that is known as a great place to work and has undergone the store’s food safety training. She’s been in several departments that involve handling and/or preparing fresh food. She was so proud when her store passed the local health department inspection with no violations for the ninth or tenth time in a row. Each store has a full-time food safety manager.

          Now, at home, her standards for food safety can get extreme. Anything past the “sell-by date” gets tossed and she will not eat meats that have not been cooked to “overdone”. She thinks I’m going to get food poisoning if I eat a yogurt that even one day beyond “sell by”.

            1. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.*

              Meaning: he thinks everything vanishes the minute that the date passes, in my experience, I know that you have to actually check it.

              1. Liz T*

                Got annoyed at my husband for tossing eggs past the sell-by date when I’d just tested them in water and they still sunk. Had to get brand new kugel eggs :(

                1. Exhausted Trope*

                  Liz T, I must confess that I hate to waste eggs so much that I even eat the floaty ones. I’ve been known to keep eggs weeks past the sell by date and have yet to get sick or make anyone else ill.
                  I kinda wonder if sell by dates are really helpful for the consumer at all or do they just lead to wasting food?

                2. Devil Fish*

                  @Exhausted Trope | Sell-by dates aren’t for the consumer though, they’re for the stores. It depends on the items but everything is fine to use after the sell-by date.

                  Meat is something like 3-5 days past, diary is maybe a week, eggs are like 1-2 weeks past (if you want to horrify the people who pitch things on the day of the sell-by date, teach them how to read the codes on egg containers that tells you when the eggs were laid—it’s usually at least 2 weeks before the sell-by).

            2. CatMintCat*

              I’m a bit cautious about use by dates, too, especially for dairy. If my husband wants to pour milk that went out of date three days ago on his cereal, he’s welcome to, but I won’t do it. Milk that’s even slightly on the turn upsets my insides, so I’ve learnt to avoid the risk as much as possible (and have beenknown to throw it out before the date, if it smells off to me).

              The chicken example iin the question is definitely gross, but the others mostly wouldn’t worry me. I might not eat them, depending on the look, but I wouldn’t be stressing about others.

                1. 'Tis Me*

                  I bought a fridge-stable milkshake type drink the other day (I think it’s best before date is in December). It tasted oddly fizzy to me… Asked husband to check if it tasted fine to him; he said it did. Tried it again the next day (it had been kept in the fridge between times) and it still tasted fizzy, and now yoghurty to me…

                  I’m pregnant and can be funny with food (and very vommy) when I am so I genuinely don’t know if this is my tastebuds being off at present – but I last drank one of these 2 weeks ago without issue – or it being on the turn and him being less sensitive than me…

      2. Jadelyn*

        I’ve literally taken a block of cheddar on a backpacking trip before (I wasn’t the one who packed it, the guide running the trip did) and sure it wasn’t the right texture after a day or so, but it was perfectly fine as far as getting anyone sick.

        OP is trying to hold lay people to food service standards and…I just don’t see that ending well for anyone.

        1. pleaset*

          Reminded of the time a friend and I were in a cheap motel without a refrigerator or ice, and he had some yogurt that he was going to leave out on the dresser for breakfast the next morning.

          I asked “Aren’t you afraid that’ll spoil” to which he replied “Dude, yogurt is already spoiled.”

          1. Quill*

            If the cultures are still live, they will crowd other germs out.

            that said, most commercial US yogurts don’t contain robust live cultures… so maybe don’t leave the danimals out overnight if it’s gonna be warm.

        2. Marny*

          Food service standards are so much more strict than how most people eat (and without getting ill). I’ve worked in food service, and I found most of OP’s concerns to be pretty overblown.

          1. Illia*

            I have a friend who teaches home canning through a local USDA program. The methods she must use are the national standards. At home she doesn’t necessarily always water bath seal her jam, put the exact recommended minimum amount of sugar or acid, etc.

            The government standards on food safety in commercial settings are even stricter. They are way above what is actually “safe” b/c they are designed to be idiot proof.

            1. whingedrinking*

              Yup. When you’re making a product to sell to a million people, your standards have to be higher than a one-in-a-million chance of making someone seriously ill because if they’re not, you’re very likely to cause someone real harm. That’s a way more acceptable risk if you’re cooking at home for a small group of people.

          2. Blerpborp*

            My mom has this level of concern with food being out for a few hours and I’ve always found it kind of over the top but to each their own, everyone has their something! For potlucks I’d just be sure to bring something I know I like and maybe put some other stuff on my plate but just eat what I know is up to my standards. If someone makes something vegetarian explicitly so they can try it, putting it on the plate and saying it was good (whether or not they tasted it) should be enough. But at least being vegetarian can explain to (nosy) people why your plate may not be as piled high as others.

          3. Devil Fish*

            They have to do that. The food service industry rarely gives full time hours or sick leave to their employees and they tend to cut your hours if you call out sick for a shift, so.

            If employees are encouraged to go to work where they’ll be handling/serving food while they have a full-blown case of norovirus, there’s not a lot of sense in tempting the old gods who keep that salmonella thing in check, besides the whole plausibility angle.

        3. Vemasi*

          I agree on several things, but many of her concerns are valid. Especially the chicken, leaving cream cheese open without refrigeration for several days, and just in general forcing food on people. Essentially, there are levels to food safety consciousness, which to me break down like this:

          Level 1 – commercial food safety: OP is here.
          Level 2 – private food safety: most commenters, as well as pts. 1, 2, and maybe 5 are here.
          Level 3 – negligence of food safety: pts. 3 and probably 4 are here, so some of OP’s coworkers are here, and that would be enough for me to avoid any food from them.

          Regardless, even though OP is venting about the things she doesn’t like, her question is not how to stop her coworkers from doing this stuff, but how to get out of the potluck. I don’t think there’s a trick to that, you just bring your own meal and if someone asks why, you can just say you preferred it. Or, you can bring your own dish that you know is safe, and eat just that (or just that and anything people bring that is pre-packaged). If anyone tries to insist you try their thing, just say you are full, and do Alison’s usual methods of evading pushiness.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            Your levels system was succinct and summed up exactly what I thought.

            There’s healthy food paranoia, and then there’s Bubble Boy food paranoia. Let’s hope the OP can ease away from the latter before she starts to make it impossible to eat in public.

            OP, I generally don’t participate in potlucks because folk usually make the same dishes each time, and none of them go together (korean bbq + lemon linguine = BARFBQ). So what I usually do is either a) make up an appt so I can avoid it – b) I will grab a dessert from the bakery but make sure I quietly eat my own brown bag lunch about an hour before the potluck is scheduled to start. That way when I’m asked why I’m not stuffing my face I can convincingly say ‘I just couldn’t wait, I was soo hungry this morning, so I ate lunch already. But yum, those cookies sure look good, I think I’ll grab some!’ Nobody needs to know that they’re your cookies.

            1. Jennifer Juniper*

              Would food safety standards be stricter for someone who is immune-compromised? I’d be surprised if the office didn’t have at least one immune-compromised person in it.

              1. Devil Fish*

                Maybe/not really/it depends?

                This is anecdotal but my immune system sucks/regularly tries to kill me and I’ve never noticed a more than normal tendency to get food poisoning (any time I have stomach flu and can trace it back to food, other people who ate the same thing also got sick). I’m not overly precious about keeping food refrigerated—I’ve forgotten about pizza that was on the counter overnight and I had a slice the next morning—but I also throw things out instead of cutting off the mold (gross).

                1. anwinynahte*

                  “Cutting off the mold” is fine for non-porous foods but if the food is porous (bread, etc) there’s really no such thing – the visible mold might only be on the outside, but the spores are pretty much throughout (or at the very least, there’s no way to tell that they aren’t). And I’m not confident enough in my ability to know if most foods are porous, so I mostly don’t. (I’ll sometimes cut mold off of fancy hard cheeses, like left over after a party, where I’m fairly certain there’s no way for spores to have gotten inside the block and I don’t want to waste the rest of the $20/lb cheese – but I don’t feed it to other people at that point.)

    3. rayray*

      I agree. The sandwiches being left out for a few hours really wouldn’t bother me much. The meat and cheese, I’d have to taste but I wouldn’t immediately be opposed if I felt like having a snack and it was there. The raw chicken would gross me out, I would grab a disinfecting wipe and wipe it up. I wouldn’t eat the cream cheese if it were left out, and I have personally just put cream cheese in the fridge once I knew it had been out more than an hour or two and just left a sticky note so people would know. As for leftovers being left in the car, that’s another personal call. I wouldn’t eat it, but if others want to, so be it.

      For the potluck, just try to use good judgment. Maybe see if fridge space can be cleared out for that day and just try to bring it up that things should be refrigerated til it’s time to eat.

      1. MissBookworm*

        I agree with you on almost everything. I think the food in the car would be fine so long as it’s in a cooler with plenty of ice/ice packs and not in direct sunlight. Construction workers do that all the time (or at least the ones I see everyday always have coolers which I see them eating out of at lunchtime) and my family does it all the time when we spend the day at the beach.

        1. rayray*

          yeah, same. And if it’s a winter night and really cold out, I can leave my restaurant leftovers for an hour or so if I need to. But on a hot summer day, leaving something out for a few hours? No way.

        2. MasterOfBears*

          Depends a lot on the food too. My job has a lot of field work where we frequently leave food in cars or backpacks all day. Some meat, cream soup, that kind of thing could get sketchy, but rice or noodles or PB&J? No problem. Everyone’s comfort level and tolerances are different, but that’s the kind of call your coworkers can make for themselves.

          1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            Rice is actually prone to growing botulism- that’s one to be really careful about!

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              Citation please? I had never heard this. It’s pretty common to leave rice in a rice cooker for days in some places.

            2. The Other Katie*

              Not botulism (which is an anaerobic bacteria that comes from soil), but Bacillus cereus. It can still give you a nasty case of food poisoning and has occasionally killed people, so it’s best not to leave cooked rice at room temperature.

        3. Quill*

          I kept an entire (Frozen) turkey in my car all day once. It was wrapped in three blankets, and the high that day was 33 degrees, so I figured that it would not thaw and also it was about to be cooked to within an inch of it’s fowl life as soon as I got it home…

          1. BlueClearSky*

            I have often left groceries in the car for a few hours when the temps are sub-freezing, as long as I’m not parked in direct sunlight. Sometimes it’s more convenient if the food is going to work in the morning anyway.

            1. Burned Ou Supervisor*

              Ahh, winter in the Midwest…when you can go grocery shopping BEFORE all your other errands.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Yes, I’m with you.
        Cheese – refridgeration of chese is a very modern phenomenon and in some cases cheese is actually much better if it isn’t too cold.
        Same with meat – on a meat platter I would expect cured meats in which case they don’t necessarily require refridgeration, and they are unlikely to cause any health issues.

        The raw chicked is inappropriate and I think it would be reasonable to have mentioed that in the moment, but if you don’t want to do that, just wipe the surface yourself if you see it happen again.

        Other things, how long it is Ok depends on the specifc type of food and the conditions it was left in.

        For the pot luck, I thnk you need to dcide what you personally are comfortable with – and if necessary, be picky so you are cmfortable eating – that might mean that you are eating cheese and crackers and fresh fruit, but if anyone comments, you can simply say you’re not very hungry.
        The issues you have obsereved are motly atound people leaving things out too long – pot luck food will presumably have been made fresh so shouldnt be such a worry from that perspective.

        You can also kep an eye out for anything which has ben bought rather than made from scratch – I would expect an office pot luck to include some stuff of that kind as not eveyone will want to cook or to carry home made things in, and you can feel more confident that he food wasn’t prepared in unsanitary conditions.

        dpending on how big your office is and how many are attending, then taking a selection of food so you are carrying a plate if anyone looks at you will probably work to avoid any questions. either put it down and ‘forget’ it, or wrap some of the food in a napkin and bin it then leave the rest (so it looks as though you have eaten ) – I would guess that people may notice nad comment I you don’t appear to eat anythin, but probably are not going to be monitoring how much of what you had on your plate you actually eat.

        (I would go for thetake a little of anything you think is safe, a ndjust say you aren’t very hungry if anyone asks, but the other may work better if people are going to be pressing stuff on you more agressively)

        Also – take something yourself you are happy to wat and that lets you both fill a plate and look like you have eaten

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Same with meat – on a meat platter I would expect cured meats in which case they don’t necessarily require refridgeration, and they are unlikely to cause any health issues.

          I don’t know why you’d expected cured meats. I’d expect things like roast beef and turkey to be included.

          1. Stepinwhite*

            Most of the meat and cheese platters I’ve come across in grocery stores are mostly cured meats. Not to say roast beef or turkey might not be an option, but yes, I’d expect cured meats, too. It’s about 90% of what I’ve seen out there, and when I grab meat and cheese platters myself for parties, they are all salami, pepperoni, and other cured meats.

          2. CmdrShepard4ever*

            It is true it could have been prepared from scratch at home, but I expect it was a prepackaged meat/cheese platter from a store. Those will often have cheese and cured meats like salami, sausage, pepperoni, prosciutto. Even some “fresh” deli meats like ham, roast beef, turkey often have enough salt to preserve them for an entire day.

          3. kittymommy*

            I think it depends on the type of platter. If it was a meat/cheese deli tray, then yeah I’d expect deli type of meats (so turkey, roast beef, etc.). If it was a meat/cheese snacking tray then I would expect more of the salami and pepperoni variety.

      3. TootsNYC*

        especially when the bread is starting to look a little dried and the meat on the platter has gotten that sheen of moisture–I’m not an idiot, I can decide whether I want to eat it.

      4. Snark*

        This. And if they all get sick, well, in the land of the barfing, the intestinally healthy woman is queen.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Agreed. The raw chicken is the only one that really made me wince. The cream cheese? Eh, people leave things out, and I’m sure no one was digging into that cream cheese after day one. Things don’t go bad (as in, dangerously bad) quite that quickly in a normal environment.

      The LW has a ServSafe certification so I’m assuming she worked in restaurants or catering or some other type of public-facing food service. The standards in those industries is much higher out of necessity. But in a regular office setting, most of these things won’t result in anyone getting seriously ill, in my experience.

      That said, it is ok to decline food at any time, but I would avoid saying things like, “Ew, no, that’s so unsafe!” while someone else is reaching for a two-hour-old sandwich.

      1. Ginger Baker*

        ^This. Standards for food safety in food service are much higher than most people use in their day to day setting and for most of us – not those who are immunocompromised or toddlers – the lower-level (but not the raw chicken) is fine. Possibly the out-all-day sandwiches might give your average person a bit of stomach trouble later, but honestly that happens to me every single time I eat cheese and I have yet to stop eating cheese Because Deliciousness so really, we all make choices that are not always Ideal Perfect Choices for our bodies.

        (I am currently in a long-haul battle to get my mom to adjust her eating habits on this since she was for years the same “sure I can eat this sandwich at 4pm” and it was FINE but *now* she has almost zero immune defense left post-chemo and Just Can’t and lordy, she does NOT like having to change her approach, let me tell you. LE SIGH.)

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Agreed! re: the cheese – if it’s lactose intolerance, the lactase pills (Dairy Ease or Lactaid in the US) really work. I’m pretty completely lactose intolerant, even yogurt gives me a problem, but one of those can handle 2 – 3 oz cheese + 6oz yogurt.

        2. Jane Austin Texas*

          I FEEL YOU on the mom thing. Every year she *insists* on cooking the stuffing in the turkey. I don’t squick easily, but this…

          1. whingedrinking*

            Cooking the stuffing in the turkey is fine in itself. The problem is when people stuff the turkey the night before, using warm or room temperature stuffing, then stick it in the fridge overnight where it’s in contact with raw meat. If you put the bird in the oven right after you stuff it, then it shouldn’t cause any problems.

            1. Clisby*

              Oh, lord, I’ve never even heard of stuffing the turkey the night before. Eeeek. I always stuff the turkey, but that means I make the stuffing immediately before putting it in the turkey, and then I put the turkey in the oven.

              Leftover stuffing is put in a casserole dish and baked, where it’s magically transformed into dressing.

              1. whingedrinking*

                When I was growing up my mom never stuffed the turkey, so we had dressing instead. It was a mystery to me why anyone raved about loving stuffing, since to me it was this weird dry bread and onion mixture (and my parents are from the Prairies, so they put raisins in it too). Then I had Thanksgiving dinner with my university boyfriend’s family, who put the stuffing in the bird, and holy crap I realized how wrong I’d been.

                1. D'Arcy*

                  My family always put the stuffing on the side, which I never really raised a fuss about since I *like* the stuffing mix my aunt makes (AFAIK, it’s off the shelf mix with a few extra things added).

                2. pandop*

                  If we have do a full turkey we do a mixture. We stuff the neck cavity with sausagemeat, and then cook a separate ‘stuffing’ on the side too.

        3. Adlib*

          honestly that happens to me every single time I eat cheese and I have yet to stop eating cheese Because Deliciousness so really, we all make choices that are not always Ideal Perfect Choices for our bodies.

          Yes, this is my life.

        4. A. Ham*

          Try sheep or goat milk cheese! It doesn’t work across the board, but I know a lot of people with a lactose sensitivity that are not affected by sheep or goat cheese.
          *also- goat and sheep milk can be used to make all styles of cheese- so goat cheese is not just that soft stuff that a lot of people don’t like. I had a goat cheddar once that was amazing, and a smoked sheep blue cheese that even my husband liked (and he doesn’t like blue cheese! haha).

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            I’m lactose intolerant and love goat cheese. It’s one of the few that doesn’t have me in the bathroom for hours. It’s really good in my gluten free lasagnas, too.

          2. ibs sufferer*

            I realize this is getting OT but sheep and goat cheeses generally are NOT substantially lower lactose than their cow’s milk equivalents. This is a myth. They are lower fat. Based on my own digestion issues, it is possible (and I often think probable!) that some portion of people who think they have lactose intolerance actually have some sort of pancreatic insufficiency or other fat digestion challenge instead of, or in addition to, the lactose issue.

            If your issue is actually lactose, then what you need is highly aged cheeses, which typically are certain cheddars, goudas, etc, which have no lactose at all naturally, or, if you’re willing to risk it, other hard cheeses that are somewhat aged which tend to be lower lactose.

            1. Quill*

              I was allergic not to lactose, but to one of the cow-specific milk proteins when I was a toddler. (grew out of it.) So maybe some people have that and think it’s lactose, especially since goat and sheep cheeses are not exactly everyday fare.

            2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

              They have a different type of casein. Some people who self-diagnose as lactose intolerant are actually bothered by the casein, and can eat goat/sheep cheeses just fine.

    5. JustAnotherNikki*

      I second this viewpoint – some people will choose to eat it, some people won’t, and they are all adults that can use common sense judgement on what they do and don’t want to put into their bodies. I’ll be honest, my family was never ridiculously rigid with leaving things out, and I’m much the same way – I will eat most things that have been left out all day. I draw the line at fish. The chicken thing was a huge no-no, but it doesn’t sound like you’re in the food service industry so I would just casually mention that it should be cleaned up with soap, and move on.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I have limits and would not be interested in anything left out at an outdoor BBQ or something like that, but I will admit here on an open forum that I have eaten leftovers that I left in my car overnight (one time–it was worth it!). I don’t make it a regular practice to leave food out and eat it, but I feel like it is outside the OP’s lane. She doesn’t have to eat it, and I’m not offended if someone doesn’t partake in a potluck. It’s on individuals to decide if they want to eat something or not.

        1. Jaid*

          Who hasn’t eaten left out pizza for breakfast?

          That said, raw chicken? Ewwww. I’m reminded of a Not Always Healthy entry where employees were regularly getting food poisoning and it was traced to some dude nuking frozen raw chicken in the microwave, using a napkin as a plate…

      2. TechWorker*

        To be fair to OP, part of her complaint is that some of the folks eating this food *arent* being given the opportunity to judge whether they’re happy with the level of food safety. I doubt they’re giving people free food along with a full rundown of exactly how long it’s been out of the fridge and at what temperature…

        1. Lavender Menace*

          Sure, but when you accept leftovers at work that you don’t know the provenance of, you take that risk. If I’m ever offered food at work in the afternoon I *assume* it’s been left out all day long (at least).

    6. Diahann Carroll*

      Yeah, unfortunately, there’s not much OP can do here since she wasn’t hired to be the food safety officer. I’m right there with you OP with being grossed the hell out by the people you work with, but you just have to let them do their thing while you continue to politely decline.

      If you decide to participate in the potluck, bring something you’ll want to eat, take your portion out ahead of time and then leave the rest out of you don’t want to be conspicuously absent from the festivities. But yes, do not eat anything anyone else brings in. These people are gross.

      1. valentine*

        bring something you’ll want to eat, take your portion out ahead of time and then leave the rest out of you don’t want to be conspicuously absent from the festivities. But yes, do not eat anything anyone else brings in.
        This is perfect. Give; don’t share (because you can’t trust them with anything you provided) or take. If you’re friendly and keep any comments about you, rather than you in relation to everyone’s practices, they shouldn’t feel slighted. If they ever do, I’d be concerned they’d try to poison you the way people test allergies.

      2. yasmara*

        Or look for things that are cooked and served at room temperature…like cookies and brownies! I think it’s your attitude that will cause this to be an issue or not. If you don’t make a big deal about of it, put SOMETHING on your plate (even if it’s just what you brought plus a cookie and some pre-cut veggies from the grocery veggie tray that someone will probably bring), and cheerfully decline in other instances, you will be fine. I doubt they will even notice. It’s only if you make a big deal about it or refuse with an “eeewww” face (which I completely understand) that attention will be on you. Just continue to cheerfully refuse.

        1. Studies say: they're gross*

          After reading this letter, I wouldn’t trust these people to serve anything that is not pre-packaged and sealed. Did someone arrange those brownies on a platter immediately after handling raw chicken? Everything about this situation is disgusting

    7. Just Elle*

      Yeah, I think this is just a sliding scale thing and its not as black and white as LW feels. I mean, yes, I definitely side with LW on this because I’m really not about risking food poisoning. But, honestly, as hard as this is to believe, other people don’t really mind that risk or otherwise think its ‘worth it’.
      And it’s not really on us to police that behavior.
      I would just keep turning it down politely (I’m keto vegetarian, so I can’t eat anything, and I’ve had good luck with “I’m sorry, I’m so picky/hard to feed/have so many food sensitivities/have a medical condition that its just best not to try to feed me. Seriously.” Phrased with a smile and like its a *me* thing not a *them* thing. After a few declines my coworkers ‘got it’ and it was no longer ‘a thing’ and I did not feel alienated.
      People only alienate you when they feel judged. Not when they feel like you’re judging yourself.

      That said, raw chicken is a hard pass. They’d be getting a lecture for sure.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I would agree with this. For the potluck, OP should probably just say something like “I’m a vegetarian and kind of particular, but I’ll bring my own lunch and eat with the group if that’s ok”. I might warn someone new or in another department (quietly) something like “hey, so I’m probably on the more particular side because I have a history in food service, but those sandwiches sat out yesterday unrefrigerated for X hours”

        I’m normally on the lax side of food safety as well, but I’m moderately alarmed at the way my new office does potlucks. People tend to bring in hot food that they cooked that morning, and most of it sits around at room temperature from 8 am until noon, when it is lukewarm at best. So I tend to bring something small that is prepared and will fit in the fridge (or in a cooler with ice packs) or something packaged like chips that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. I either don’t take the (formerly) hot food, or I take only the food that I know has been kept pretty warm and I microwave it before eating.

        1. my two cents*

          OP could bring a dish to pass that passes their more-stringent handling methods…win-win…they get to participate, AND they’ll have something available to eat.

    8. CoveredInBees*

      Agreed. It is also worth noting that food handler guidelines are very strict because: a) you could be handling food for a variety of people with a variety of health issues and b) you’re generally handling large amounts of food on a daily basis which increases the probability that a problem could arise. Most home kitchens wouldn’t pass commercial health and safety codes and we’re not beset with a plague of food poisoning.

      I’d let the adults make their choices and maybe your stomach is “feeling off” that day so you don’t eat food you’re unsure about.

      1. Funemployed*

        This! And even in restaurants with those standards, food poisoning and cross contamination aren’t always avoidable.

        Last year I was serving a large party (~18), and one gentleman had a serious egg allergy. We were a sort of tapas restaurant, so I firmly told him not to eat anyone else’s plates and he’d have to have his own dishes. I spoke with the chefs so they knew to be especially careful with his dishes (the tickets were all specially marked), and he still ended up throwing up in the bathroom! Turns out the beer he was drinking is filtered through eggs (loads of alcohol are not vegetarian or vegan), and he had three pints.

        Sometimes food related illnesses happen even with the best of conditions.

        OP is well within their rights to avoid eating anything they don’t feel comfortable eating, but should try to be gracious in declining. Just try not to come off as judgmental, and use the potluck to get to know their new coworkers better!

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I just found out about most wine being filtered through eggs and thus not being vegan, when I was at a wine shop and they offered a taste of vegan wine. I did not realize that beer also used a similar filtering process.

          I have a few vegan friends who have been drinking beer/wine without any questions.

            1. Dot Warner*

              That’s changing – more and more breweries are using synthetic filters now, so check Barnivore.com to see if a beer you like is vegan.

        2. Shadowflash*

          It took me a sec to process “filtered through eggs” b/c I was like man, what a gross, terrible idea and how does that even work?

          FUN FACT:
          Egg whites/gelatin/fish bladders are used as a clarifier, not a filter as such. You’re not pouring beer thru a tub of raw eggs, you’re adding a sprinkling of the dried material to coagulate all the particulates to make the drink look pretty and clear. It’s purely for looks.

          OFC, not all the little particles get cleared out perfectly and various byproducts (like proteins and such, I presume) remain in the drink.

          My mom and I homebrew beer together, and we use Irish moss as a clarifier. Didn’t know people still used fish or egg finings, learned something new today!

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            So the items you want to get rid of cling to the dried egg particles? Do you then run that through an actual filter?

            1. Shadowflash*

              The aggregated particles (hops and small grain bits, mostly) stick to the finings and sink to the bottom of the fermenter. Then we siphon the clarified beer off the top. I gather this is very common in homebrewing.

              Commercial brewers put it through a more robust filter, but all my experiments with coffee filters and such have come to naught. The filter gets clogged easily and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in final clarity, at least as far as being able to do away with fining. Anyway, it wouldn’t surprise me if commercial brews have fewer allergens, but it’s unlikely that they have none.

              (Sorry if this is getting too OT!)

    9. Box of Kittens*

      This was my exact reaction. I feel for OP especially given her credentials, but when she can just refuse the food and share her opinion politely, which it sounds like she’s done, this really wouldn’t be my hill to die on.

      1. Mike C.*

        It’s literally not an opinion, it’s well established science. I spent years at a food safety testing lab before my current job and this isn’t some “guideline”, people are seriously harmed because of attitudes like this.

        1. WellRed*

          I think you’re aligned with the OP because you have a background in food safety. These are adults and if they want to eat food that’s been sitting around, that’s up to them. OP is not the food safety officer at this company.

          1. Mike C.*

            I’m not saying she stop them from eating, I’m saying that it’s perfectly reasonable to speak up and say something and to continue doing so in the future.

            1. Dan*

              For the raw chicken (and maybe the cream cheese), yes. Everything else she should zip it because she will alienate her team.

              This is a “pick your battles” thing. The raw chicken is a battle that gets picked.

              1. So sleepy*

                I don’t even think the cream cheese warrants speaking up. It’s not like people don’t know it was there the day before or that it’s warm. The chicken is bad because ok, ew in general, but also (1) the bacteria issue will get progressively worse, (2) people would never expect raw chicken to be left on a counter and might end up cross-contaminating food or items like forks without realizing it, and (3) it’s just a jerk move not to clean up after yourself, ESPECIALLY when it’s raw chicken.

                Otherwise yes, it’s gross, and no, I would never eat warm deli meats, but it’s not OP’s role to police it. It might be worth pushing for a fridge (even a mini fridge) to save leftovers in. And if it’s only one or two people asking you, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying “I’ll pass… those have been out since yesterday,” and “No thanks, I’m not a fan of warm cream cheese/I like my cream cheese really cold” as long as it’s not every time (and as long as you can say them in a way that doesn’t make it sound like you are judging people that DO want the warm cream cheese, just commenting on the temperature of it and your preference).

                1. pancakes*

                  That would be my approach. As for the people in the car park, if they’re comfortable accepting food without knowing anything about how it was handled, that’s on them.

                  This question reminds me of a guy I worked with for a time who would buy 2 tuna sandwiches at lunch in our subsidized cafeteria, eat one, and leave the other sitting on a sunny windowsill until dinner. There was a refrigerator he might’ve used, but didn’t. This disgusted me and I felt a bit vindicated in my disgust when his work turned out to be so sloppy and careless as to be unreliable!

            2. Rugby*

              And then she gets a reputation for being that annoying person who is always talking about food safety.

      2. Sparrow*

        This sounds like a big enough part of office culture that I’m not sure OP is going to win the war on this one, unfortunately. But I agree that she should continue declining and perhaps even say, “I have a background in food safety, so I’m personally not comfortable eating something that’s been out that long,” if they push her. That might be a nudge to get some of them to think about what they’re doing. I would also start proactively putting things in the fridge before they had a chance to sit out for 8 hours.

        If OP’s boss insists OP offer leftovers to people, OP is presumably in a position to control the messaging. I’d say something that made the situation clear to them so the person has some context for what they’re agreeing to and can decide whether or not they care (maybe something like, “Boss put the leftover sandwiches out on the break room counter after lunch. There are some left there if you’re interested in taking one home with you.”)

        For the potluck, I like the idea of OP taking the first serving of their own contribution and supplementing if there are items that seem ok. That way OP can participate without subjecting themselves to food they find questionable.

        1. Vicky Austin*

          Raw chicken is, though. I remember when my parents first taught me to cook. They told me to ALWAYS spray bleach on any surface that raw chicken touched.

          1. Annette*

            Yes everyone agrees that’s a problem. But sandwiches? Who cares. When LW just looks prissy – it obscures the actual issue. boy who cried wolf.

            1. pancakes*

              Clearly some people care, including the letter writer. You might want to refresh your memory on the story of the boy who cried wolf—he was initially playing a trick on the villagers, not trying to warn them in earnest, and at the end of the story the villagers’ sheep (and the boy, in some versions) are eaten by the wolf.

              1. Lavender Menace*

                Well…yes? I think that’s the point. If people don’t pick their battles and are always ringing the alarm, folks will want to discount them for the minor stuff AND the major stuff and may be less likely to listen for the big things. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think the point makes sense.

                1. pancakes*

                  Mentioning food safety once or twice at suitable moments—while observing someone not cleaning up the kitchen after prepping raw chicken, for example—wouldn’t be “always ringing the alarm,” though.

          1. MissGirl*

            I would venture a guess that almost every kitchen office has a contaminated countertop. You have no idea what everyone else has set out. Plus they aren’t cleaned as well as we’d like to think. I personally make sure my food never touches the counter and I clean up after myself. My coworkers are welcome to take whatever risk they want. The OP can’t police this beyond the occasional suggestion.

            I was reading an article that counters and sinks contain more bacteria than toilet seats due to frequency and variety of use yet we all survive.

            1. Quill*

              That’s because not every bacteria is harmful to humans! We keep a lot of staph aureus and lactobacillus on our skin at all times, and it’s good for us, because it crowds out other germs that haven’t coevolved with us. But even then, they belong on the OUTSIDE, not in open wounds, and inside intestinal germs belong on the inside of the intestines, not in the rest of your body, which is why you get sepsis from a burst appendix if it isn’t taken care of.

              E. coli and salmonella in particular are more likely to cause disease in humans because they’re very good at living wherever they find themselves, and very common. Also because they can spread through water very quickly, and everything and everyone needs water for a lot of different things.

            2. MatKnifeNinja*


              I know people that don’t wash their hands after using the restroom, and are touching the counter tops and who knows what else.

              The counter top is considered “dirty” unless you clean it.

              People are gross. They leave food out. They don’t wash their hands properly. They have pets roaming around the kitchen and jumping on counters tops. OP, you got plenty of nightmare fuel right there without worrying about food temperatures

              Take a little bit of everything. Shove it around your plate. Eat the store bought brownie.

              That’s what I do.

              My friend leaves store bought rotisserie chicken out overnight, and eats it for breakfast. The chicken is screaming hot, and comes to room temp on the counter.

              His gut microbes must be awesome.

              1. Lavender Menace*

                I remember reading a study that found that 95% of people say they wash their hands after using the bathroom, but observation showed that only about 60% of people actually do when observed directly.

          2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

            My countertops at home are definitely contaminated. I have cats that love to be on top of them. They walk through litter boxes and then on floors and on the counters, sit on them with their exposed butts, etc. It’s a fact of life with cats.

            1. ...*

              And its pretty reasonable that people would not watch to eat food that sat on a counter that touch cat butthole…..I mean i freaking love pets so I get it and don’t judge but it also is pretty reasonable to not want to eat potluck food for this particular reason

              1. CatMintCat*

                Cats are the reason I clean the kitchen counter BEFORE I start to cook, as well as after I finish. I know I can’t keep them off when I’m not home, so I take the path of least resistance. And I keep the manufacturer of Spray & Wipe in business almost singlehandedly.

            2. pancakes*

              I adopted a cat around 8 years ago after a lifetime of being a dog person and I’ve never once seen her on the kitchen counter! She’s very polite about walking on bare legs too.

      1. annony*

        Most of this doesn’t really seem like a relevant workplace safety issue though. The chicken thing is gross but mostly it seems like people making a decision to eat food that the OP would not choose to eat. Just so long as they know it has been sitting out it really isn’t the OP’s business anymore.

        1. Mike C.*

          The attitudes are completely ignoring well established science and basic precautions. That’s a recipe for something worse happening down the road. The OP should say something, which isn’t the case from what I can see.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I understand your point on H&S, but to me this is similar to policing hygiene with your coworkers. If you work in a regular office (not in food service), are you going to call out people for not washing their hands? Or, admonish coworkers who don’t get flu shots?

            1. Curmudgeon in California*


              Yes, people need to wash their hands when handling food and after using the restroom. Yes people need to get flu shots and vaccinations. Yes people should refrigerate perishables.

              BUT. It’s not my job, or duty, to admonish adults to do any of these things. It’s just not. It only lies in the purview of medical professionals and other people whose actual job is food safety education.

              If this person started to harp at me for what they perceive as “food safety” issues, I’d politely tell them to MYOB.

              They are welcome to not eat any food they deem to be unsafe. They are welcome to advise anyone receiving the food of its history.

              They are not welcome to be a pain in the butt about it.

          2. hbc*

            Well, she can state the science, but “these were our procedures in a commercial kitchen” doesn’t really apply to telling grownups they can’t eat a (probably laced with preservatives) sandwich that sat out all day.

            And the science is usually something along the lines of “There’s a 50% increase in the chance of getting [bacterial infection] if the temperature goes below X for Y hours.” It’s a personal choice whether that 50% increase of a small number is a problem for you.

            1. Quill*

              Also, 50% from what?

              I’ve raised germs for a living, a plate with 1 colony in 24 hours is still going to have 1 colony in 48 hours (though the colony gets bigger.) A plate with 200 colonies in 24 hours? May very well have more at 48 hours.

              The incubation time for most microbio samples is 24-36 hours at 30C, but bacterial growth can be slowed by refrigeration (which we did often) and microbe samples are stored in stasis in freezers for years. TLDR: there is bacteria on your food already, food prep and preservation is about inhibiting or slowing it’s growth, or substituting in bacteria that our body is cool with.

              1. Elitist Semicolon*

                Working for a bacteriology lab made me less obsessive about food handling and safety precisely because I had a good idea of what, if anything, was likely to be growing on the food and whether it would in fact make me sick. I was the oddball out there, though – everyone else became increasingly obsessive.

                1. Quill*

                  I became more obsessive about not touching my face and less obsessive about the sell by date of cheese and milk. “Oh, that’s my buddy lactobacillus, how’re you doing?”

                  Molds still get axed but I know the approximate hyphae circumfrence I have to cut out, so…

          3. Lavender Menace*

            I am a public health scientist. Food safety regulations exist because restaurants produce and serve food at volume. Individuals are not super likely to get sick after doing most of what LW states (other than the raw chicken thing) because we have immune systems.

            Nobody is saying that the letter writer is *wrong* in that these are potentially unsafe practices. What people are saying is that the risks to the individuals probably aren’t great enough for the OP to risk social capital in complaining repeatedly about it. Sometimes you can be right and still be annoying.

      2. Alice*

        If OP was a nurse speaking up to prevent patients from eating spoiled food, sure. Or if OP was the health and safety officer charged with keeping this department healthy. But OP doesn’t say that her current job has anything to do with safety or risk management, does she?
        Being an adult does not mean micromanaging your colleague’s approach to room-temperature cheese.
        Frankly at this point I think OP may not be able to address even the egregious things, like the raw chicken, without getting a reputation that she doesn’t seem to want.

    10. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, I agree that the raw chicken is the biggest ew, and I would probably have taken it upon myself to clean that counter thoroughly.

      Sandwiches, cheese, highly processed meat – eh, I wouldn’t eat it after two days, but cream cheese really doesn’t get moldy that quickly. People call my company all the time and ask how long buttercream can stay out without going bad, not realizing that butter, shortening and sugar are all safe at room temperature, and that the high amount of sugar helps inhibit spoiling as well. And cake will go stale before it goes moldy, generally. I agree with the commenters who are saying that ServSafe goes above and beyond for maximum safety that may not reflect actual risks.

    11. Jane Austin Texas*

      Totally agree with this comment, and will be using “let adults adult” more often in my day to day life.

      Regarding the potluck, I would bring something completely safe (like cookies) to share, and then put a cup of coffee in your hand so it looks like you’re participating (even if you don’t eat), and enjoy being social with your colleagues.

      1. I’m Telling HR*

        I love this! Yes, let the adults adult. No one likes a nag, and other than can sling out to the chicken (which I agree I s horrifying) the rest is no big deal.

        We had a food policewoman in our office who threw away stuff in the fridge that was weeks away from expiration because “it was going bad and contaminating everything”. She was universally hated and almost lost her job over it. Don’t be that person.

    12. BottleBlonde*

      I got the sense that part of OP’s concern was that the people eating the food might not know how it was handled previously (for example, the sandwiches being shared with other departments the day after the off-site – were people told that they sat out for 8 hours? I would have assumed that they were put in a fridge after lunch).

      1. Stormfeather*

        Yeah, this is the problem I’m having. On the co-workers eating the stuff I’d mostly agree with “let adults adult even if it makes you CRINGE” (which I would be having all the cringe), but it sounds like they’re foisting them off on other departments and guests with no warning which.. yeah. That is not cool.

        1. TootsNYC*

          then again, at my office we order in lunch, then put the leftovers in the communal kitchen and send an email out to the floor. Everybody knows those things have been at room temp since they arrived.

          And if they’re around the next day still, everybody can assume that they were refrigerated at some point in the early-to-mid-afternoon (like around 3, but maybe later), and they can decide for themselves if they want to worry about it.

          It’s not that difficult, and if you’re worried, you avoid it.

      2. Liane*

        Yes, as someone else mentioned, it’s fine to quietly tell some unsuspecting coworker, “Hey, the food’s been sitting out for several hours/is from yesterday” and even add, “Not sure the meat will still taste good” as veiled warnings. But don’t, not matter how much these folks may deserve it* yell out that information or all the “Ewww!” thoughts that run through your head (and mine).

        *for the chicken juices & digs about you staying out of the weight competition

      3. Alice*

        If OP feels like she has a big enough reservoir of goodwill, she could advocate to label things: allergens, and also what time it was put out. Then everyone has the chance to make an informed decision. But, that ship may already have sailed if OP is worried that her concerns have alienated her from colleagues.

      4. Smithy*

        A lot of this attitude reminds me of “food from a board meeting earlier today is now a free for all”. In the spirit of letting adults adult – there’s the opportunity to ask when the meeting was and if the food has been sitting in a conference room unsealed and unrefrigerated. At my workplace, there’s also the very reasonable assumption that if you’re seeing free sandwiches at 4:30 – they were likely served at noon, arrived earlier and have not seen cold storage since.

        While this may all be very unsafe food standards – I’d also say it’s incredibly common.

        Free office food is very “get what you pay for” – and for those of us who eat it, a lack of sanitary handling is one thing. I mean – meeting buffets – the folks who have handled the food directly with unwashed hands, sneezed on the salad…..just assume to some degree all of that has happened.

        1. Ophelia*

          Yep. There’s a reason I’ll eat vegetarian sandwiches or cookies or whatever that are left in the office kitchen as a snack, but I personally avoid the meat ones, since I know they’ve been out for several hours at that point. My office *does* make a point of announcing “hey there is food from the X meeting in the kitchen” pretty promptly after whatever it is wraps up, so that does help give people a sense of “ok, this has been out for 3 hours at this point…”

      5. Not So NewReader*

        OP, for your own peace of mind use a larger focus, keep the thought that most of us do not know where our food has been and what it has been through before it got to us. What you are seeing in front of you is a symptom of the problem but not the whole problem. The whole problem is huge.

        In my town it suddenly became a Thing to follow health code in the early 80s. Those of us in food service had to go to a meeting. The very first thing that man said was most of the time it was women reporting other women. (The women in the room rolled their eyes very HARD.) I have watched over the decades as the rules change. I especially noticed that heating temps have changed. But there are many other things, too.

        As near as I can tell we have many more rules in place and I sincerely doubt our food is being handled much better than it was decades ago. It’s my belief that professional handling of food is done maybe 50% of the time if that. So personally I believe that safe food is an illusion, not real. Our best bet is to eat what we have prepared ourselves. Wisdom says even then, we don’t know where that food was before it got to us. Make your own food and let others find their own path.

        At most you could point out to management news articles that talk about an entire group getting sick on shared food. The articles I have seen involves church groups but I am sure there are other examples. You could ask for proper refrigeration units to hold all the food. For example, meat platters take up a lot of space, so perhaps purchasing a second refrigerator would help. You could suggest setting the food on ice blocks of some type. We have taken big metal bins, filled them with ice and set a bowl of salad or tray of meat on top. Not ideal, but it is an attempt at any rate.
        That is my suggestion here. Mention it to management once or twice with some suggestions on improving the situation and bring your own food. Don’t keep harping on it with people. And yes, it’s true you can watch them start to experience discomfort. I know I have. But, really, say nothing further.

      6. Gazebo Slayer*

        Oh hell yes. This is disgusting and horrifically irresponsible, and I would be incoherent with rage if I found out someone had served me this crap without warning.

      7. Media Monkey*

        in my experience, sandwiches go a bit crispy and are obviously not fresh looking within a few hours of being left out. i would think it would be obvious to anyone picking one up they they had been around for a while, and they could make their own decision?

    13. Laura H.*

      Agreed on the raw chicken, though the car leftovers is also feeling questionable.

      But the other stuff could simply be logistics related. Not enough fridge space, proximity to reserved location and what the food is for etc. It’s not nothing to worry about but it’s not DANGER WILL ROBINSON either.

      1. Jenny*

        It’s questionable, but it sounds like it was their own food and they knew about it. Would I eat it, no. But I can’t really tell someone not to eat their own food.

      2. Quill*

        Car leftovers is 100% temperature dependent for me.

        Summer? Heck no. Winter? My car is possibly reaching refrigerator temps.

    14. Classic Rando*

      Yeah, most of the examples given didn’t seem at all bad to me. I only refrigerate sandwiches that will be sitting overnight, a few hours at room temp won’t hurt them. The chicken example was gross, and I wouldn’t have eaten the cream cheese after day 1, but to me those were the only really bad ones.

      If the job isn’t centered around food, being so focused on everyone else’s food habits may come off poorly. Especially when it comes to individual lunches.

      For the potluck, go in early, grab only what you’re comfortable eating, and don’t make a big deal out of what you’re not. Let your coworkers decide for themselves what they’re okay with eating.

    15. Christina*

      I think the big difference (and what the OP is getting stuck on) is what could be served in a food establishment according food safety standards, and what are normal office (or home) food practices. The rules from ServSafe are pretty strict compared to how we usually handle food at home or at work, but they’re meant to be stricter (and to some degree, overly cautious) because SO MANY people are handling and eating that food.

      There are a lot of ServSafe rules that are excessive to follow at home or at work (I’m guessing you don’t have a sanitizer sink or a high-temp dishwasher, and don’t have gloves around for anyone handling food). I get if those rules have been drilled into you, it can be hard to let them go, but (other than the raw chicken) nothing listed is so glaring awful or a direct path to food poisoning.

      The most likely worst consequence for most of the examples is the quality suffers (I hate wilty lettuce and soggy bread on leftover sandwiches) or the person who ate their own car-warmed leftovers gets sick. And since these are all pretty common office practices, people generally know the risks they take with office leftovers.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I can say it’s almost a culture shock to see how food is handled in non-food service places. It is so far removed from code that it’s unbelievable. I definitely can see someone getting upset watching the casual neglect going on all around them. It bothers me sometimes.

      2. Richard*

        Agreed. Most people who work in restaurants know that those rules are extreme on purpose to mitigate liability, and know that not following them to a T is not by any means categorically unsafe.

    16. Judy Johnsen*

      She could buy a bottle of Chlorox bleach kitchen cleaner, for counters, and leave it out just 1 part bleach in 10 parts water. And put out ice packs. It amazes me how not careful people are.

      1. valentine*

        She could buy a bottle of Chlorox bleach kitchen cleaner, for counters, and leave it out just 1 part bleach in 10 parts water.
        Someone who thinks a towel wipe suffices isn’t going to take the hint and I wouldn’t be surprised if these people are anti-bleach. (Mmm, bleach.) OP shouldn’t try to stem this tide.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          This reminds me of Lululemon’s (yoga/athletic clothing company) manifesto, which includes something like “don’t use harsh chemicals on your counters, someone will inevitably make a sandwich on that counter” and I’m like… that’s exactly why I use harsh chemicals on my kitchen counters. If you don’t occasionally bleach your kitchen counter, I don’t want to eat anything you made in that kitchen.

          1. Relentlessly Socratic*

            I have hardwood counters that do not get bleached (they do get cleaned). I also have cutting boards and plates. Nothing gets prepped on the counter.

    17. Jenny*

      Particularly the other people’s lunches thing. The chicken is bad, but if someone wants to eat something they know has been out all day, that’s on them. People do stuff that isn’t the wisest course if action all the time. The chicken is a problem, for sure, but everything else you just have to accept that adults are allowed to make those choices.

    18. President Porpoise*

      I have gotten amazingly sick off of old cream cheese (when I worked at a bagel shop and we were all high schoolers who didn’t take silly things like “rotation” seriously. Turns out berry cream cheese wasn’t that popular – who knew?), so I feel pretty strongly about the cream cheese situation, and the chicken situation of course.
      I have an amazingly sensitive stomach, so I generally decline shared food unless it’s catered – though many restaurants make me really sick, possibly because of the oils they use, or maybe cleaning supplies? Unsure, but beside the point. If these people want to treat food in this way, speak up for the really dangerous stuff and allow others to make choices according to their values for the rest. Just don’t eat what they give you.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I get explosive diarrhea from a lot of restaurant food – most of them use cheap partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and I react within an hour from that. I consider margarine and Crisco to be poison.

        But I wouldn’t dream of telling others they can’t eat it.

    19. boop the first*

      I suspect that the concern is that people who are this lax at work are probably also bad at food safety at home. So when bringing a dish for a potluck, you don’t know if that person’s cat stuck their butthole into the salad before they left for work. Or if it sat on the counter all night because there was no room in the fridge.

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        This is a terrific mental image and I salute you for bringing me some amusement in my tired Thursday.

      2. ...*

        It probably did there is someone upthread who said her/his cats sit on the counters they cook on. Which if that’s what they want to do for themselves, great! But I certainly won’t be eating it.

    20. Anon.*

      Aside from the raw chicken, I don’t think any of these are that bad.

      Generally with leftovers being shared by another department it really is proceed with caution. You don’t know when the food was purchased and how long it stayed out. They generally are left in the break room after they are no longer needed. I don’t think it needs any specific warnings.

      Same thing with cream cheese. People often bring bagels in the morning. They include a big tub of cream cheese which I never use because I don’t know how long it’s been sitting out. But I’m not going to go around telling adults not to use communal cream cheese. They can sniff and taste the cream cheese and hopefully wont eat it if it tastes off.

      Food being left out for a few hours doesn’t bother me. I never refrigerate my lunch. It sits on my desk until I eat it around noon. I would rather take my chances doing that than put it in the communal fridge which is really filthy.

      OP you should let this go. If I was your coworker I would be annoyed by you rushing to throw out food after meetings and events.

    21. TheCommenterFormerlyKnownAsRUKiddingMe*

      This. I think OP would be best served to let others eat/not eat without input.

      As for the potluck…I never eat potluck food* and blame it on my immune disorders (real) and allergies (also real). Sometimes I will make a plate and just push food around.

      *I always bring food though. *Lots* of it because that has good optics. Usually **deli prepared/bakery made though because I know I’m not the only “oh gross!” person out there.

      **Once it’s opened (mine or anything someone else brought) I also never eat it. Hand washing, etc. issues. I just don’t trust others’ to be as hyper careful as I am.

      OP take a plate and push the food around. Make a doctor appointment…but there will be other potlucks… Just give the impression you are eating.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yeah, I am much more squicked out by other people’s hand hygiene, possibly reusing cutlery, etc, than by the storage of the food. I avoid public buffets even where food hygiene is obviously being assiduously observed (e.g. separate refrigerated units for cold cuts/cheese and fruit, food thermometers) because I just don’t trust people. There are allergies in play but even food that couldn’t possibly be unsafe is still unsafe as soon as Other People are allowed near it.

      2. DJ*

        Yes, there’s usually options at a potluck that are fairly safe like chips, cookies/desserts that come from a grocery store, maybe veggies/fruit, and other prepared foods that aren’t temperature-sensitive. If the OP is okay with some of those types of foods, it will make it easier to avoid the homemade stuff without being obvious. But I’ve found that people won’t usually make too big a deal of what you’re eating as long as you don’t either. It can help if you make a point of making conversation about other stuff and not just the food.

        Also if anyone comments on the food and asks if you’ve tried something, I usually say something like “Not yet” and change the subject, or if someone is really pushy I’ll say I’m having stomach issues or something. If all else fails I find that most people will leave it alone if you say bring up stomach trouble.

        And unless someone is especially sensitive or you have a tiny office, I highly doubt anyone will take offense at the OP avoiding certain foods. At potlucks there are usually enough over-enthusiastic eaters who will more than make up for the picky eaters.

    22. Eleanor Rigby's Jar*

      I would view this under ‘kids taking it to school for lunch’ — if a sandwich is okay for a kid to take to school and eat 4 hours later, then it is probably okay at work for the same amount of time.
      Raw meats – that would be a concern worth voicing. But everything else, I’d let the adults make their own decisions.
      But if LW is anxious about her own safety eating foods under these circumstances, then by all means abstain from eating at the potluck. Or if you want to bring food in, bring in a basket of dinner rolls and butter pats (butter does not need to be refrigerated). A fruit basket with paring knife and dip (some soft caramel dips do not need to be refrigerated). Soft pretzel bites and mustard, etc. Things that you can eat that do not need to be refrigerated.

    23. Bostonian*

      I tend to agree, as long as people know how long it’s been sitting out. Some people (as we can tell by the comments) are more turned off by food that has been left out than others, so as long as people know, they can decide whether or not to partake.

      As for the potluck, is there an organizer? Could you ask it someone will be in charge for taking food out/putting it back in the fridge in a timely manner? If you’re concerned that people bringing in food won’t have used correct food hygiene to begin with because of the events you described… well, that’s an issue with any potluck. You don’t know how clean of a kitchen Janet from Accounting keeps, so if you’re concerned, I would say don’t eat anything anyone else brings!

      You can still bring a dish if you want to have something you can eat, which will also do double duty of making you more involved in the festivities. I used to be involved in plenty of work potlucks where there was very little I could eat (due to restrictions), so I always brought something myself and it was enough to be involved in the event. In my experience, everyone knew I had restrictions and didn’t bat an eye that I wasn’t eating much of anyone else’s food.

    24. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, I think the answer is–just don’t eat anything at the potlucks. Bring something in and just eat what you brought. And maybe some fruits and cookies or whatever seems safe.

  3. R*

    Talk to the main pot-luck organizer. Whoever is setting out the food, collecting lists etc. If you don’t gain any traction, skip the whole thing, and rejoice in not having an icky tummy later in the day. I feel you though. My MIL describes me as ‘very particular’ because I have separate chopping boards for raw meat v everything else. That’s not particular, that’s basic hygiene.

    1. Kiwiii*

      I’m not picky about the sandwiches or the meat/cheese platter, but I also have a raw meat chopping board separate from my everything else chopping board.

    2. TimeTravelR*

      I have color coded cutting boards! Green for veg; yellow for chicken; red for beef; purple for I don’t know what! I love them!

      1. Benign Henchman*

        okay, so this may be a silly question, but…

        Why is it bad to chop chicken on the same board as other meat? It’s not like beef is immune to its own germs (ie if the beef board will get germs on chicken, why won’t it also get old beef germs on new beef? and same for chicken to chicken?)

        1. Koala dreams*

          I also haven’t heard the rule about different cutting boards for different meat. I’ve heard that you should use a different cutting board for meat and for vegetables, because of the (so goes the story) many bacteria in raw vegetables, that come from the soil. However, I don’t follow that rule myself, I just clean the cutting board inbetween with soap and water.

        2. TechWorker*

          I would *guess* that it’s because certain types of beef you don’t have to cook all the way through (or at all) whereas raw chicken is considered generally bad. So maybe to avoid your raw chicken germs getting on your ‘about to be eaten not fully cooked’ beef?

        3. Princess Leia*

          My understanding is that chicken has some particularly bad/resilient germs, so it’s actually to keep the chicken board from getting germs on beef, which often is cooked to as high a temp.

    3. 1234*

      I didn’t know to have separate chopping boards for meat vs vegetables/other stuff until reading your comment. Growing up, my parents had one chopping board, to be used for vegetables, seafood and meat. I have one or two and use them interchangeably depending on what I’m chopping.

      1. skyline*

        And you survived all these years, proving the point that precautions rightfully needed in commercial food prep are not needed in personal settings. Wood cutting boards actually have a natural disinfectant property.

        1. Close Bracket*

          No they don’t. The reason wood cutting boards are safer than plastic is that the bacteria get embedded further down in the cuts and don’t infect whatever is on the surface.

      2. Lehigh*

        Yeah, I never heard of that either. I was aware that you should clean the cutting boards if you use them with raw meat, but that seems like enough? Especially if it’s plastic which is easily disinfected, right?

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Health code will argue that it is impossible to thoroughly clean the scratches on the board and there are bacteria laying in wait in those scratches. So you use designated boards to cut down on the cross-contamination.

          1. pancakes*

            That’s what the studies finding that wood cutting boards harbor less bacteria than plastic were about, I believe—the plastic ones get scratched up.

      3. Quill*

        I mean, that’s probably fine for the average bear if you prep veggies before the meat and disinfect afterward.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yup, that’s how I do it: veggies first, meat second, bleach and water washing of the cutting board last.

    4. JokeyJules*

      I second this. Talk to the organizer about a solution to better food storage for these. Perhaps talk about getting a small fridge or cooler for staff to keep food in for potlucks?

      I used to work in a commercial kitchen, and I know that carries a small amount of weight when I mention some food safety issues to coworkers, but always point out an issue with some sort of idea for a solution.

      As for your coworkers leaving food in their cars and then eating it later, leave that one be. That’s on them and nothing to do with you.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Agree. A cooler with ice is an easy solution. The company can buy a couple to have on hand. Day of the event, someone grabs a bag or two of ice. My company also keeps plastic wrap and sandwich bags on hand, so leftovers can be re-covered and thrown back into the cooler.

    5. Colette*

      What would you suggest saying to the pot-luck organizer? The OP is either willing to trust her coworker’s food preparation or not, and it sounds like she’s not.

      So, she can either decline to participate (which will possibly hurt her standing in the team), come up with an unavoidable conflict, or bring something she’d like to eat and take it and food she trusts (a bun, some veggies, etc.).

      But the pot-luck organizer can’t make people prepare food to the OP’s standards.

    6. Emily K*

      I think in terms of practical advice the best approach may be to just accept that their food norms are out of step with the rest of the office, but that doesn’t have to alienate them from everyone else.

      I say this from the perspective of someone with a food allergy that means I rarely participate in buffets or group meals. I try to be matter-of-fact and maybe slightly self-deprecating about it, and I don’t think it’s negatively affected how my coworkers view me.

      My usual protocol is a cheery “Oh, no thanks!” the first time I’m offered something, which at least half the time is all that’s needed and nobody presses for a reason. If they do I’ll just say something like, “Thanks, but my body would probably become very sad if I ate that because it is dumb, but don’t worry, I came prepared!” and point to the food I brought with me, or “But don’t worry, I ate right before this,” if I don’t have food on me at the time.

      99% of the time that ends the discussion and nobody cares. Every once in a while someone who is interested in nutrition or also has food allergies will try to guess my restriction or ask further questions about it, but I’ve never been grilled or ostracized or anything like that over it.

      1. Jessica Fletcher*

        This is an approach anyone could take! Since it’s a potluck, OP could just sign up to bring something she likes. Stick to eating that, and handle the disposal/storage herself. Cheerfully refuse any offers of different food. If anyone makes a comment, just laugh it off like “oh, I’ve always had particular tastes” or something.

        OP, I think most people in your office probably aren’t thinking too much about what you eat or don’t eat, except when you bring it up. I think they’re being gross, too, but I also think a lot of offices are like this! They’ll either get sick and make the connection, or they have iron stomachs. Either way, you’ll be less stressed if you just worry about yourself.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          As much as I hate wasting food, the OP can grab a plate and put a few pieces of food on their plate, cut them up move them around so it looks like they have eaten and keep that plate with them for the whole party, at the end throw it out. This is the food version of someone who does not want to drink carrying around a club soda.

      2. Shadowbelle*

        I do the same thing. I have [TMI deleted] and have to be picky about what I eat, but honestly, I was a lot more annoying when I was young and a self-righteous vegetarian. It isn’t all that hard to manage, and you really don’t want to know the scope and variety of common foods that I can’t or shouldn’t eat. My team knows I’m weird, and since I don’t make a fuss about it, neither do they. The only fuss-makers are the admins who are trying to set up big group lunches and keep trying to order something for me, and will not take, “Oh, please don’t worry, I don’t need anything!” for an answer.

      3. Washi*

        I agree. Bring something hearty to the potluck and besides that only eat what you feel comfortable with, without commenting on what other people eat unless it poses an imminent threat. You aren’t going to be able to change other people, but I think you can be as careful as you want without people noticing or caring too much.

      4. Poppy the Flower*

        Yeah, I’d probably just do this. The coworkers aren’t going to change. I work in a hospital, and am astounded by the number of people who don’t wash their hands before they eat (especially knowing the types of bugs we have going around!!). So I’m a little self-deprecating about my hand sanitizer “obsession”. In the end we all think the other person is a little “weird” but everyone accepts it. Hey, it’s kept me from multiple stomach bug outbreaks so I consider that a win.

    7. Anon for this*

      My MIL’s food handling terrifies me. She also got hustled into buying some Norwex rags, too, and those things stink to high heaven and I can’t imagine what they’re spreading around the counter. My husband has an amazingly strong stomach, probably because he grew up with that.

  4. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I’d say ICK, but this is alarmingly standard at a lot of workplaces. There’s food, and people will improperly store it, then eat it until it no longer resembles food, like vultures pick at carrion.

    Just opt out of eating their stuff, and let them get sick from it.

    1. Allison*

      Yeah, this has been standard at my current and previous jobs. AFAIK, no one has gotten seriously ill from eating leftover meat or cheese that’s been sitting out for a few hours. As long as the meat and dairy are in the fridge by the end of the day, it’s not a big deal.

      1. CMart*

        People wring their hands constantly about unsafe food handling in offices or other casual venues (see: not commercial food establishment), but I very rarely see or hear about people having actually been food-poisoned.

        This isn’t to say that food safety isn’t important, and that following guidelines isn’t the best way to ensure food stay as low-risk as possible. Obviously those are the best practices.

        But leaving cream cheese out isn’t guaranteed to make people sick – by and large it won’t. Either because there was not [enough] harmful bacteria present or people’s systems are robust enough to handle it. And the people who worry about foodborne illness aren’t going to be the ones eating mystery, room temperature cream cheese or highly picked over charcuterie anyway. I’ll happily eat sketchy looking sandwiches that are still sitting out at 5pm, but I avoided them while pregnant.

        1. pancakes*

          How many people are inclined to talk about food poisoning with casual acquaintances, though? Particularly if it wasn’t serious enough to provoke a visit to a doctor, just a bit of misery in the bathroom. I wouldn’t expect to see or hear about it much outside of public health reports & the like, and according to those it is quite common.

          1. CMart*

            I suppose I’m just guessing, but my colleagues are almost never out sick, and the friends and family I talk to near-daily can and do mention if they’ve had “a tummy bug or something” which is so infrequent I can’t think of the last person to have reported such.

            1. TechWorker*

              Mmmn but then theres definitely also cases where ‘funny tummy’ is short lived enough or mild enough that you’d be in work and not tell anyone about it! Maybe the view is if you eat something dodgy and only get mild symptoms then it’s not worth worrying about but I don’t *think* food poisoning is all or nothing.

              1. pancakes*

                Agreed, tech worker. My experience and everything I’ve read on this suggest there’s a lot of food-borne illness that doesn’t rise to the level of keeping people out of work.

    2. CmdrShepard4ever*

      Even though I have worked in food service and had my own safe serve certification, in my office I am probably the one with the most lax food standards for my personal consumption.

      I have eaten week old cooked chicken that has been properly stored in the refrigerator. But when I prepare food to bring in to the office or to share with others, I take as much precaution as I can and try to follow proper safe serve standards.

      For many food the date is not an expiration date but rather freshness/best taste date. The way companies come up with these dates is to give people samples of 1 day old item, then 3 day old item, then 5 day, 7 day, 14 day etc…. and poll the group on what tasted best or when they thought the quality started to decline.

      Other items do certainly have expiration dates, bacteria growth and refrigeration is a matter of safety.

      1. Media Monkey*

        in the UK (no idea if this is common elsewhere) we have 2 types of dates. “best before” means it tastes better if you eat it before them (but probably won’t kill you after) and “use by” (tends to be seen on dairy and more perishable things) means don’t eat after this date (but i tend to think you have a few days after that as that’s the date the shops will take it off the shelf/ discount it)

    3. some dude*

      Yeah, know where you stand and where the food has been and avoid food you aren’t comfortable eating. I’ll sometimes put food away that has been sitting out for a couple hours so that it doesn’t get super gross, but I think the idea that you shouldn’t leave refrigerated food out for more than two hours is foreign to a lot of people, and if they don’t mind the risk of spending a day in the bathroom, it isn’t on you to manage that.

  5. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

    It sounds like you’ve brought the issue up and have been repeated shut down. I don’t think there’s anything else you can do, except refuse to eat the food. If scheduling an appointment during the potluck will give you a good excuse to skip it, go for it.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      Agreed — or, as someone said upthread, bring your own food to the potluck, blame it on your own quirks, and let everyone do what they do.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        This is what I was thinking. Bring something you like, maybe pick at the pre-packaged veggie plate and other relatively safe items that someone inevitably brings and just let yourself be seen as “the picky eater.” There are far worse things to be in the office.

        As for everyone else, they can make their own gastrointestinal risk assessments. I may give someone who wanders up to the table at 4pm a “the tuna salad has been sitting out since noon, just FYI” heads up, but it sounds like the OP just wants to figure out how to cover her own bases, not change the culture, so that part is totally optional.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        The problem with this logic is that often the incubation time for some of these illnesses is so long that you would not necessarily associate it with the weird office food you ate. Salmonella up to 3 days, for example, and most people probably didn’t even know about the raw chicken. E. coli is up to 8!

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I actually thought scheduling an appointment was a pretty good idea! Other than bringing a dish and only eating that, not being there is the only other option that doesn’t put OP in the position of repeatedly refusing food.

      There is also the option of lying and saying you’re limiting your diet base on some weird food reactions that working with your doctor to figure out what’s going on.

      I’m actually not appalled by anything in the letter except the raw chicken, which is flat-out nasty. But I wouldn’t subject others to my fairly lax food standards and am also sometimes grossed out by my husband’s even more lax food standards. In his defense, he’s never given himself food poisoning, but… he definitely eats things well past the point that I would.

  6. Dust Bunny*

    . . . I don’t think you can change this.

    Keep declining leftovers but it sounds like they’re not going to change until there’s an officewide salmonella pandemic.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Okay, the raw chicken is bizarre.

      Meat and cheese plate sitting out for a few hours, though, is really no different than a kid’s sandwich sitting in his or her lunch bag at school until lunchtime, and billions of not-poisoned children seem to demonstrate that it’s a negligible hazard.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        wait… people send meat sandwiches to school in uninsulated / unchilled lunchbags?

        My kid’s lunchbag is insulated with two special pockets for cold packs – Costco basic. I thought that was the default now. We always send his lunch chilled.

          1. Liz*

            As did I. And even today, i will confess at home i don’t always put stuff away as quickly as i probably should, but have yet to get sick.

          2. Jadelyn*

            We only got the lunchbox with ice packs if it was a field trip day. Otherwise, unchilled lunches were the norm.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            Same; I’ve eaten a ton of bologna and cheese sandwiches WITH MAYO and didn’t die–in my own lunch, and from the cafeteria the day they took the entire primary school to the park. Those bagged lunches and my lunchbox sat out for at least three hours.

            Not that it’s safe, though. Maybe the stuff we ate back then had more preservatives?

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          My elementary school had us store our lunchboxes on the radiator. Other times it was in a coat closet or locker that baked in the sun. No cold pack could withstand that onslaught of heat.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I didn’t have an insulated lunch bag until I was like 30 and we got one for employee awards day. Brown paper used to be standard, remember? Also, insulated lunchbags do approximately squat to keep your food cold after about an hour.

          1. Classic Rando*

            Yeah, growing up I did have an insulated lunchbox and my sandwiches were always room temp by lunchtime. And as an adult I would just make my sandwich in the morning, toss it in my tote, and leave it there until lunch. Never had an issue.

            1. KAZ2Y5*

              I take 2 small water bottles. One frozen and one just cold. Keeps my lunch cold,so I don’t ever have to use our frig at work.

              1. pancakes*

                Why is using so much plastic preferable to getting an insulated bag or simply using the fridge?

                1. Scarletb*

                  Water bottles are reusable? My mother’s been using the same 1L rectangular juice bottles, for what I think is easily over a decade now, as coldpacks. Insulated bags can be pretty heavy on the plastic themselves.

                2. pancakes*

                  Not everyone who uses plastic water bottles does use reusable ones, though. Your mom probably should update her bottles if she’s using ones from before BPA was phased out.

          2. MJ*

            I use a freezable lunchbag (built-in cold packs). Keeps the food cold for 4 hours. Have some others of the same brand for shopping and the food is kept cold in those for 6 hours. Had some ice in one (shop gave it to me) and there was still ice after 3-4 hours.

        3. Atlantian*

          Oh no. I have that very lunchbox for myself for work, and it’s awesome!! My kid’s school requires 100% disposable lunch containers that are disposed of at the end of the day. I suppose you could do a ziploc baggie full of ice and hope it didn’t leak, but I’m not willing to risk it.

          I used to work outside, in the SE United States, year round in remote enough conditions that if your didn’t pack a lunch, you didn’t eat that day. Coupled with the fact that it routinely reached 100 degrees before lunchtime, and you had to carry the food on your person, so even the most insulated of lunchboxes will fail. I became quite good at packing things that are stable at room temperature or above. There are actually tons of them, if you do your research.

          1. TechWorker*

            100% disposable lunch containers…? Are they literally trying to kill the environment (I don’t get it…)

            1. Apparently a radical environmentalist*

              Is this normal in the US? I’ve literally never heard of this. The school nearest me actually has a ban on plastic bags on school grounds!

        4. AutolycusinExile*

          Most people don’t bother, in my experience. At least half the kids I was in school with didn’t have anything past their bag’s natural insulation, especially once the kid is the one packing the lunch. And my personal experience with cold packs was that they don’t do much past hour three even with an expensive bag. Maybe there are better/pricier options but I’ve never gotten to see a bag in action that reliably kept the food below 38F for long, which is what you’d need to actually ‘refrigerate’ it. Most cold packs I’ve seen seemed more for personal temperature preference since many lunch foods taste better chilled. I had entirely unrefrigerated cheese sandwiches five days a week for ten years as a child with an child’s crappy immune system and I never had so much as a stomach cramp. Your body’s needs or immune system may be different, of course, but that’s my point – these things aren’t universal.

          Food is processed heavily these days – and honestly when you’re any kind of food insecure those overly restrictive expiration dates and refrigeration policies are some of the first to go, in my experience. If it looks or tastes off then of course don’t eat it, but if it looks okay everyone I know would dig in immediately.

          The raw chicken is definitely concerning and I’d personally avoid the day two cream cheese but I wouldn’t even think twice at the others, especially given that it’s a personal decision. Let people do what they want. They’ve lived this long, they know if they’ll be hurting later. You’ve said something once already so if someone just didn’t know they know are aware some people do it differently and they can ask or Google it if they want to make a change. They may not. It’s not a moral failing, just a difference in personal risk-reward tolerance.

          My recommendation for raw meat and unprocessed dairy left out, if you can’t just chuck it, would be to leave a note that has the approximate time it’s been left out. Nothing judgemental, just a little timestamp tag like some people put on their leftovers. It’s anonymous, so your reputation is safe if you have coworkers who care about you bringing this up too much, the label is objective, so it’s not judgemental towards people who just don’t know or have a different personal cutoff point, and it lets people make the best decision for their needs when they come across it.

          “Started thawing 10/16 8:25am”or “Opened 9/30”, something like that.

          1. Emily K*

            If it looks or tastes off then of course don’t eat it, but if it looks okay everyone I know would dig in immediately.

            Whenever someone asks me if it would be OK for them to eat something based on age/refrigeration type of concerns, I just ask them, “Do you want to eat it?… That’s your answer.”

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            I used to do that when I made a pot of coffee – date and time – so people could avoid burned coffee that had been on the warmer too long.

            I also label my ingredients if I take a dish for potluck. That way people can make informed choices that take into account their dietary restrictions.

            After that, well, they’re adults.

        5. Lehigh*

          I don’t know if they do now, but they sure did in the nineties, and I never knew a kid who got sick off of it.

          1. Lehigh*

            Sorry, this was meant as a reply to Jules the 3rd asking about people sending meat sandwiches to school in unchilled bags.

        6. These Old Wings*

          I put my son’s sandwich in a YumBox, so even if I put a cold pack in his lunchbox (which I basically never do) I don’t think it would do anything to chill the sandwich. The cold pack would just squish any additional food that I put on top of the box. He hasn’t had any issues.

        7. Emily K*

          When I was growing up, insulated lunch bags and lunch boxes were seen as little-kid stuff. I used them in elementary school when my mom made my lunch, but by middle school I was making my own lunches and used nondescript brown paper bags because that’s what cool teenagers did.

        8. Ev*

          Not only did I do this as a child, I now do this nearly every day as an adult. (I am a picky eater and eat a lot of bagel sandwiches.) I’ve never had a problem between the time I make the sandwich in the morning and the time I eat it for lunch.

  7. bloo*

    truly not trying to snark but i don’t think this is your issue. gently pushing is totally fine (and going deeper into it, if someone asks) but you can’t control others’ behavior, only your own. and you’re already diligent about protecting yourself, i think that’s all you can do.

    1. designbot*

      Agreed. You could really even own this, like “oh I’m pretty particular about food prep since I got my SafeServe certification and this office’s food habits scare me a bit!” It’s your thing, own it.

      1. Blisskrieg*

        I think this is a good option. I would stop pushing it with others, but when asked about your own habits, smile and admit to being slavish to your food safety training. I recommend going to the potluck, push several things on the plate, but only eat those that you know are safe (chips, bread, cookies). Also, bring something delicious to be seen as part of the group!

        I have family members on either extreme of the food safety spectrum, and I am in the middle if that helps put my recommendations into perspective. I agree with designbot and bloo. Ignore it now in regards to other people, but own it regarding your own habits.

      2. Ama*

        To be honest, though I don’t doubt that OP’s food certification has taught them good habits, my husband claims his food safety training (from 25 years ago when he worked fast food jobs in college) as the rationale for all kinds of things I don’t actually think are food safe (I have never had formal food safety training but I’ve worked in schools that had kitchens and learned from the kitchen staff), such as leaving pizza or fried chicken out for days and still eating it later.

        I’ve just decided if I want to eat it myself I will make sure it gets properly stored, but if he’s the only one who will eat it, he can do whatever he wants.

        1. Annon*

          “I’ve just decided if I want to eat it myself I will make sure it gets properly stored, but if he’s the only one who will eat it, he can do whatever he wants.”

          Ama – I do the same with my spouse. He has only had official food poisoning once and e -pylori twice, so he must be doing something right. * heavy sarcasm intended*

  8. ProcrastinationNation*

    I have a horrible feeling that I must also have some dodgy food hygiene practices. I would DEFINITELY eat sandwiches at 16:00 that were delivered at 11:30. Try and stop me.

    I await other people’s comments with interest.

    1. bloo*

      lol i wasn’t going to mention it, but same… some of the other stuff was ick but is that one really that bad???

      1. Kimmy Schmidt*

        I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking that! I picked up some sketchy food habits during grad school – I was too broke to turn down anything, and now I’m just like ehhhhh I’ve survived so far.

        1. MissGirl*

          Me too! Food poisoning made me rethink the eat deli sandwiches at any time. But I can’t get away from my rule that all free food has no calories.

        2. J*

          Yes! It takes me back to school days when I would take my lunch in a brown bag. The bag would sit for a few hours before I’d eat it. Somedays may have been PBJ, but others may have been a turkey sandwich with mayo.

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        I probably wouldn’t take on egg salad that’s been sitting out that long, but I think a basic ham and cheese would be a risk worth taking, especially if it didn’t have mayo.

      3. Scarecrow and Mrs King*

        I think OP was being really mean when she tried to throw out those sandwiches, which were otherwise offered to interns. Interns are often unpaid or poorly paid, and the opportunity for perfectly good free food may have been meaningful for them.

        OP needs to check her privilege!

    2. voyager1*

      Yeah I am the same way. The higher ups here bring in food for meetings, anything leftover is moved to the break room and is first comers. The food never lasts long.

    3. Rake*

      Yeah maybe I’m gross but if the food doesn’t look, smell, or taste bad, regardless of how many hours old it is, I’m going to eat it. Maybe I have a stronger stomach than most but I’ve never ever had food poisoning so I’m not inclined to change.

      1. Kaitlyn*

        I’ve had food poisoning once and it was from mold that I didn’t notice on the food. (Also, I somehow thought that tomato pasta sauce “didn’t go bad,” but I learned that it very much can.)

      2. Bagpuss*

        I have had food poisoning and both times it was from restaurant meals .
        Eatring sandwiches in th afternoon which were delivered in the morning wouldn’t remotely wory me, unless there werespecial circumstnaces, such as them being left somewhere very warm, or if they had particualrly ‘vulnerable’ fillings (- I might baulk at home-made mayo (made with raw egg), for instance)

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          I tend to balk at anything with mayo or miracle whip that isn’t chilled, but that’s me. I can’t handle soybean oil anyway, and lots of mayo/salad dressing has it in it.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        I have, but it was from 1) fast food — KFC, to be exact; and 2) an uncleaned nozzle on a soda machine at a high school basketball game. The latter was absolute agony. I know that’s what it was because it happened again later, and the only thing I did differently was drink a soda at the game.

        I’ve been lucky at work potlucks, but I’m leery of leftovers sitting out except for stable foods like cookies or cake.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      So would I. I mean, I HAVE done that. I’m generally pretty relaxed about such things. My home kitchen is very clean but it’s certainly not sterile, and I’ve never felt uncomfortable serving people food from my home, so I don’t think I’m out of the ordinary. I think too much food gets wasted in the name of safety or, worse, looks, but that’s a bigger issue.

      1. Natalia*

        Same with me. I always keep my kitchen clean and if I’m preparing raw meat, I definitely wipe down the counter and all surfaces the raw meat came into contact with with a disinfectant. I also wash my hands before I cook/prepare food and definitely after I use the bathroom. That said, I don’t think my kitchen is sterile by any means. If anyone gets sick from the leftover sandwiches or mean and cheese it’s likely due to the fact that the person who prepared them didn’t wash their hands or had a stomach illness and didn’t wash their hands. Yeah, you could get sick from the food being left out, but that’s a lot less likely and more likely if the food has been left out for a few days and not a few hours.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      I would. The place that does ours leaves condiments off so, while the bread might be a bit stale and the vegetables a little soft, they’re no worse than anything I’d have brought from home.

    6. Jimming*

      Agree. The only unsafe one was the raw chicken on the counter. But I’ll have pizza for dinner, leave it on the counter, and eat it the next day so OP and I have different views, lol.

      The only thing that might stop me from chomping on that sandwich was if it already had condiments on it and the bread got soggy but that’s not about health…

    7. Dust Bunny*

      I mean, your kid’s lunches sit in their lockers that long at school, unrefrigerated, don’t they? I ate sandwiches at school for 15 years and I don’t recall any of us getting poisoned.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yes! I always forget that. I used to keep my lunch in my locker. Maybe that’s why I don’t like cold food?

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        As posted above – I don’t think students usually have meat sandwiches sitting around unchilled anymore. Today’s kid’s lunchboxes are insulated with built-in pockets for cold packs. My kid’s lunch is always chilled.

        Growing up I ate school food, so I don’t know, but: there’s a lot of stuff people did when we were growing up that are recognized as unsafe, and it’s not just helicopter parenting. Think seatbelts…

        1. Dust Bunny*

          But we all did until very recently.

          I graduated from high school in the mid-1990s and all of us ate unrefrigerated lunches our whole lives up until then, as did everybody before us.

        2. Cascadia*

          I work in a middle school and I can attest that many many children eat unchilled lunches every day, including sandwiches with meats and cheese and mayo and all that good stuff. In fact, when we go on field trips we require students to bring disposable lunch bags that they can throw away. And I work in a private school in a big west coast city no less. I don’t think this is as wide spread as you think it is.

        3. Emily K*

          I would be curious your son’s age. In my experience, using a proper lunch bag was like wearing a big winter coat or carrying your backpack on both shoulders instead of just one. All things I do now as an adult who sees their obvious value, but wouldn’t have been caught dead doing as a teenager who also saw their obvious value but nonetheless did not want to be dorky or different from all my brown-bag-carrying, no-coat-wearing, one-shoulder-backpack-slinging peers (and I have the chronic back pain as an adult to prove the last one…).

      3. Alton*

        I don’t know, that’s weird to me. I’ve always used ice packs for any packed lunches that I would normally refrigerate. I even do that with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which probably don’t need it.

        I bring my lunch to work everyday and leave it in my lunch bag for five or six hours until I eat it, and it’s always cold because of the ice packs.

    8. JustAnotherNikki*

      LMAO I was sitting here thinking the SAME THING. I’m such a scavenger at these things and don’t care how long it’s left out. As long as it’s not fish, I’m in :-)

    9. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Same. When sandwiches have been brought in at my office, I’ve definitely dipped back to the pile around quitting time to snag leftovers for dinner. Then again, I’m also the sort of person who cheerfully eats raw cookie dough, so I’m clearly feral when it comes to risk management.

      1. Crivens!*

        We are simpatico in this. Hell, when I make cookies I make extra dough ON PURPOSE to save and eat raw.

      2. Liz*

        hehe. i am stealing this as I am as well. I routinely eat raw cookie dough and lick the mixer beaters with cake batter and RAW EGGS.

        1. Filosofickle*

          It’s funny how eggs have largely been exonerated, but now raw flour (e coli) is the bad guy. Geez louise. I’m licking those beaters, thankyouverymuch. If I die from cookie dough or medium rare red meat, that’s on me. I knew the risks.

          I am not at all careful about food safety. I’m ok with that. The LW is asking, though, how to deal with a situation where her norms are out of line with office culture without making things weird. All I can suggest is to cheerfully decline all food but step back from feeling responsible or intervening in any way.

        2. Lynn Whitehat*

          Yeah. I’ve done it thousands of times and never got sick once, so it can’t be all that dangerous.

        3. Emily K*

          I buy the $4-5/carton local pastured hen eggs just so I can justify eating raw batter. It turns out chickens who eat lots of bugs in the pasture to supplement their feed have digestive tracts less hospitable to salmonella, and that salmonella bacteria almost never gets a chance to penetrate the shell of an egg when the chickens aren’t living and laying eggs in their own feces.

      3. pleaset*

        I’m a little more careful with food, but sandwiches that came in cold at midday and then have been out in an air conditioned space for five hours. For sure I’d eat them. Maybe not egg salad or mayo, but a ham cheese with mustard or something, or even a dressing with mayo and acid – for sure. No problem.

        Or really, maybe once a problem in dozens of instances.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Yesterday’s ‘sandwiches and salads’ could easily include mayo in them, and that’s unfair to the people being given the food unaware.
          Worstfood poisoning of my life was from a chicken salad so I’m talking from a soapbox.

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            I get what you’re saying about catching someone unaware, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet anyone being offered an office leftover food at 4pm needs to take into account that it probably wasn’t stored in ideal conditions and proceed with that assumption. I have never in my life worked in an office where stuff just left out on the counter in the basic climate controlled kitchen (so, somewhere between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit) wasn’t the norm.

    10. emmelemm*

      Same, but I am definitely on the “lax” and “gross” side of things in general. Don’t use me as a role model, kids!

    11. Classic Rando*

      I would, will, and have in the past eaten such sandwiches.

      I wouldn’t eat at a restaurant that *stored* everything at room temp, of course, but a sandwich that sits out for a while after all its components were previously handled safely is something I will eat without hesitation.

    12. frogs and turtles*

      Yes me too. Like others here, the raw chicken is really the only issue for me. The rest….eh, not a big deal really. You don’t have to eat it. I eat stuff that’s been left out all day all the time and I can’t remember ever getting sick from it. I figure our guts evolved to handle a little bit of food decay, you know? It might even be good for your microbiome. The cavepeople did not have refrigerators. : )

      Honestly I get more offended when perfectly good food is thrown away! Especially when interns or grad student or other income-challenged people could get a free meal.

    13. Dan*

      Oh, my “safe handling temp” practices at home are terrible, and I’ve never gotten sick.

      The raw chicken is a no-no, everything else is meh.

    14. WasabiMom*

      I’m wondering if this is why I have some pretty bad digestive issues! I don’t eat at potlucks, but I’ve eaten some pretty shady free food.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Could be. I read somewhere that a lot of people think they have “stomach flu,” and think it’s just a virus, but 80% of the time it’s from something they ate.

    15. Middle School Teacher*

      Saaaassaaame. Teachers are notorious for eating food left out. We remember being poor students :)

      1. Sabina*

        Teachers, yes (my husband was one). But cops, cops are the absolute worst. They will eat ANYTHING, and quickly, ’cause usually there is a good chance of being dispatched before you finish an actual meal. Food sat in a patrol car for 10 hours, no problem. Pizza left out in the squad room by the day shift and it’s now 2:00 am, yum, thanks day shift! The funniest thing I ever saw was a police K-9 licking guacamole out of a bowl and his handler just waved him away and everyone just kept chowing down on guac and chips.

      1. Emily K*

        I like your attitude! A tip from someone like-minded: “Never underestimate the joy of a midnight bagel.”

    16. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I have an iron stomach. The only thing mentioned her that bothered me was the raw chicken on the counter. The other things are not at all unusual and the only thing OP can do about it is choose not to eat it.

    17. Jadelyn*

      Team It’s Probably Fine here, myself.

      I always tease my partner because his mother was extremely strict about food handling and expiration dates, and he gets sick at least two or three times a year; my mom was also Team It’s Probably Fine and I get sick about once every three or four years. I think it’s because my immune system had to work for its keep when I was growing up.

      Eating marginal food: like weight-lifting for your immune system!

    18. Shannon*

      I agree. I fail to see how that’s significantly different than packing a sandwich in a non-refrigerated lunch bag at 5 am and eating it at noon (which is something many high schoolers do every day).

    19. CMart*

      Hello, another blase food scavenger checking in.

      And I’m similar to the LW – I used to be a restaurant manager so I was a “Certified Professional Food Manager” as well as having ServSafe credentials, alcohol serving/handling etc… But I think that’s made me even more of a risk taker when it comes to food. I have just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

      I’ll avoid egg-based things that have been left out, and will probably not eat things left in the sun for any length of time. But otherwise all food is fair game.

      I would never make that call for someone else, which I think is perhaps what the LW is concerned with – Unknowing people thinking it’s fresh food when it’s really on Day 3 of having sat out for 8 hours the previous two days. People should get to make their own risk calculations. But I think the LW is much more risk averse than most people when it comes to this.

      1. FoodieAnon*

        +1 on that. Spending time in food manufacturing and dealing with auditors gave me a solid perspective on what’s really, really important and what’s safety-theatre BS.

    20. Emily K*

      *raises hand* Hi, I prefer my Chobani at room temperature so I take it out of the fridge an hour before I plan to eat it.

    21. HS Teacher*

      I would too. OP has an aversion to it. Her solution would be just don’t eat it. I don’t understand why she needs to police others’ eating and food behaviors.

    22. DaniCalifornia*

      Yeah I come from a large extended family who does this. Lunch started around noon and the deli meat, cheeses, spreads, potato salads etc were all left out. People graze until dinner or sometimes whatever is leftover *is* dinner. So for some of the stuff OP mentioned I didn’t have the same reaction. I think we are also used to putting so much food in the fridge for safety reasons or just because when in reality they don’t *have* to if you are eating it quickly.

      I was an adult and astonished when my MIL did not return her butter to the fridge. LOL I never knew it didn’t have to be in there bc my mom always put everything in the fridge. Learned something new and now I keep some of my butter out.

  9. homesick at space camp*

    I think the LW has tried, and at some point, just gotta let things go as they are. I stopped eating anything that needs to be refrigerated that I don’t know how long it’s been out after some bad experiences with cold cuts at a work event. Other people may have more of an iron stomach. But in general, yeah, people take risks when sharing food. I refused to eat food that had been out and kept going in and out for multiple days, while my entire family ate it. I don’t think of any of them got sick from it. I wasn’t taking the risk.

    And in terms of the raw chicken: just, in general, I never ever assume shared counter tops are clean enough to work from. Ever. Because you don’t know.

    1. boop the first*

      Lots of people agree on the raw chicken but the reason why the raw chicken is so scary is because it’s a prime surface to grow bacteria. Raw chicken is PROBABLY not going to make you sick. There are weird people out there who eat chicken cold and raw on purpose without getting sick, and they probably feel the same way about our disgust as everyone apparently feels about day-old room temp sandwiches.

      The meat in the platters are going to grow bacteria on them almost just as easily as the raw chicken leg, because the bacteria is everywhere. Cheese, less so, but then it probably touched the meat. Same as the meat in the sandwiches. Brown bag lunch was less of an issue because you eat them so early in the day.

      The max time that a high risk food should be at room temperature is two hours. So anytime within that two hours is peachy keen. But that’s also government standards which are going to err on the side of caution, particularly for sensitive people (like the elderly), which is going to be gratuitously safe. So yeah, you probably won’t get sick. Nobody gets sick until they DO. And when they do, they start throwing blame and suing companies. Or just die. People still drive cars knowing it’s dangerous.

      But yeah, even raw meat doesn’t inherently have a specific bad bacteria growing all over it, it has to be introduced at some point. Bad bacteria which can grow on anything it wants, including that fresh fruit platter so-and-so brought in. It’s just weird that we’re all grossed out about eating raw chicken when everyone is cool with raw spinach (an e-coli risk) and 12-hour-warm sliced meats (a listeria risk).

  10. Clarry*

    The only real issue here is the raw chicken, which absolutely should not have been left on a shared worktop (that wasn’t cleaned properly afterward, ewww).
    The rest of the issues, I think the OP has to leave her coworkers to live their own lives. If they want to consume old unrefrigerated food then that’s their decision. The OP can choose not to participate in potlucks or leftovers but is unlikely to get much success (and likely generate ill-will) in trying to police others’ behaviour.

  11. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    The raw chicken one is gross, but the others – eh.

    I don’t typically eat free food at work unless it’s really compelling, but other than declining the offered items, there isn’t much you can do. For the potluck, bring your own item and eat from that so you won’t seem standoffish, but you’re not the food cops (unless you are) and your coworkers are allowed to decide to eat sweaty cheese and stale sandwiches.

    1. Observation... :/*

      Visit that site whose name rhymes with “said it” in about ten minutes. Guarantee this guy will be having a meltdown about how nobody except him understands workplace safety.

    2. Mike C.*

      Workplace safety is everyone’s job. She should continue speaking up and adding her relevant knowledge.

  12. Jean*

    I would just keep declining anything you’re concerned about and don’t worry about trying to make them see the light on how gross their food habits are. I wouldn’t assume that what you’re doing will be alienating or reflect badly on you/somehow harm your professional reputation, unless your office’s leadership folks are just incredibly weird (which of course they might be).

    If it makes you feel any better, I would turn all that nasty stuff down too. And I have declined many weight loss related events without any harm to my rep.

    1. Midwesterner*

      This might be the only possible strategy if they have laughed off all your comments so far. And the fact that SO MANY commenters on here are not super concerned reflects the fact that generally, people don’t know and/or don’t follow basic food safety advice. I have had the good fortune that I have not experienced this. My workplaces have always mainly followed food safety. Once an employee of mine did something like the OP’s many examples (like sandwiches with meat and cheese left out more than 2 hours during a public event) and my supervisor noticed and I addressed it with the employee. In the tone of, maybe you don’t know this, but “leftovers need to be refrigerated after 2 hours, and we want to ensure the safety of our event attendees.”

      1. Jadelyn*

        Okay, but ServSafe is not “basic food safety”, and calling it that is misleading at best. ServSafe practices reflect the necessarily higher standards of the food service industry, where the potential impact of a single contamination is much, much, much higher than it would be in a private or (non-food-service) workplace kitchen, plus food service businesses are legally liable for incidents arising from their handling of food they’re serving to customers.

        I mean, you can try to hold the entire world to ServSafe standards if you want, but I doubt you’re going to get very far with most of us normal folks for anything other than the most critical bits, like the raw chicken thing (which, you’ll notice, pretty much unanimously people have condemned, even those of us who are “feral in risk management”, thank you Countess for that lovely phrase).

        1. krysb*

          This. I’ve worked in food service and, at work, my standards were a whole lot different than what I do at home.

      2. Bagpuss*

        I do think there is a difference between following the highest standards where you are effectively acting as a supplier – e.g. serving food at an event, compared to the individual, personal choices you make.

        I would want to make sure that if we are catering to guests at a work event, appropriate , professional level of food safety are followed .
        But if I am personally deciding whether or not to eat the sandwich which has been sitting for several hours, I am not going to necessarily judge on the same basis.
        Your example was a public event, where you were in the position of a professional and were following professional standards, but OPs examples are about individual people making personal choices.

      3. EventPlannerGal*

        You can be familiar with food safety standards (hi!) and still think that people are free not to follow them in terms of what they themselves personally consume. I do not follow the same standards that I expect of my event caterers when I’m making my own lunch or deciding if I want leftovers. It’s very concerning that the OP’s coworkers are passing this food on to other departments who may not know how old it is and therefore can’t make an informed choice, but if they themselves want to eat stale bagels then I don’t think the OP is going to make many friends by telling them how gross and/or ignorant they are.

    2. Quandong*

      I agree with Jean – keep declining the food you are offered, and take care of yourself.

      If it helps you to think of it like managing food allergies or a medical condition, this is how I get through the number of times I decline the frankly unsafe food that’s offered to me at work.

      Perhaps my colleagues think I’m sensitive but this has not resulted in me being excluded from social events apart from the times I opt out. And I do still get invited to things even when I repeatedly decline invitations or bring my own food to lunches/dinners.

      In your situation with the potluck, I’d either A. not attend it, or B. take and eat your own food, and if asked, say you have to be extremely strict with what you eat due to allergies.

  13. Mike C.*

    Why aren’t you actually talking about the food safety issues? Safety is everyone’s responsibility and just letting someone put raw chicken on a counter top or whatever without saying something means you’ve contributed to the problem.

    1. Kimmy Schmidt*

      Say something to whom tho? It sounds like everyone at this company shares these attitudes. Maybe you could say something to the chicken culprit in the moment, but what if they don’t listen?

        1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

          Protip: It is really hard to have meaningful communication with people when you say stuff like “How do you people”. It maybe does not come across the way that you think it comes across.

          1. GooseTracks*

            Agreed. That comment was hostile and rude. Calling OP “part of the problem” is also silly. How are they supposed to call out a higher-up for being gross in the kitchen?? Good luck doing that – as a new employee! – and keeping your reputation (or job).

        2. Rugby*

          It’s not a question of how to deal with workplace safety. It’s a question of how much this is OP’s responsibility and if this is a battle that OP really should fight considering how new they are.

        3. Piggy Stardust*

          The raw chicken is a workplace safety issue because it’s raw meat on a common surface. People choosing to leave leftovers in their cars or eat sandwiches that are a few hours old isn’t a workplace safety issue, it’s an individual choice.

          Sometimes I forget to put my lunch in the communal fridge and eat it anyway at lunchtime. That’s not a workplace issue, that’s me making my own choices.

          Other than the chicken thing, OP can’t police other people’s food choices. If they want to eat stale bagels and warm sandwiches, that’s on them and it shouldn’t be her hill to die on. She can protect herself, if she chooses, but not partaking but that doesn’t mean everyone else needs to.

        4. Mike P.*

          How do you not understand how to communicate with other people without being a rude jerk?

          IT’S A MYSTERY!

        5. CheeryO*

          I really don’t think this is on the same level as most workplace safety issues. No one is getting sick from letting the bottom of their plate or mug touch a countertop that had raw chicken on it. It’s possible, sure, but extremely unlikely, and bringing the point up repeatedly isn’t going to do the LW any favors as a new employee.

          1. CheeryO*

            Nevermind, I think I’m wrong on the chicken thing. I have lax personal standards for food safety, so it didn’t really set off alarm bells for me (luckily I don’t plan on cooking raw chicken at work anytime soon).

        6. it's me*

          This would turn the OP into the weirdo crank who obsesses over what other people are eating, which is what the OP is apparently trying to avoid. If it’s not an actual restaurant, and the OP’s job doesn’t directly deal with food, it’s weird.

        7. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          The raw chicken is one thing, but policing other adult’s food habits that are not affecting you directly is obnoxious. I find nothing wrong with any of the other things mentioned. If you have a problem with any of it, just don’t eat it. It’s not putting others safety in jeopardy.

          1. boop the first*

            I think OP’s specific issue is that a potluck is coming up, which means that their coworkers (with their personal home habits) are now responsible for the health and safety of the entire office.

            1. CMart*

              People who are worried about getting sick from food aren’t the ones partaking in potluck food. They will be like the LW, politely declining or avoiding the area.

              People who don’t care/aren’t afraid to risk it (hi!) are the ones mowing down 5 hour old lukewarm buffalo chicken dip and, very likely, coming out no worse for the wear.

            2. Environmental Compliance*

              Personally, I have 100% eaten food that I have left sit out all morning. Like my lunch, right now.

              Would I ever allow that for communal food? Heck no. I was also ServSafe cert’d as Health Dept.

              If it’s not affecting you, stay out of it. If there’s an actual issue for the potluck, address it. Ask the organizers how food will be safely stored. If it’s set up appropriately then, awesome. If they have no plan, make suggestions on how to handle food safely. For people literally leaving their lunches in their personal vehicles and then eating it….. well, they’re grown adults. If they’d like to pull what my husband once did by eating chicken alfredo he left in a car overnight in July and get a stomach ache, that’s on them.

              OP needs to pick and choose which battle here they want to focus on, because doing this All At Once is going to be coming at this with a sledgehammer, which isn’t going to help anyone.

              Here’s what I’ve done at my office – I have offered to put things away in the fridge, disinfecting counters, etc., with a joke of “can’t escape the food inspector past”. I have framed it as “here’s me, yes, kind of a weird quirk to those without the food inspector jazz, but I’m happy to help with this” rather than “OMG ya’ll are gonna kill each other with this crap what the actual heck is wrong with you”. Start with the big things like the raw chicken. Be helpful with the medium things, like putting things back into refrigeration. Keep your nose out of things like EC has chosen to keep her lunch on her desk since 8AM and it’s now past 1 and she’s eating it.

              Since I’ve made jokes about it and generally put things back in fridges, now I’m the unofficial Food Quality Control (TM). Coworkers will come ask me how to safely do (whatever food thing here). But here’s the difference – they’re welcoming the information. It is not being shoved down their throats. I am not telling them that they are horrible awful irresponsible people with their personal choices.

              I do the same tactic with all my compliance. I jump down their throats on everything, I will get a workforce that will not come to me for anything and will not understand an Emergency Situation from a situation that simply needs to be addressed.

    2. Colette*

      In every place I’ve worked, no actual food touches the work counter. Yes, the person who somehow had raw chicken (?) on the counter should have cleaned it properly. Failing that, someone else who saw it should have cleaned it.

      But the risk in many workplaces would be close to nonexistent, since people rarely lick the counter or the bottom of the coffee mug they put on the counter.

      And in the other situations, adults are allowed to eat whatever they want, even if they perceive the food risk differently than the OP does.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I’m not sure why it matters that people aren’t licking the counter? That’s not the only way germs spread.

        In my office people often drop food on the counter, and often they will pick it up and put it on their plate. Not to mention, if raw chicken touches the counter and then your hand touches the counter, or something else that you then touch does, that’s still bad. The fact that people aren’t licking the counter doesn’t mean that germs on the counter won’t spread.

        1. Allonge*

          And everyone who eats food without washing their hands or food that was in contact with suspicious surfaces (including a common kitchen counter!) takes a risk. Every day.

    3. rayray*

      I agree. Just being silent and doing nothing when you knew about it seems just as bad. You could call them out, or just clean it yourself. Same goes with the cream cheese, just put it in the fridge if you’ve noticed it’s been out a while and is still salvageable. Why is LW at less fault than their coworkers for the fact that it sat out for three days?

      Everything else is kind of a personal judgment call. Don’t eat the snacks, sandwiches, or left overs if you don’t want to, but don’t stick your nose in other people’s business if they choose to.

      1. Dense Pense*

        I would imagine rubbing down the work surface with the grungy sponge from the sink, effectively spreading foreign contamination and bacteria everywhere.

        Or is it different where you work?

        1. valentine*

          You could call them out, or just clean it yourself. […] Why is LW at less fault than their coworkers for the fact that it sat out for three days?
          OP trying to solve a problem only they think exists could convert them into the problem their colleagues agree on, like the OP who was trying to shame their colleagues into separating their garbage by leaving it on top of the proper bin.

        2. rayray*

          Where I work, we have some of those disposable one-use disinfecting wipes. That’s what I would wipe it with. If I were going to prepare raw meat, I’d probably also think ahead and bring my own cutting board.

        3. Lime green Pacer*

          Most kitchens have paper towels and liquid dish soap, which is not ideal but better than just wiping the counter with a dry paper towel.

    4. Lily in NYC*

      Food safety in the office certainly is NOT my responsibility. It’s not my job to police my coworkers if they want to eat old food. Raw chicken on a counter top is a red herring because it’s not something that happens in the vast majority of workplaces.

    5. Midwesterner*

      I agree, just bring it up gently each time. “Are you going to come back and wipe that up with soap or a Clorox wipe?” “Can I put this cream cheese in the fridge?” “These have been out longer than is safe to eat.” Sounds like this is what was done with the sandwiches left out all day and they insisted on “not wasting” the food. At that, I would just make a concerned, non-judgmental, surprised, or maybe slightly nauseated face (depending on the situation), and say, “sorry, I’m not interested, I had to take a lot of food safety classes at my previous job, and it’s burned into my memory!” I think I would be fine making it a little joke each time and being the person in the office whom everyone knows is more food safety conscious. For what it is worth at my office sometimes cream cheese is left out too long but more often it’s totally normal to put the bagels near the fridge with a note “cream cheese in the fridge!”

  14. rayray*

    I agree. The sandwiches being left out for a few hours really wouldn’t bother me much. The meat and cheese, I’d have to taste but I wouldn’t immediately be opposed if I felt like having a snack and it was there. The raw chicken would gross me out, I would grab a disinfecting wipe and wipe it up. I wouldn’t eat the cream cheese if it were left out, and I have personally just put cream cheese in the fridge once I knew it had been out more than an hour or two and just left a sticky note so people would know. As for leftovers being left in the car, that’s another personal call. I wouldn’t eat it, but if others want to, so be it.

    For the potluck, just try to use good judgment. Maybe see if fridge space can be cleared out for that day and just try to bring it up that things should be refrigerated til it’s time to eat.

  15. Kara*

    For the potluck, bring something you know you will eat (and store properly – in a cooler, if you must) and then limit yourself to that or items you know will not be spoiled (bottled waters, crackers, pastries with no filling/spread, etc.). I have similar food handling insecurities.* I truly hate potlucks, because even if you can see that it was properly stored on site, whose to say the person who made it didn’t mishandle it at home? I advocate for catered lunches anytime we are hosting a food-centered event.

    Regarding the leftovers… you don’t have to take them. No one is forcing you to eat them. If other people want to risk getting sick, as much as it grosses you out, it’s not really on you to make decisions for them.

    *My mother was head of dietary services at a hospital. I grew up with incredibly strict rules about food safety. I feel your pain.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      That’s another thing: I would guess that professional food training is designed to Cover All Bases to an extreme. The raw chicken here is awful but otherwise the transgression presented here don’t all require this level of alarm.

      I used to work for a veterinarian and have some pretty set-in-stone ideas about pet care with which I have to be careful not to harass people, because, while they might be “better”, they are not always strictly necessary.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I truly hate potlucks, because even if you can see that it was properly stored on site, whose to say the person who made it didn’t mishandle it at home?

      Yeah, I don’t eat anything from anyone’s home since I can’t see their kitchen, especially people with pets. If it’s not store bought food delivered to the potluck in the store container, I pass.

    3. DataGirl*

      “I truly hate potlucks, because even if you can see that it was properly stored on site, whose to say the person who made it didn’t mishandle it at home?” THIS. I don’t do potlucks or shared food either, because you have no way of knowing what went into the food. For me it’s easier in a way because I have multiple food allergies, so besides handling I also need to know every single ingredient and it’s rare that people at my job label the food they are sharing. LW- as a vegetarian, perhaps you could just say you have dietary restrictions and leave it at that?

    4. Some Windex for my Glass Ceiling please*

      Yeah, just bring something that you enjoy eating. And store it properly. Or bring something that is okay stored at room temperature. Keep an eye on it so that no one mishandles your contribution (like putting it on the counter where the raw chicken was sitting, for example. Or mixes it in with something not properly stored.).

      And then forego all else that is served (“had a big breakfast this morning!”).

      That’s what I would do.

      If the OP feels they are being rude by always refusing the offer of leftovers, might try accepting the offering a few times. Just pack the food away to take home for dinner. Only, toss the food when you get home. No one will be the wiser.

      Have to wonder though, does anyone report feeling ill after these bad food-handling events? Or actually get sick? Not that lack of food poisoning incidents should change the OP’s position on consuming foods not properly handled or stored. Just curious.

    5. Ashley*

      For this potluck you can also claim a restrictive diet if needed to avoid eating others food. This works best if you eat home cooked food normally.
      Generally I would just politely decline / don’t participate in consuming questionable food.
      Leftovers I would be tempted to treat like I treat stuff hoarders give me — take it and toss is out of sight.

    6. TimeTravelR*

      Yep! I have what some ppl would consider a weird diet, but it comes in very handy for times like this!

      Once someone brought cupcakes in to share and left them in the breakroom. People were commenting about the visible dog hair all over them yet every single one was eaten at some point during the day. Ack!!

    7. Hi there*

      I think this is the way to go also. It is amazing how people care more about not wasting food than food safety. I run a soup kitchen dinner at church and have to turn down dodgy leftovers all the time.

      1. Kendra*

        I think it depends on what you grew up with; my dad was the oldest of 11 kids, so money was always tight for his parents. They had a rule at dinnertime that the youngest always got served first, then it went up by age until their parents went last. If there wasn’t enough to go around, my grandparents sometimes went hungry, so it kills him a little bit inside to see someone (especially a child) take food and then not eat it.

        Being able to be more concerned about the safety of your food than not wasting anything is, to be honest, a very privileged view, and something relatively recent for our species as a whole.

  16. Liz*

    Speak up about the raw chicken to that coworker directly, but otherwise, just continue doing what you’re doing. You can share (if asked) “I’m pretty cautious about food safety so I’d prefer not to eat the sandwiches, which have been sitting out for six hours.” Otherwise, not your problem.

    1. Mike C.*

      No, what the heck is going on with you guys? If you see a workplace safety issue, you speak up and say something!

      The OP isn’t “pretty cautious”, she’s literally following well established guidelines for food safety. These aren’t optional.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Unless OP was hired to be the food safety officer for this company, most of her colleagues are going to ignore her warnings and she will gain an unfavorable reputation at this company, which, from her letter, she wants to avoid.

        1. BlueDays*

          At a previous job, I refilled my water bottle at a kitchen sink occasionally, and whenever this one guy saw me doing it he would tell me there was a filtered water machine and I should be using that, not the sink, because the kitchen sink was unsanitary and tap water was bad for you. I didn’t want to stand around for five minutes waiting for the trickling filtered water machine to fill my bottle, I couldn’t imagine that it had been cleaned anytime recently, and I’ve drank tap water at home my whole life, so I ignored his advice.

          I did find it super annoying that someone was trying to be the water safety police in that case.

          1. valentine*

            she will gain an unfavorable reputation
            Yes. Even if there were reports of illness, OP is the odd one out and people might object to change just to not give them the satisfaction, as well as feeling offended, just as with any other issue of hygiene, like not wanting to shake hands.

      2. Hannah*

        What a person chooses to put in their body is their choice though – that is the option here. If you walk past a plate of food that has been sitting out for hours and don’t want to take anything – great! Totally your call! But these people know exactly what they are being given and if they chose to eat it, that’s really not something a coworker should be policing. The idea that OP is going to throw away food to stop people from eating it is a step too far.

      3. JediSquirrel*

        Unless this a food service establishment, this isn’t a workplace safety issue in the same way that exposed wiring or slippery floors are. People can choose not to eat this, which is what OP should continue doing.

      4. Amber Rose*

        Unfortunately, this isn’t totally a workplace safety issue. :/

        The raw chicken is, because it’s one person putting people at risk without their knowledge. Employers are required to make staff aware of all hazards, and bacteria-ridden counters are a hazard. But the other food was safe when provided to staff, and if they choose to consume it when it’s unsafe, that’s their choice.

        Besides, the OP DID speak up, and was laughed off, so what more can they do?

      5. LizB*

        Well established guidelines for food safety in a professional food service setting. I don’t have any food handling certifications, but I’m guessing those guidelines are going to be way, WAY stricter than what the average person will follow in their daily life, because there’s way more potential for widespread problems/liability/risk of panic if a restaurant full of customers gets food poisoning than if Joe Schmoe gets it from his own questionable refrigeration decisions.

        I get that this is food the OP is encountering at work, so I think because of that you’re classifying it as Professional Food to be held to Professional Standards, but in my mind, food from a work event at a not-food-related workplace is much closer to Personal Food to be held to Personal Standards.

        1. Kaitlyn*

          And even in professional food settings, food sits out on the counter. Any chef worth her salt will have a mis en place, and those will sit out for the duration of service.

          If there’s some kind of subterfuge around the food, like it’s being presented as though it’s fresh when it’s been sitting out, then yes, mention it. But if everyone can otherwise assess their own risk/safety matrix, then…let them.

      6. OHHELLO*

        These things aren’t illegal. You cannot police people like this. Let them eat their weird old sandwiches. Mind your own business.

      7. glitz/glamor*

        I disagree that this is a workplace safety issue. I think an appropriate comparison would be having coworkers who refuse to stop eating foods they’re mildly allergic to, or lactose or gluten if they have an intolerance, or high-carb/high-sugar foods when they have type 2 diabetes. By continually exposing themselves to foods that they know aren’t good for them, these coworkers could experience serious health issues. But they are not being *forced* to do something that harms them when they do not want to do it. “Optional snacks people bring in” – many of which sounds like they weren’t improperly prepared, just left in the open air too long – is not a pervasive enough issue to be a workplace safety issue. If employees were required to eat improperly stored food, or if the food was moldering and releasing spores into the air, maybe. But not this.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Yes, and if you haven’t noticed, literally everyone has agreed with that. I have yet to see anyone arguing that the chicken one is fine.

        1. Jenny*

          This is a good analogy. Or a coworker who eats gluten despite having celiac. Yes, they may get sick, but you can’t control their choices.

          The chicken is a clear issue and you speak up. But other than that, people are allowed to choose to eat older food.

      8. Alton*

        I think the difference is that a lot of this stuff doesn’t directly relate to their work. People are choosing to eat this food. The only thing I would maybe recommend would be to push for a way to refrigerate stuff so that at least management can take responsibility for providing safe food for people. For example, when I order lunches for a meeting, I consider it part of my responsibility to make sure they don’t sit out for an unsafe amount of time, because I’m performing my job. But what I do with my own food, or what I accept from a colleague, is my own business.

      9. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        You need to calm down with all of your comments. What another adult chooses to eat is none of your business. If you don’t want to eat questionable food, then don’t eat it.

      10. Midwesterner*

        Hi Mike, I am with you. These are unsafe practices and it is worth speaking up. I will say it is optional if you are not a foodservice establishment though. I mean, a person can choose to eat the meat that sat out for four hours, they are just taking their chances. I feel shocked that the commenters don’t seem to feel like they are taking chances with that scenario. The 2 hour rule for food at room temp (between 40-140) is based on science of how fast bacteria multiply and *if* there was any bacteria on that meat, after 2 hours the amount of bacteria that could be present is gross.

        1. CMart*

          I think everyone knows they’re taking chances, and that based off personal experience the “chances” (of getting sick) are pretty low.

          I used to be a restaurant manager, I have allll the certifications and training. And yet, I eat like a starved raccoon and to my knowledge, have not once had food poisoning in my 34 years of existence.

          We know it’s “risky”. We have just assessed that the risk is at an acceptable level.

      11. EventPlannerGal*

        Look, I work a lot with food. I’ve worked in restaurants and have done a lot of food service and food hygiene training. Food safety is a very important issue for me in my professional life and I take it seriously. And yet, when I am choosing what I personally will eat or how I prepare food at home, I do not follow the same standards that I expect to be followed in the food industry. The chicken issue is really bad and I think the OP would have been extremely justified in commenting on that in the moment, but she does not have the right to police whether her coworkers eat stale bagels or 8-hour old sandwiches. They are adults who can see how long the bagels have been sitting out for and are choosing to eat them anyway, and that is their prerogative.

      12. Jadelyn*

        No, what the heck is going on with you? Are you, like…allergic to being considerate and tactful in discussions?

        1. Observation... :/*

          Totally agree. The hostility is exhausting. As is the presumption that if people don’t feel as strongly about X issue it means they don’t care about workplace safety.

      13. CMart*

        They are optional though, for places that aren’t professionally serving food.

        If Panera left their sandwiches sitting out for 4 hours before delivering them to my office for lunch, that is an egregious violation. What my accounting office does with those sandwiches once delivered is fully optional. This is not “workplace safety”. These are bonus food items being distributed among lay people, not professionally served by the office cafeteria.

        1. CallofDewey*

          Funny you give that example, because I’ve worked at Panera and there’s a decent chance your sandwiches were sitting out for a few hours while being assembled in between orders. Not the most ethical choice by management, but we never had any complaints about food illness.

    2. MarsJenkar*

      Yeah, this seems to be a “pick your battles” thing. Speak up about the worst practices (e.g. the raw chicken), but anything below that, stick to declining if offered. If they press, just say “no, thanks” as many times as necessary.

      1. Ashley*

        At most maybe add on if you see someone from a different department looking at the cream cheese you can make a polite comment to them that it has been sitting there all day. Generally I think this is sadly this is a battle not worth having (chicken aside).

        1. londonedit*

          I agree. I’d definitely speak up about the chicken, and if I sat near some sandwiches that had been out all day, and someone came up to speculatively have a look at taking one, I might say ‘Hey, your call, but those have been there since 11 this morning…’. But apart from that, it’s not really on me to police what other people are eating. On any given day you have no idea whether the slice of pizza Sophie brought in for lunch had been previously sitting out on her kitchen counter for two days, or whether Joe made his egg sandwich with eggs that were technically past their use-by date but smelled fine – they’re adults and if that’s their attitude to food safety, that’s their call. Far too much food is wasted because people think they have to throw everything away the minute it reaches its sell-by or best before date, when actually most things (obvious exceptions like meat etc aside) are usually perfectly fine to eat after that date as long as you use a bit of common sense.

  17. MediaGuy*

    The only issues here are the raw chicken on the countertop and the cream cheese left out for three days. The cheese and meat platter and the sandwiches were still fine. Obviously if the OP is concerned, don’t eat those items and maybe claim dietary reasons — no one will blame them if they say that. But this strikes me as too much worry about what most people wouldn’t see as a problem.

  18. jcmiletich*

    Agreed with most other people. I wouldn’t eat “old” food either, but I wouldn’t make an issue out of it. As for the raw chicken, definitely gross, but I prepare my food on plates so it wouldn’t affect me.

    1. Jimming*

      Cheese is also really old already so what’s another 4 hours? I mean, don’t eat it if you don’t want to, but an office environment is different than food service. I doubt the OP’s coworkers are constantly getting food poisoning from cured meat and cheese that wasn’t refrigerated for a few hours.

      1. the_scientist*

        Sweaty cheese is disgusting and this is 100% a hill I’m willing to die on, but I fundamentally agree with you. OP is not the food safety officer for this company. Let your adult coworkers make their own decisions.

      2. Bee*

        The whole point of curing meat and aging cheese is to preserve it! This is a process that dates to before the days of refrigeration! Sure, you would keep it in the cold cellar for long-term storage, but it was specifically designed to be hardy food that could be taken on journeys and whatnot. You can absolutely eat room temperature cheese!

    2. LadyByTheLake*

      Agree — there is no issue with leaving cheese out — that’s how most of the world eats it (and plus, it is SUPPOSED to be room temperature). The raw chicken on the other hand — who puts raw chicken directly on a counter??

    3. A. Ham*

      My parent’s own an artisan cheese store and this is 100% true. It also does not need to be refrigerated immediately. (eventually, yes). It’s amazing how many of their customers balk when they are told to take the cheese out of the fridge for a while before serving it (on a cheese plate or whatever). actually, that’s the reason a cheese plate is great when entertaining, you don’t have to worry about it sitting out for a while (I’m imagining an indoor occasion. The rules are a little different outside!)

    4. BottleBlonde*

      Yeah, I’m food-safety-anxious so I understand where OP is coming from, but I would not worry about hard cheeses. Where my dad grew up they didn’t even refrigerate hard cheese at all. Cured meat is similar.

    5. londonedit*

      Yes. Eating cold Brie is just sad – it needs to be at room temperature! Sweaty plasticky fake Cheddar is another matter, but soft cheeses and blue cheeses, and any decent hard cheese, absolutely has to be eaten at room temperature.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          It makes such a difference! Some types of Brie are meltier than others so keep an eye on how long you leave it out for, though – I’ve seen softer Brie basically melt into a puddle after a few hours.

        2. Bagpuss*

          an awful lot of brie is sold very unripe. I find I usually have to leave it out for a few days before it becomes edible. And even if you over do it and it becomes a puddle, it will become a delicious puddle of cheesy goodness.

          Most cheeses taste far better at room temp. than they do cold (sweaty cheese is just horrible, mind, but I think that’s mostly down to poor quality cheese and/or inappropriate packaging or storage

          1. londonedit*

            Yes! The best Brie is one that’s practically walking itself out of the door. You shouldn’t be able to slice it.

    6. Lindsay*

      Yeah I was surprised about their concern for the cheese – cheese can sit out for a little bit, especially aged ones.

  19. Kitty Cathleen*

    I understand your concern. I’d be squicked out, too. But if you’ve already tried explaining the food safety issues to them, I don’t think you can do much more than politely decline what you’re offered. Maybe bring in something packaged that you are comfortable eating if you want to contribute (cookies, chips without dip, etc). They’re adults who are going to make their own choices. The raw chicken is particularly bad, and I think you need to assume going forward that any surface you might put food on should be cleaned first.

  20. bloo*

    also, i’ve defnitely eaten old work food when times were tough and money was scarce, and someone badgering me about the food being too old would’ve felt really bad. like yeah i know, i wish i could buy fresh groceries lol but no can do right now

    1. CameTheDawn*

      Ha, yes, I had a similar problem when I was homeless.
      “It’s cheaper and healthier to cook in batches and store in the refrigerator, you know!”
      Yeah, no shit. Are you offering me free use of your kitchen? No? Fuck off.

    2. Food Insecure*

      ^THIS^ I know a lot about food safety, but if there is a free sandwich that hasn’t been left out in sweltering heat for 8 hours, then I would eat it because that’s one less meal I have to worry about.

      People who are gainfully employed in a “good job” may still not be able to cover their bills- you just can’t know or assume people’s circumstances.

  21. remizidae*

    The rules that people follow for their personal food consumption are not and do not need to be the same as the rules restaurants must follow to comply with health codes.

    Every person has their own personal risk tolerance. I personally would be fine with most of what you describe (everything except the raw chicken). Let your coworkers make their own choices about how to strike the balance between food safety concerns and wasting food.

    You don’t have to eat what they do, but you also should not and cannot control what they eat. Let it go.

    1. remizidae*

      Edit: I’ve eaten pizza that was left out for 24 hours, and a sandwich that was in a hot car for 12 hours. It was fine. You don’t have to do that, but let people make their own decisions.

      1. Amber Rose*

        I frequently do the same thing with pizza. It hasn’t been an issue, which isn’t to say it never will, but I accept that risk.

      2. annony*

        Yep. While I personally won’t eat day old pizza that has been left out, my husband does it all the time. So long as he does not try to offer any to someone who doesn’t know how old it is, I leave it alone. I don’t need to agree with other people’s choices about food safety so long as they respect mine.

      3. President Porpoise*

        My roommates would leave Little Caesar’s on top of the fridge for a week or so before it was all gone. None of us have died yet – and I have the sensitive stomach from hell. Granted, that hardly counts as food…

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Exactly. If this is not a restaurant or a catering facility that serves the public, the rules aren’t applied as strictly.

    3. Coverage Associate*

      Yes. Here in Northern California, grocery stores without generators big enough to power their refrigerator and freezer cases had to throw away everything during the power outages, but common sense says the point at which the food was dangerous to eat was after the point when the freezers weren’t powered. Frozen berries, for example, would be safe at room temperature until they started going bad. But while I can choose to eat frozen and thawed and refrozen food at home, the standards are different if you’re selling food.

  22. Wing Leader*

    None of these are a big deal to me, except the raw chicken. With everything else, the likelihood of someone getting sick is slim. Now, if you had a meat platter or sandwiches sitting out for, say, 3 or 4 days straight, then yeah, you need to throw it out. But a few hours isn’t going to do much.

  23. Spek*

    You have made your concerns known and they have been ignored. Now it’s on them. Mention a mysterious food allergy and that will excuse you from most office food events, including potlucks. Not much else you can do – they didn’t hire you in a food safety role, and you already brought it up, if they get sick, not your problem.

    1. CanCan*

      No need to fake anything. Just say you’re picky. Or “I have my own rules about food”. (Which could be anything – even food timing. Maybe you’re doing fasting or time-restricted eating.) If someone asks for details, just decline to say. “Oh it’s not that interesting.”

    2. Bagpuss*

      No. Don’t fake an allergy. People doing that is a huge factor in why those with genuine, life threatening allergies are not believed .

      If you need an excuse, then say you have to be careful about what you eat. It’s true, we all need to be careful. You don’t need to say whether the care is due to religious or other diet choices, food sensitivites, issues around textures or flavours or problems with having different kinds of food touching each other or any one of a number of other things – the key is that it’s about you, not an insult to their food.

  24. WellRed*

    They’ve managed to survive long before you came onboard. Leave this alone and just politely refuse any food offerings.

  25. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    In my experience, the ServSafe standards are extremely conservative. The state inspectors don’t want their organization to get in trouble, restaurants and delis don’t want to get sued, etc. Those standards make sense when you’re serving a large swath of the public *who you don’t know*. But OP is in a closed office environment, so I think there’s more leeway there. If someone is immunocompromised, then they’ll know to shy away from the recycled cream cheese.

    Also, don’t forget that the reason we invented cured meats and cheeses in the first place was because we didn’t have refrigeration. If a salami sweating for 4 hours was going to kill you, nobody would have made it out of the middle ages.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      ” If a salami sweating for 4 hours was going to kill you, nobody would have made it out of the middle ages.” QFT.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        But, I mean a lot of people did not survive. “Bring me your dead!” is one of the most famous comedic lines about that time. It was horrendous in terms of hygiene and people died at the ripe age of 33 on average. I get the sentiment, but I don’t think it’s really a great testament to the power of cured meat.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Neither of those statements are really true, plenty of people lived to old age, it’s just that infant mortality was high so the average is brought down. They also kept themselves plenty clean. Link to follow.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          Charcuterie is pretty darn durable! That’s the whole point of smoking/curing meat.

          The average life expectancy stat in the middle ages is misleading – it doesn’t mean most people died at 33. It’s skewed that young because of very high infant/child mortality. If you made it out of childhood, you could reasonably be expected to hit your 50s or 60s (if you were a man. If you were a woman, you had to get through child-bearing age without dying in childbirth).

          1. Alexandra Lynch*

            If you survived the first five years, and (male) there wasn’t a war on that swept you up and killed you/(female) you didn’t die in childbirth (1 in 10) and no large epidemics went through, there was no reason you shouldn’t expect a modern life span.

        3. JediSquirrel*

          Yes, the average age of death was 33, but that was primarily due to high death rates from birth to five years of age. If you made it to puberty, chances were good you would live to old age.

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, I’m a medievalist and have worked on and off with chronicles/records for the last three years, including people’s dates of birth and death and when they had children and so on – obviously this needn’t be true for all the places during all of the Middle Ages but in the reasonably big Swebian town I focused on, people who reached adulthood were mostly in their late sixties when they died.

            1. Lissa*

              Yes I’m a history nerd and regularly note that especially people living in religious organizations often live pretty long, which makes sense as some of the usual killers would be avoided (war, childbirth, probably a bit more isolation so maybe less chance of disease, etc)

        4. Quill*

          You want a mode, not a mean, for that statistic – averages take into account that a huge proportion of people didn’t make it to their fifth birthday due to communicable diseases (measles, mumps, smallpox, every type of bacterial infection you could scrape up by walking around barefoot before tetanus vaccines,) poor nutrition, and lack of shelter, as well as a lack of appropriate medical care for the GI diseases people did get – people were often bled as treatment for dysentery when they should probably just have been given thoroughly boiled water with electrolytes. (And small kids are WAY more sensitive to stomach bugs.)

          Not to mention, you know, the black death, which will screw up your data for a century because a quarter of the people who got it died…

    2. LadyL*

      Well…technically speaking most people didn’t make it out of the Middle Ages, but that was because they didn’t practice personal hygiene and we’re getting the Black Plague from fleas. Salami was probably the bright spot for those people. ;)

  26. But There is a Me in Team*

    Oh goodness, the raw chicken juice! I admit to being a little lax with picnic/potluck food, and we leave cream cheese and dips out at our office for a couple hours but not like what you’re describing. OP, I was in your position as the Office Alarmist in my last job, but about our personal safety. Having a background in criminal justice I even offered to do a safety plan/ situational awareness training. I was resoundingly ignored, even after someone was shot in front of our office, floor to ceiling glass windows, corner space, this shooting was maybe 15 feet from my desk. I always felt they just rolled their eyes and viewed me as the Fun Vampire.
    My advice- since you’re new, make up some plausible “food allergies”/digestive problems/ a weird diet you pretend to follow and otherwise be unfailing pleasant to all. Maybe “I have problematic digestion, unfortunately so I usually just eat what I brought- thanks though!” Once you know some other folks in the office park, you might be able to let them know about the condition of the food. Or slip sticky notes on it?
    Unfortunately, I don’t think you can get others to care as much as you do until someone gets sick. You value safety- they value not wasting. Would love an update, good luck!

    1. Christmas Carol*

      I don’t quite understand what raw chicken is doing in a office park workplace anyway. Unless your CEO is a white haired gentleman with a goatee, a string bowtie and a Kentucky accent.

  27. Triumphant Fox*

    I mean, a guy did recently die from eating unrefrigerated pasta, so I’m a little more aware of food safety right now than I would be otherwise (he left it out for days, so definitely not this situation).

    The main issue I see here is leaving things out all day, then bringing them to other departments that may not know they were left out all day. I get that people need to make their own decisions, but it seems to me that everyone who uses that chicken counter and people who eat those sandwiches aren’t informed. That being said, this would not be my hill to die on and I would just not eat/participate.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      But here’s the thing…if bagels and cream cheese appear in my department at 3pm, I’m going to use common sense and assume they were sitting out from the morning. If it’s questionable and it grosses you out then don’t eat it. But OP has no right to police what others do with the food when it doesn’t affect her directly. If they ask her if she wants any, all she has to do is say no.

      The raw chicken on the counter is concerning, but the rest of it is not something OP should get involved in. I know plenty of people that won’t eat food cooked in another’s kitchen if they don’t know them well. That’s their choice. I’m not going to lecture them about it or shame them for it. OP needs to let it go.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        But these are appearing the next day (at least in one instance). They sit out all day, then are refrigerated overnight and distributed the next day, which is still probably OK in most instances, but I don’t think I’d think at 8 AM “Those bagels probably sat in conference room for the finance dept. for 6 hours.”

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          If bagels and cream cheese sit out all day, are then put in a fridge and set out again the next day, they’re not going to look fresh. Again common sense, and if any of it is questionable and you’re not sure, don’t eat it.

          1. Avasarala*

            Interesting, because for me common sense is, “I don’t need to carefully inspect these bagels and cream cheese for freshness because bagels are good for a few days even at room temp, and the cream cheese was presumably refrigerated when not in use.” And if I was passed them in the morning I would assume both were acquired that morning, not the day before or earlier (and then sat out for that whole time)

    2. CanCan*

      Why would anyone put their food on a communal kitchen counter? This includes the owner of the raw chicken, and everybody else?

      I’m on the pretty relaxed side of the food safety debate (no problem with any of the above, except for the raw bird), but I wouldn’t put my ready-to-eat food (e.g. apple, sandwich) on a communal kitchen counter, just like I wouldn’t do it on a public washroom counter.

  28. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    I also have a Food Handlers certificate and I educate at work, clean up after prepping raw meat immediately etc. But at the same time at home, I eat leftovers that have been out all night. There is a real disconnect. Most people know what their stomach will accept. Years of eating day-old sandwiches have made your co-workers immune to normal bacteria.

  29. Barbara*

    Other than the raw chicken, everything else is in fair enough compliance. I have worked food service jobs in the past, and unless these things are sitting out in 100 degree heat they are all still safe. The meat and cheess were sweating because they went from very cold to room temp and were having condensation. The cream cheese is pasturized. I run into questions like this a lot and I get it – better safe than sorry. But things ARE safe until bacteria or spoilage happens. Think of all the family dinners or celebrations where food is out of the fridge for half a day or a whole day. If you are extremely worried, you can ask for there to be more ice bowls for things like dairy products but they really aren’t necessary for health reasons for short periods. We usually ice those things because they stay out in a commercial setting for, well, basically weeks. Or because people like their milk or oj cold at the breakfast buffett. Now, the chicken is how you kill people though.

    1. Quill*

      I’d be wary of the cream cheese just because it’s a spread, and a spread means double dipping, but that’s less a temperature concern than a “coworker cleanliness concern” and we already know someone around there chickens the counters

  30. Manchmal*

    Most of what the OP noticed and objected to was food being left out for a long time, and then being eaten or offered around. I’m not sure how that relates to the potluck question. Go early when the food is fresh, and don’t worry about what happens after that. You’re also not obligated to go at all, but it would be collegial to make an appearance. Have some tortilla chips and a store-bought cookie, and be done with it if the homemade stuff squicks you out. No one should be paying that close of attention to what you’re consuming, but if they do make a comment just say something anodyne and boring, then change the subject by asking them a question. “Oh yeah, I had a big breakfast. So what was your favorite dish so far? My favorite potluck dish is X…”

    1. LizB*

      I think it relates to the potluck question because the OP is thinking, my coworkers aren’t following safety standards at work > how much less might they be following them at home?! > I don’t feel comfortable eating their cooking at all. I agree if that the OP goes, they can just stick to store-bought stuff and say they had a big [previous meal] so they’re not going to eat much.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        +1000, I wouldn’t either.

        I had a team lead at OldJob who, at potlucks, would only eat one dish brought in by one coworker they knew they could trust. TBH, I tried to follow their lead, because I, too, had reasons to doubt at least some of my coworkers’ hygiene. But I don’t have the willpower and would typically end up sampling all the things. I made an effort to be one of the first in line (before someone sticks their hand into the shared food, or something else of that nature happens) and stick to store-bought foods if possible.

        I once saw a coworker order pizza for their team for staying late. Came into work the next day and the leftover pizza from the night before was sitting on a counter in the shared kitchen; for all to eat, I guess? Yeah, I tried to avoid the potluck dishes that this person brought in, I can tell you that.

    2. Piggy Stardust*

      I think the assumption is that if they’re leaving meat on the counter and eating day-old sandwiches, they might not have the most clean cooking practices, but I think that’s unfair. I’ve eaten food I’ve left out or whatever, but me choosing to eat it doesn’t meant I’d feed it to someone else.

      1. Blueberry*

        There is this. I’m actually much more careful when cooking for others than when cooking for just myself. Scrubbing fingernails before cooking vs casual hand wash, and so on.

  31. Thankful for AAM*

    As others said, only the raw chicken strikes me as really gross and I assume all surfaces at work are contaminated and don’t let anything touch them.

    Also, as others said, 1,000s of kids and adults eat unrefrigerated lunches every day.

    I happen to be vegan and just say no to almost all food at work. Its not a big deal to only eat the food I bring. I think you run a bigger risk of alienating yourself by talking about food safety all the time, not from not eating the food.

    1. Not All*

      Exactly this!

      The only thing that would be considered risky by the majority of people I’ve worked with is the raw chicken. The only time any of us have gotten food poisoning was from fast food restaurants (I’ll never eat Jack-in-the-Box again myself!) and once a commercial caterer who supposedly followed all those safety rules gave half the office salmonella.

      1. Liane*

        Same here. While I am very aware of contamination dangers, the “sandwiches from lunch 3 hours ago” isn’t high on my danger list, although am warier than many coworkers. But most food poisoning or near misses in my life have been from commercial establishments. In my college internship, I attended a catered retirement celebration for a longtime employee. The entree was barbecued chicken. My first piece was great, so I went to get a second. It turned out to be raw in the middle! Went straight into the garbage. I consider myself lucky no one got sick that I know of. (Yes, I told people.)
        At a later job, my supervisor, a microbiologist, was out 2-3 days with salmonellosis. When he got back he told me it was probably huevos rancheros (egg dish) he’d had at a restaurant. Him: I noticed the eggs were a bit runny but I ate them. Me: (starts with sympathetic tone) You poor guy…Kylo, you have a *Masters* in Micro–you know better!

  32. fortheloveofspreadsheets*

    I think it may be helpful for you to remember that institutionalized food safety practices are to make sure that absolutely no one ever is exposed to a foodborne illness. Think of it like sell by dates on food at the grocery store, most people would still drink milk after the day has passed. Also, processed meats and cheeses and other similar foods have a ton of preservatives in them, I bet they could stay out for days before they would really be a problem. And most major foodborne outbreaks have nothing to do with refrigeration.

    That’s not to say you aren’t allowed to be grossed out, you feel how you feel, but you brought up your concerns and were shut down, time to move on. Also maybe disinfect the counter before you use it.

  33. Shramps*

    As someone who used to work in food QA and regularly reads foodsafetynews blog, my heart is with you OP.

    Continue doing your best practices. Put food away when you can. Be vocal about what should be done but let them make their own decisions. Continue to deny food you don’t feel safe eating.

    1. Shramps*

      Life is not without risk (I’ve eaten a lot grilled cheese from Shakedown Street) but since one is at work 40 hours a week, it’s best to know that’s not a place to risk your health.

      Especially if you don’t get sick time!

  34. mark132*

    Perhaps the only thing you may be able to do is do stuff like try and pitch the old sandwiches when no one is looking. This way your boss won’t stop you next time.

    1. valentine*

      try and pitch the old sandwiches when no one is looking.
      It’s just not worth it. “OP wastes communal food and literally trashes our good time” is worse than if OP were someone who takes too much free food.

    2. CanCan*

      Why? It’s not like the sandwiches are deceptively being offered as fresh or served to a vulnerable population. I would be pretty mad if someone threw out perfectly good sandwiches because they personally weren’t comfortable about eating them. I think a box of fresh donuts presents a higher health hazard to most people than 5-hour old sandwiches (sugar, trans-fats, etc.), but I don’t go around chucking those when nobody is looking.

      Just eat things you want and don’t eat things you don’t want. Simple.

      1. Lissa*

        agree! I hate when people throw out things that are “expired” by the date on the package but still completely fine to eat because they believe the package date is the one to go by and I think it’s more of a guideline. I mean, don’t eat it, sure, but don’t decide for me I can’t!

      2. mark132*

        I mostly do this because they’ve been sitting there for hours, so I’ll walk by realize that, and simply pitch them. I don’t want to stare at nasty sandwiches etc.

  35. Chili*

    The raw chicken is the only one that struck me as wildly outside of office norms. That is something I think you should stop when you see it. And if it keeps occurring, have someone send out a mass email about not doing that.
    Meat and cheese should be kept cold, but I think most people end up giving a few hours of leeway with regards to refrigeration of certain foods. If food is being served at many meetings and the issue is lack of fridge space and a larger or second fridge is not in budget, maybe suggest having coolers and ice packs available? Or those serving trays with room for ice?

  36. LadyL*

    If LW is concerned then LW absolutely has the right to opt out. But I will throw out there that I am absolutely the kind of person to eat free food that’s been sitting out, but when I cook for other people I’m much more careful. So what OP observes may not translate into unsafe food practices at home.

    1. CheeryO*

      +1. I have an iron stomach, but I know that not everyone does, so I’m very careful when I cook for potlucks.

  37. Rainbow Roses*

    Like others, the only thing that bothered me was the raw chicken. I’ve eaten sandwiches and other foods that have been left out during the work day and even brought some home for dinner.

    As for leaving food in the hot car, it’s none of my business what others do. I’ve even done it a few times if the food doesn’t contain mayo or dairy.

    I understand you and others are more concerned than me but you already said your peace. You can’t force them to change. Just eat food while it’s fresh and ignore leftovers. Op out of potlucks or bring something you will eat. Wipe down the counter with sanitary wipes just in case. You can warn other departments the food has been left out for X hours (my guess is they already know since that’s the nature of office food).

  38. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    I think there’s three separate issues here, OP.

    1. Your own personal risk management
    2. Your concern for the safety of others
    3. Your level of integration with the team

    Number 1 is the simplest to handle. Your risk tolerances with regard to food safety are entirely your own business, and I don’t see anything wrong with declining to partake in food that you don’t feel confident is safe. Don’t put your teammates’ feelings over your own health management.

    With regard to 2, though, I do think it’s worth noting that commercial food safety standards aren’t a minimum necessary to avoid spoilage; reasonably and by nature, those standards are conservative and aimed at maintaining a very high degree of confidence that food is still safe. Expanding from “these foods have been sitting at room temperature for longer than recommended” into “my coworkers are going to make people sick” is overstating the case, especially with things like salads, which may be rather wilty and unappetizing after a few hours at room temperature but aren’t generally going to go rotten in the space of a day! There are a lot of people who set their own risk tolerances more loosely than you do, and I’d avoid getting too pushy with them about whether or not their tolerance-setting is reasonable, just like you wouldn’t want them to get pushy with you on that topic.

    The incident with the raw chicken is the one I’d point out as being the most genuinely concerning; that’s a bit of a different beast from cooked foods hanging around at room temperature for a bit.

    Number 3, your relationships with your teammates, is the concern that informs how you approach 1 and 2. While you’re absolutely within your rights to decline food offerings, and being a vegetarian lets you do so without the insult of telling your coworkers you think they’re going to poison you with spoiled food, you do want to make sure that you’re compensating for food-activity avoidance by finding other ways to engage with your teammates. Bring your own dish to the potluck (and make sure you grab a good meal from it quickly, before the inevitable cross-contamination happens), and take part in other activities — or proactively suggest them! What about a team outing to a restaurant, or bowling, or other activities that don’t invoke your coworkers’ unprofessional food handling?

    1. Hope Springs*

      Well said. I’d just add that you don’t want to be that person who becomes known for policing the behavior of your coworkers. You’re there to work with them, not to mother them, which can quickly lead to disintegrating relationships.

  39. Vicky Austin*

    People have gotten salmonella poisoning from eating raw chicken or food that came in contact with surfaces touched by raw chicken. Definitely say something! And bring a bottle of Clorox spray for the kitchen if it doesn’t already have one. Tell your coworkers to spray any surface that raw chicken touched, if they don’t want to be out sick for several days with diarrhea.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I can guarantee if OP tells them that, it won’t be done. The best bet is to wipe down the counter before you use it yourself. People are gross and dirty in communal work kitchens and bathrooms, and if you want to guarantee your own safety, the only thing you can do is clean it yourself.

  40. You have not died of dysentery*

    Aside from the raw chicken and cream cheese, these aren’t really huge safety concerns. Food handling permits and restaurants are required to have much higher standards out of necessity – they assume numerous people are preparing the food and not everyone has eyes-on the food at all times.

    Most cheese is aged at room temperature. Processed meats have nitrates and salt in them to prevent bacterial growth. Leftovers in the car is kinda gross and can cause fried rice syndrome, but… adults can adult. Let them make choices and live with the consequences.

    Bring your own foods to potlucks and meetings, and try not to worry about what others are doing.

  41. Bunny Girl*

    I’m sort of like this. I worked in food service for quite a few years and am conscious about food safety and how long I leave things out. Plus our break room is absolutely disgusting so I figure if people can’t clean here that they can’t be bothered to clean in their home kitchen.

    But, it sounds like you’ve brought this to their attention and they just don’t care so I’d drop it (except the raw chicken thing…). Keep not eating food offered to you if you think it’s been improperly handled. If someone asks why, just say you aren’t hungry. If you think it would be weird to not participate in the potluck if you’re in the office, schedule a doctor’s appointment or some other errand. I don’t think that’s a big deal.

  42. Delta Delta*

    I think the secondary question here is what is someone doing with raw chicken in an office kitchen?

    1. WellRed*

      Right? What were they doing with it? I also wouldn’t set ANY food on a workplace counter without a plate or napkin underneath it, lest I get something gross on my food.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I have a co-worker who sometimes brings in raw chicken and cooks it in the big toaster oven. She uses foil in the pan and cleans up after herself. I still think it’s weird and I don’t use the office kitchen on a regular basis (I don’t even store my lunch in the fridge)– I say nothing.

    3. Thankful for AAM*

      Excellent question!

      I also think the biggest risk to health from food is unwashed hands and ecoli contamination. I have no fact to back that up but I have only ever gotten ill from commercially prepared foods that presumably followed the strictest food safety rules.

    4. Ev*

      One of my coworkers has a wee tiny crock pot thing that she sets up at the beginning of the day so it’s ready for lunch. There has definitely been chicken that came into the kitchen raw in that. Not my idea of a good time, but she keeps it off anything else so it’s also not my problem.

  43. Patty*

    I’m struggling to understand why anyone would have raw chicken in an office kitchen environment! How were they preparing it?!

    1. Amber Rose*

      I bring raw chicken to work daily, because I have a little desk-top cooker. I toss in raw chicken and veggies and half an hour later I have stir fry.

      I prep it at home though, I’m not sure why anyone would be putting that stuff on the counter.

      1. Jamie*

        Just out of curiosity, your office mates don’t mind the smell of a full meal being cooked (as opposed to reheated)?

        1. Amber Rose*

          I mean, it just smells like cooking chicken, and it’s tucked under my desk. My food smells less strongly than most of the things people toss in the microwave.

          I do get a lot of complaints from people stopping by that it smells good and is making people hungry.

              1. it's me*

                “I do get a lot of complaints from people stopping by that it smells good and is making people hungry.”
                I *do* mind when the smell of good food makes me hungry. It’s distracting.

                1. Mikasa*

                  Be an adult and control yourself then. Are people supposed to bring in neutral smelling food? Be reasonable.

                2. Courageous cat*

                  I would probably trust Amber Rose, as the person in the office, to make that judgment call over you, who hasn’t been there, though. It’s fair to suggest but there’s no reason to continue on if she disagrees.

            1. it's me*

              I’m imagining food-scented steam building up a film under this desk and it’s grossing me out lol

            2. Amber Rose*

              No, because it’s not actually under under my desk. I don’t want mold. More just like, on the floor nearby.

              1. it's me*

                “I get a lot of complaints” = people don’t mind
                “Tucked under my desk” = on the floor nearby

        2. it's me*

          “Dear Ask a Manager, one of my coworkers cooks a full meal every day in a device she keeps on the floor near/under her desk. We’ve tried to politely ‘complain’ that it smells so good it’s making us hungry, but she keeps doing it. How can we persuade her to do this in the break room?”

          1. atalanta0jess*

            You know what Alison would say though. She’d say, that’s not direct enough. Tell her directly.

            I wouldn’t ever say that as a way of asking someone to stop, and I would never interpret it that way. If that’s how people are communicating, I’m not sure what to tell them.

  44. Rockin Takin*

    My in-laws live in Nepal and one thing I’ve learned from my husband and them is that in the US we are a bit aggressive about refrigeration.
    I have left cooked meals (including meat) out of the fridge overnight, and it’s been perfectly fine to eat the next day.
    Leaving a sandwich out for a few hours doesn’t cause problems.
    Raw meat on a counter though- that needs to be cleaned properly.

    But overall you’d be surprised how much usuable food we waste in the US due to anxiety over food safety.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Yup! My partner used to work in food service and he gets squicked out when I leave (hot) leftovers on the counter for more than an hour– in sealed containers. He’s trying to get used to it. He also doesn’t eat leftovers at all and I think he’s nuts because leftovers are delicious. To me, the waste is the worst part.

    2. Amber Rose*

      The rule my mom gave me was touch it, and if it feels warm then toss it. If it’s at least a little cool, it’s fine. Excluding raw meat, which I follow food service rules for: 30 minutes MAX at room temperature then it’s shot.

      I have never had food poisoning from my own food.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I have become physically ill from unrefrigerated food, so I don’t call it aggressive. Not fun when it happens to you.

    4. You have not died of dysentery*

      But overall you’d be surprised how much usuable food we waste in the US due to anxiety over food safety.

      No kidding. Though we do have to factor in climate. In big parts of the world eggs and butter are kept at room temperature – which is fine if you live in Maine. But for me, “room temperature” is 83 degrees and 10% humidity for half the year. Fresh eggs from my chickens can only be on the counter for a week – but they’ll last 90 days in the fridge. Butter left on the counter would really just be an oily puddle.

      1. Saraphina*

        I lived in East Africa for many years, no refrigeration. I left out meat, eggs, butter, everything. Kept leftovers stored in containers. Never got sick from that. Definitely made me re-think how much I used to throw away when i moved back to the US

        1. Rockin Takin*

          Right! My in laws leave most of their food out.
          Sometimes I am hesitant about food past expiry and my husband rolls his eyes every time, haha

    5. Middle School Teacher*

      Yes. I lived in Europe for a while and I got used to keeping my eggs on the counter, not in the fridge.

      1. Quill*

        Something about how eggs are processed in the U.S. (some form of washing) means they actually don’t last as long at room temp as they do elsewhere!

    6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I personally have an iron stomach, and I wouldn’t hesitate to eat something that had been sitting out for a while. I also use my nose to tell me if something is bad. But others are more sensitive and could get sick, so you can’t say that it’s all okay for everyone. But this is why OP needs to leave it alone and let the others make their own decisions.

    7. Quill*

      That’s because cooking is supposed to kill off the bacteria. There’s also a lot of things such as pickling, canning, and smoking that help kill off bacteria (including pasteurization) and excessive sugar that make your food less appetizing to bacterial colonies, so in general: if it’s cooked, pasturized, pickled, canned, smoked or baked, it’s generally got a longer storage life than the expiration date would have you think. Use by dates are usually set for when the company has a reasonable guarantee it will look as good as possible for them, food will spoil before sometimes due to contamination, sometimes after due to contamination, sometimes way later.

      Ironically most food poisoning outbreaks in the U.S. come from uncooked fruits and vegetables via field or transport contamination, and most individual/localized cases come from bad hand and equipment washing. The larger the scale of food prep, the more opportunities there are for contamination, though – which is why restaurants have to be way pickier about how long things are allowed to stay at room temperature than is reasonable for the average home cook.

      If in doubt about an ingredient but mostly just wondering about it, cook it thoroughly. (If you’re immunocompromised, don’t, but if you’re a reasonably healthy adult with six leftover eggs that expired yesterday? Hard boil them, that’s probably fine.)

    8. Juli G.*

      Someone in a FB group I’m in recently bawked at a bake sale because they would never buy a baked item that sat out more than an hour. I was FLOORED!

      1. Lehigh*

        When I was a teen, I knew a girl who was horrified at the idea of buying used clothes. Unsurprisingly, she had spent her entire life well off.

        When you can afford to be extraordinarily picky, some people will be and then some percentage of them will begin to believe that they are RIGHT and ONLY SANITARY and everyone else is gross.

  45. Argent*

    Like Kara, my parents were in food service management at large institutions. Unless I know someone is a stickler for kitchen cleanliness (frequent handwashing, proper food temperatures, etc.), I don’t eat their food, period.

    It’s bad enough getting sick from restaurant food that was, in theory, properly prepared and stored.

  46. CatCat*

    1. Meat/cheese platter. This doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.

    2. Eh. I am not that bothered by this if the food was refrigerated on being brought back to the office for the next day and people were told. “These were the leftovers from today’s off-site meeting lunch.” Let people make their own minds in whether they want to eat this.

    3. Okay, the raw chicken thing is super bizarro. That’s something to speak up about in the moment as if you’re noting a simple mistake someone unthinkingly made. “Oh, hey, the cleanser is in [location]. That will eradicate germs from raw meat.”

    4. I would have tossed the cream cheese on day 2. Just toss it. Say it smelled “off, like it had turned.”

    5. Sounds like not your problem. People can decide they want to eat risky food.

    For the potluck, just eat whatever you bring and skip the rest.

    1. CatCat*

      And also on #4, the only reason I would toss it is if there were people who did not know it had been out the day before. That’s a problem since they are not able to decide on the risk. But if it’s a small group and they all already know, meh.

    2. Midwesterner*

      “Keep Food out of the “Danger Zone”
      Bacteria grow rapidly between the temperatures of 40° F and 140° F. After food is safely cooked, hot food must be kept hot at 140° F or warmer to prevent bacterial growth. Within 2 hours of cooking food or after it is removed from an appliance keeping it warm, leftovers must be refrigerated. Throw away all perishable foods that have been left in room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is over 90° F, such as at an outdoor picnic during summer).

      Cold perishable food, such as chicken salad or a platter of deli meats, should be kept at 40° F or below. When serving food at a buffet, keep food hot in chafing dishes, slow cookers, or warming trays. Keep food cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice or use small serving trays and replace them often. Discard any cold leftovers that have been left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).”

      Source: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/leftovers-and-food-safety/ct_index/!ut/p/a1/jVFNb8IwDP01PaYxK0Nlt6rSBGy0Q2gj9IICdT-0klSNR7f9-qVwYIyxEZ9iv2e_Z_OEC54ouStzSaVWsur-yWAFMxj0hiFM4mHvHsbRyyx-CEPw57cWsPwDEHlX8i-8AP7jT64YcNNMw2nOk1pSwUqVaS5yJCaVabExXGRap8zIDOmDZXJDzBSIZAtdju2rhVRpVaqciwoz0jvLs_yUfaNysaFVqVJ85wuenMqCno1x5M37o0nkQdz_CfhlbwfA5cVY53ml1_sjLQO19nxrscEMG2zct8amC6La3DngQNu2bif1oNTN9c6BV8T6qN-BPjOEtWGkT12dNy-0IS7Oe_J6-yw-H4MRlE_bhW-CLyUy8xA!/#5

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        That’s nice, but the bottom line is that OP does not work in a restaurant and has no right to be the food police. Let the others make their own decisions on what they feel comfortable eating.

    3. Quill*

      Same. Cheese and meat tray is probably salamis / other smoked meats and medium to hard cheeses, they’re good to sit out most of the day.

      Day old sandwiches? If they were refrigerated or kept cool and any meat components look in reasonable repair, they’re fine. Less so if they’re “chicken salad” or something like that, but that’s mostly due to the mayo separation and general composition of chicken salad making it hard to judge whether stuff is still good.

      Cream cheese: soft cheeses go buh-bye if they’ve been sitting out 24 hours, especially if they’re “whipped spread” or have been uncovered.

      Raw chicken has me screaming through the night, just because there are so many questions. How did it get there? did they clean the counter before and after? Where were they storing a raw chicken?

  47. Spek*

    I worked in the grocery industry all through university. Different stores and different companies. Don’t think for a minute that meats and cheeses go directly from refrigerated truck to refrigerated storage to refrigerated display case. The reality is a little more….fluid.

  48. CommanderBanana*

    WTF is someone doing with raw chicken in the workplace??

    The cheese and meat, if it’s charcuterie, are likely fine. Cheese and charcuterie trays are meant to be served at room temp anyway. Cold cuts are a different matter.

    I would not take it upon my self to be the leftovers police at this job, and at the potluck, you can bring/eat your own thing, put stuff on a plate and push it around, or whatever. I work in an office with a lot of leftovers and I’ll chuck stuff that’s been sitting out if I catch it, but otherwise, unless someone is asking you to be the safe serve handler at this job, I would leave it alone.

    Your coworkers are responsible for their own food consumption. If they want to eat hot-car-leftovers, that’s on them and it really isn’t your job to police that. If they wanted guidelines on safe food handling they’d ask, and it’s clear they don’t.

    1. Quill*

      the cheese especially is probably fine most of the day depending on the moisture content. the harder the cheese, the less careful you have to be about storage…

  49. MissDisplaced*

    It’s gross, but I guess if it doesn’t bother them let it be. Just don’t eat anything they offer!

    I used to work in an office where they let the butter sit out for days on end and insisted it was fine to eat. Ick!

    1. it's me*

      In Europe evidently it is okay. Also, in many other countries it’s safe to keep eggs unrefrigerated, whereas in the US the eggs are usually washed of a coating that would otherwise make them okay to be kept out.

      1. CameTheDawn*

        I rarely eat eggs so I buy them from a local dairy and just keep them on a shelf. They’re safe to eat for at least a month.

      2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        A friend of mine used to leave the butter out for long periods when she lived in Wales, where the temperature rarely got above the mid-70s F (low 20s C). Then she moved to Montreal, where butter left on the counter in July may go bad before it’s used. Europe is a large place, but that “it’s okay” might be a matter of different summer temperatures rather than, or as well as, different butter.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I can answer the difference in egg handling. In Europe the treat only an individual chicken for salmonella. Seriously eggs are bar-coded in some countries. As opposed to the US where antibiotics are in chicken feed (or at least were for decades). European egg farmers also do not scrub the eggs the way the US does. A chicken egg has some sort of a protective membrane around it. If the membrane is there, it keeps bacteria out of the egg at room temperature. Temperature changes draw things through the membrane. If the membrane is not there, the eggs need to be refrigerated. So…unscrubbed eggs, cool cupboard. Scrubbed eggs, refrigerator.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I don’t care! For a few hours sure it’s fine, but days and days? Nope! I’m not touching it with a ten foot pole. And it got very hot in that office over the weekends. Let me tell you, that butter went rancid because it stank.

        But hey, whatever floats your boat.

    2. CameTheDawn*

      I keep butter I’m currently eating in a sealed container and the rest in the fridge. When what I’m using gets low, I take out another. Who wants to put cold, hard butter on their toast?

        1. Grapey*

          It’s great if you regularly use a stick per week or so. Otherwise, it could turn rancid (from fat oxidizing, not bacterial/fungal growth) which makes it look and smell gross, but even that isn’t inherently unhealthy if you accidentally eat some.

          If you are still worried about germs, salted butter is even less prone to room temp bacterial growth since verrrry few bacteria can withstand that salty environment.

        2. CameTheDawn*

          Just be sure to wash the container regularly! Otherwise, it’s so much easier. The container I use is a small food container that can be used in the microwave, so it’s fairly sturdy while also lightweight. I go through a stick of butter maybe every 9-12 days and have never had an issue.

  50. knitcrazybooknut*

    What bothers me most about these stories is that the department is PASSING ON FOOD TO OTHER PEOPLE without informing them of how long it’s been out. I mean, caveat emptor is one thing, but just saying, hey, here’s food! without saying, oh, and they’re leftovers from lunch that haven’t been refrigerated – That’s inflicting YOUR choices on OTHER people.

    The sandwiches were not just sitting out for four hours, they were sitting out for EIGHT hours. And then to disperse them to interns, staff, and other departments – to me, that’s terrifying.

    It seems like most of those commenting are not reading that part. This IS a hill I would keep climbing, OP. Everyone makes their own choices, but your coworkers are imposing their standards on others.

    If there’s a food distribution table, and you know when something was pulled out of the refrigerator, I would post a sign so people know what’s up. “Sandwiches – pulled out of the fridge at noon – Up for grabs” – or something similar. I hope this helps.

    1. Jamie*

      If there is a tray of left over sandwiches it’s always been obvious to me they weren’t bought fresh…they are leftovers and most adults can do the math and can ask about storage if they are concerned.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      The sandwiches were not just sitting out for four hours, they were sitting out for EIGHT hours. And then to disperse them to interns, staff, and other departments – to me, that’s terrifying.

      It is, which is why I rarely ate food from work when I worked out of an office. OP can say something to the interns and coworkers she sees picking old stuff up to eat when she sees it in the moment; otherwise, I’m not sure how she would let them know about this. Sending an email to all of these people basically saying, “Hey, my department regularly passes along food to you guys that’s been sitting out for days – just thought you should know,” is going to bring the kind of negative attention to OP that she states she doesn’t want.

    3. Aoao*

      No one is imposing anything on the other teams. They’re not forcing people to eat the food. If someone was really concerned, they could ask how old the food is or just say no thanks.

      1. Also Picky*

        What about going to HR to talk with them? For two reasons; one to let them know that you aren’t going to be eating much common food, and that it has no thing to do with the staff but your own choices and want them to know in case staff come to them with concerns about your lack of participation (could do the same with your boss), and two to let them know that with your training you have some concerns about the way casual food is handled in the office and wondered if they wanted to look into general policies for casual food – other than individual lunches – in the office. I expect you know where to find posters, etc, that could be put up in office kitchens to encourage safer practices. Individuals should make their own choices, for sure, but things like catered meals could be managed by the ordering dept with some guidelines. One place I worked the dept admin would pack up leftovers into the fridge at a particular time, even if the event was continuing. Food was still available, but someone was tracking time and ensuring things got refrigerated.

        It’s harder to walk the line of compliance when it’s not your formal role but your training is sending up flags. For food, I grew up on, “keep it hot, keep it cold, or don’t keep it” and “if it’s two hours out of the fridge/oven you can give it to the dog, if it’s four hours out even the dog isn’t allowed to eat it” – and yes, our school lunches were prepared accordingly.

        1. Jamie*

          one to let them know that you aren’t going to be eating much common food, and that it has no thing to do with the staff but your own choices and want them to know in case staff come to them with concerns about your lack of participation (could do the same with your boss)

          As someone who has always avoided potlucks and rarely eats food provided at work I strongly disagree with this approach.

          If people get upset about participation, needing to know you’re eating communal food to have a good working relationship with you that’s on them.

          And going to your boss or HR makes it a thing and I’ve found making it a non-issue is far more effective. No thanks and not engaging in the whys makes it just a weird quirk people accept and ignore.

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          This is not an HR issue and OP would look really out of sync with professional norms to go to them about this. All she needs to do is bring her own food to these potlucks on politely decline eating anything from her coworkers – that’s it. It doesn’t need to be A Thing.

    4. hbc*

      If someone comes by with Jimmy Johns at 6pm, you darn well know that it’s leftovers from a lunch meeting, and you should not be counting on the marketing department to have refrigerated everything for whatever period of time you deem sufficient. If you’re not cool with going by sight, smell, and feel to determine whether you’d eat it, you need to inquire and/or take a pass.

      Maybe the real risk at this place is that it’s from *yesterday’s* lunch meeting, but that should be relatively obvious.

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I have read every part of the OP’s letter. It’s called common sense. If someone brings over some bagels and cream cheeses at 3pm, I’d assume it’s been sitting out since that morning. And it’s up to ME, a grown ADULT, to decide if I want to take the risk and eat it. If someone like OP kept hounding me about the dangers of eating food that’s been sitting out all day, I’d tell her to leave me alone. It’s obnoxious and unnecessary.

    6. Gazebo Slayer*

      Thank you. I find the cavalier attitude toward other people’s safety being taken here by most commenters, including a lot of normally sensible commenters, to be appalling.

  51. Jamie*

    Like most here the only thing that really squicks me out is the chicken. Who brings raw chicken to work anyway?

    The rest of it I’d let people make their own choices. If it were truly a workplace safety issue for people to eat lunchmeat and cheese which had been at room temp for hours people would be dropping like flies in every school and business every day.

  52. Imakesigns*

    I don’t have much to add in terms of advice, but wanted to empathize with you OP as someone who comes from the food service industry as well. Knowing ServeSafe standards and seeing what goes on in my corporate office in a very different industry with food being left out, the way catered food is displayed, and the way break rooms are cleaned up makes my skin crawl at times. I personally stay away from any questionable items that have been left out our handled unsafely with a polite no thanks, as you are, and leave others in the office up to their own devices. I have occasionally piped up with “oh I have a background in food service so I am weird about…” when people question anything (which generally is a good conversation starter as my industry is vastly different than food service and keeps the focus off of me not eating). I feel this way at cookouts and parties too sometimes, and get very sketched out seeing people eating meats/cheeses that have been left out or roasting in the sun for hours. Knowing about safe food handling is a blessing and a curse!

    1. Gidget*

      I think this is a really smart move. It’s quick and self-explanatory to any reasonable person. And it may actually get one or two people to think twice about eating some questionable items, but without forcing it upon anyone else.

  53. Judy Johnsen*

    Best to refrigerate or put on a cold pack. I hate throwing out sandwiches. But I get food safety too. There is a way to do both.

  54. Another Alison*

    Honestly, some people are just not concerned about where food has been or how long it has been there. I’m one of those people. I eat stuff off the floor (if I saw how it got there I mean, I wouldn’t walk into a room where there was already something on the floor and eat it). I don’t care how long things have been out. I keep things passed their expiration date (I’ve convinced myself that these are mostly made up anyway). Generally, if it smells fine, I will eat it. I have never had a food-borne illness so I’ve never seen any consequences for my food handling. So it’s likely that I’ll continue to handle food the way I’ve been handling it.

    I don’t necessarily fault other people for not eating food off the floor, but I do sometimes feel resentful of perceived judgment from others (no one has ever actually said anything to me), so I think that’s the worst OP has to worry about. I think normal people will take you, for example, sanitizing the counter before you prepare your lunch, as a quirk and nothing more, if they notice it at all. Let people eat warm cheese and don’t feel bad about opting out!

    1. Just Me*

      Ooops, was trying to respond to Mike C here. What would you actually do to remedy the situation and not alienate all your coworkers? Which is really the crux of her question.

      1. Another Alison*

        What I’m saying is that there isn’t a situation, and that OP is making the assumption that she will be ostracized for her hang ups around this issue when I don’t think she will be, at least not in a typical office environment full of normal people. So my advice to is be okay with their choices as well as her own and proceed as usual.

  55. Blue Eagle*

    Our office doesn’t often have catered lunches, but when we do the leftover food is often left out and some people take it to their cube to take home after work. Without being refrigerated.

    And remember when we were kids and took our lunches that were made at 7am to school and left them in our lockers till lunch (we had the 3rd lunch period at 1pm) and noone was concerned that the meat and other stuff was left out during that time. We ate it all.

    The biggest problem is if you come from a family who is so germ phobic that your gut has no experience processing anything that hasn’t been totally refrigerated. Then you are more susceptible than people whose family leaves food out longer, or eats something that might be a bit spoiled, etc.

    But it sounds to me like you are overly food protective – kind of like my aunt who threw out eggs because they were past the expiration date. We have routinely eaten eggs that are over 3 months past the expiration date and they were fine. So – – feel free to not eat the food yourself, but stop being the food police and throwing out food that other people believe is fine to eat.

    1. Quill*

      Since my stint in microbiology I’ve corrected my mom on use by vs. sell by dates a lot. Her mother came from a generation where all meat had to be cooked to hades and back (before meat inspection, mostly!) and the food protectiveness got passed down.

      That said I try to be mindful about my food waste – if the eggs are two weeks old, hard boil them, if the tomato is wrinkly but not visibly bad, just unappetizing, cook it – that sort of thing.

      I’ve also met people who tried to use mayo left out behind their refrigerator for three weeks and people who will throw out any food that’s been outside the refrigerator for over an hour… even if it’s an unsliced apple.

      1. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

        Do these people just not eat fresh produce at all? Most of it is unrefrigerated in the store!

        1. Quill*

          A lot of people seem to think that Processed = safe, and homemade = unsafe

          Also I know a lot of people who don’t eat any sort of fruit or veg, cooked or not, unless it comes as a fruit roll up, jelly, or french fry. Not sure how they still have intestines, but ultimately not my concern. I’ll stick to being a part time vegetarian who will try anything that looks reasonably well prepared once.

  56. Hey y'all*

    Being vegetarian, you might have an advantage with the potluck. The most concerning food safety issues you mentioned have to do with meat and cheese, and while I know avoiding both is vegan, not vegetarian, you could say you’re testing out a vegan lifestyle? You can always come back later and say it ended up not working and you’ll stick with vegetarian. I’m all for scheduling a doctor’s appointment during the potluck and not even bothering with the office politics though. That’s probably what I would do.

    I wish I had advice for the rest because, oh lawd, raw chicken on the counter?? Cheese sitting out for three days?? I’d address these issues with the offending coworkers when you can, but I can understand hesitating to sound like a stick in the mud. All in all, I will be much more careful eating free food at my office going forward…

  57. Emilia Bedelia*

    As a vegetarian, I’ve encountered a lot of fellow veggies who are… overcautious about meat. Things like refusing to touch surfaces that had touched cooked meat, for bacterial reasons (not an aversion to meat itself), saying “you’re going to eat that??” at cooked meat that had been safely refrigerated for a day or two. I’ve also seen a lot of activist/pushy vegetarians commenting about how unsafe meat is in general.
    OP may not be in this group, considering they are educated in food safety, but it’s worth keeping in mind to ensure that you’re mentally separating aversion to meat from actual food safety concerns.

    On the flip side, I’ve also been in situations where I have commented on things like undercooked chicken, 8-hours at room temp cold cuts, questionably old sushi in the fridge, etc, and people have said things like “What do you know about meat, you don’t eat it?” and disregarded me (I ate meat until I was 22, thanks, I do know some things…).

    So, in regards to meat in particular, I’d keep that in mind for any fellow vegetarians – rightfully or not, people may not listen to you, and they may see it as vegetarian-proselytizing for you to comment on what they see as perfectly safe food practices.

  58. Ask a Manager* Post author

    There are a ton of opinions above about how serious an issue this is or isn’t. How about advice for the letter writer about how to handle potlucks (without being thought rigid and chilly) and how to handle unsuspecting people from other depts being offered food that they don’t know the history of?

    1. animaniactoo*

      Interestingly, I suspect that people in other departments would not be that surprised about the history of the food. From what the LW says, this is fairly common practice, and I doubt it is restricted to her dept. Therefore – I would be working under the assumption that they’re aware of the probability that the food is not new, etc.

      I would draw the pushback line at offering guests the food, as nobody is going to admit to a guest that this is yesterday’s food, and it would be an issue if a guest had a problem after partaking in the leftover spread. This is where I would encourage LW to focus her attention on how food is handled, in addition to making a push for better planning ahead of time for how food is handled *in order to preserve it for longer and therefore not waste it*, which I wrote about in a comment below. She needs to buy in to their need not to waste the food in order to try to get them to buy into her need for the food to remain safe.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        That is a great idea to get them on board with the food safety issues by framing it as “hey…I have X certification and if you want the food to last longer so it won’t go to waste we should Y”

    2. Octopus*

      I don’t think other departments being offered food they don’t know the history of is really an issue here. Most people are going to assume leftovers from another department’s event have been sitting out for awhile before being offered to them. If it looks suspicious (sweating meat and cheese) and that’s an issue for them, they’ll say no thanks. If they’re cautious about how food is handled, they’ll say no thanks or maybe ask questions before accepting. The LW really doesn’t need to worry about this.

      If other people were being offered food that had touched raw chicken or food that someone’s dog had gotten into (trying to come up with examples), then it would make sense to speak up.

    3. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

      I would assume people know free food is potentially dodgy and get to take that risk if they like, honestly.

    4. Thankful for AAM*

      I think the advice so far is:
      1. If OP is worried about alienating coworkers, stop commenting on food safety, that is morr an issue than avoiding the food.
      2. Re the potlucks and avoiding the food in general, eat only the food OP brings, play the vegetarian card if needed, or distract: say “I had a big breakfast, what is your fav food here?”
      3. Push on the raw chicken again but assume all counters are contaminated (and let us know what the heck the raw chicken was doing there anyway!).
      4. Throw away some food without asking (next day sandwiches and cream cheese) but know that most people don’t seem to share OP’s concern with food left out of the fridge and most assume that food offered late in the day is not freshly bought. I think this goes for all food offered by another department; most of the time it is clear that it was from yesterday.

      1. Anancy*

        This is a great summation. The only thing I’d add is to have a plate at the potluck, add vegetarian/vegan food, add and nibble on any store bought or you brought food, and later dump the rest.

      2. Jamie*

        (and let us know what the heck the raw chicken was doing there anyway!).

        The OP replied and said they were cooking it with vegetables in a George Foreman grill. Just chiming in because I was super curious too, ngl raw chicken being cooked at work would annoy me to no end.

    5. Potlucks*

      My department does a holiday potluck every year, and I dodge it by tacking an extra day onto my vacation. I noped out of them after finding out that hunters were making food with meat choices I would not have expected (if you recall the accidental hijack in the comments last year about squirrel chili, that was me).

      If LW’s potlucks are more frequent and not tied to an event they can regularly excuse themselves from, I’d fall back on the vegetarianism (maybe even claiming veganism to make eating requirements more stringent) and/or other dietary needs. Just be matter-of-fact, LW, maybe even a bit self-deprecating about how ‘fussy’ you are and try to hide your disdain.

      1. Quill*

        Squirrel chilli?

        I mean. Once you get the meat off a squirrel I assume you don’t get squirrel flank, so it’s probably pretty ground up, but…

        Disclose your ingredients, people!

        1. Potlucks*

          The real reason I was so worked up is because they were using venison without having their kill tested for CWD, but the surprise squirrel did not help their case.

    6. You have not died of dysentery*

      At the end of each event, get a sharpie and mark the date/time the food was delivered/opened.

      If the sandwhiches were delivered today, mark the paper wrapper as: 10/17 11 AM.

      The tops of trays and condiment containers can be similarly marked. If you’re worried about the tops being removed, put them on a plate and write it on the plate. Make a small sign, write it on the delivery box, however you need to so that it is visible, and clearly marked.

        1. You have not died of dysentery*

          If the OP can’t do this themselves each time, it’s reasonable to request the person doing the ordering/pickup/clean up to spend a moment to make the notation. It takes very little time, but could potentially save the company an number man-hours lost to stomach issues.

          Plus- no office manager wants to be in charge of cleaning up “I almost made it to the bathroom” barf.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        This is a great idea. Most people that I know who would eat hours-old sandwiches and stuff are perfectly well aware that they’re doing something potentially dangerous; I would eat off a four hour old meat and cheese platter, just like I eat raw cookie dough. Is it because I’m an ignoramus? No. It’s because I’m taking a calculated risk. Food pathogens are real, but so are car accidents, and some risks I’d take. And of course, some I wouldn’t: I wouldn’t eat that cream cheese, in the same way I wouldn’t drive 90mph on an icy road.

        And obviously people have very, very different thresholds of risk for this, and trying to educate them can come off presumptuous and know-it-all, especially if they already know that X isn’t fully safe and have decided to take that risk. I know the LW is coming from a point of real concern, but that is how it can come across.

        For potluck, keep on keepin’ on with the not-eating-it. If there’s something that you do feel safe eating (prepackaged foods with a relatively long safe period, like chips or crackers; whole fruit that you can give a discreet swipe to if you’re worried about surface germs, etc.), putting some of that on a plate can forestall a lot of issues, because you stand out less without an empty plate. If that’s not possible, or if you get offered stuff anyway, your “I had big lunch” is a good deflection, or even just, “Oh, I’m not very hungry.” “I have some weird dietary stuff going on, but it looks great to me!” too, and if you get pressed for what, IME the best is a self-deprecating eyeroll and “It’s really boring. Anyway how ’bout that local sports team?” Most notably, you will get less pushback if you keep it light. If they cotton to the fact that You Feel Very Seriously About This, it’s going to increase the nosiness and pressure, not decrease it.

        I don’t think there’s a way to say anything who are bringing in their own personal food for their own consumption, and I don’t think you can stop them offering leftovers to people in the moment–it’s very hard to do that without looking overdramatic or like you’re scolding, and not only is that going to potentially do some damage to your work relationships, it also tends to backfire. But if those goods go in the refrigerator, you can probably get away with sticking a date on them, and if asked, breezily say “Oh, it’s just for if we need to know when the refrigerator gets cleaned,” or something.

        In other words, I think you can protect yourself by not eating this, and you can protect the unsuspecting by putting dates on things, but you can’t and probably shouldn’t try to stop other people from taking risks with their food or making mistakes about it, unless they ask your opinion. That’s the line I wouldn’t cross.

        (I mean, I think cars are pretty dangerous and am what many people would consider overly cautious about them… but I’d look like a nutter going around my office quizing them on their vehicle safety standards and maintenance, defensive driving tactics, local road laws, etc. It’s not that I’m wrong. It’s just that it’s sufficiently an overstep to look super weird, especially for things that are dangerous but considered a perfectly reasonable risk by many many people.)

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Whoops I wrote a novel. So I guess this is the afterword.

          The last thing I’d say is that the thing that is most likely to seem standoffish or like you’re not a good fit is not what you do or don’t eat, or even if you’re that person with the ServSafe certification who labels everything in the fridge, which many people who aren’t jerks will find harmless or even charmingly quirky. What’s most likely to cause damage is making it clear in any way that you are appalled or disgusted by them. Disgust is very toxic to relationships, and even more difficult to come back from. So do make sure you aren’t expressing that–even subtly. (Which is hard because we as humans are bad at self-assessing, but it’s worth the effort if you do want to maintain cordial relationships offering you gross food.)

    7. President Porpoise*

      If she really wants to make a dent, make it easy to be safe. Work with the employer to provide areas to keep things hot and cold, offer bleach wipes, and even volunteer to coordinate the potluck. People love it when others make their lives easier, and it’s easier to steer behavior if you have some control.

      As for educating her coworkers, perhaps recommend that any all company or all department meetings (like annual or quarterly all-hands if you have them) have a five or ten minute safety/security in the workplace module at the beginning, which she can commandeer once to discuss proper food handling. Other sessions can be used to discuss ergonomics, surroundings awareness, fire safety, ladder safety, etc.. Then it’s not just her being preachy, and people might be inclined to listen.

      1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        I remember once learning that someone did a study about CPR training … which was more effective – a class in it, or a poster in the bathroom stalls. Turned out that the poster in the bathroom was just as effective at getting knowledge into people’s brains as the class.

        My bathroom gets occasional posters. I end up reading them while I’m drying my hands. (I am very knowledgeable about bedbug management, for example.)
        Perhaps a nice infographic about food safety near the sink would be handy to remind folks about the basics. It’s not a passive-aggressive note about specific sandwiches, but just a bit of info for everyone. Slide one up on the wall some day when no one’s around and they don’t even have to know it was you.

    8. hbc*

      It sounds like OP *wants* to be personally rigid about the potlucks, so she should just avoid being chilly. The best option is to cheerfully embrace being the person who’s weird about food (at least compared to the coworkers.) “Oh, none for me, thanks! I’ve got some food oddness–I pretty much eat only stuff that comes from my place or a commercial kitchen.” “Ha, yeah, I’m That Person about food. We all get one quirk like that, right?” “I’m pretty strict about food prep given what I saw in a previous job. You might be too if you saw what I saw!”

      As for people being offered food that they don’t know the history of…they know they don’t know the history. Unless they’re actively being lied to, OP would be better to let it go. At most, a passing “Is that the cream cheese that’s been out since Monday?”

    9. AngryOwl*

      For the potluck, she should just saw she’s not hungry. Or only eat what she brings. Some people might be jerks about that, but there’s really no way around it unless she does just skip the workday. I’m sure other people won’t eat too due to diets, allergies, etc.

      For the other depts, I don’t think it’s really her place to worry about it. It’s up to other people to either trust or not trust when someone offers them food.

    10. Half-Caf Latte*

      Am nurse. Once needed a vessel for ice for a work potluck, grabbed a (clean! never used! disposable!) bedpan. Reactions were varied. Have also been known to drink the patient apple juice out of (again- clean! unused! in this case, actually sterile!) urine specimen containers as an April fools prank.

      Anyway- potluck strategies: I know many have been successful with the “safe but boring” contributions: packaged cookies, chips and salsa, beverages, paper goods (no one ever thinks to get enough plates and napkins). Personal opinion on this is that it’s acceptable but sort of passive participation. If you’re worried about being judged for (not) participating, I’d suggest being a more active/enthusiastic participant- bring something to share from your cultural background/childhood, and play that up: this a a cake/pastry I loved as a kid; recipe is from great-grandmom’s country (note i said just the recipe is from there – irrrelevant whether you’ve ever eaten it before), pick up something shelf stable from the ethnic market. It shows that you’re invested in the sharing/potluck bit.

      I also think it’s fine to have been so starving earlier that you ate a granola bar and banana an hour ago and are just nibbling, thanks! Or, have big dinner plans at the new tapas place and are saving up space for tonight.

      Re: Unsuspecting Sandwich recipients. I get it, it’s gross, but I think the strategy here is still do nothing.
      >>>If you knew Guacamole Bob from Accounting didn’t wash his hands after going to the bathroom (to save water/soap/paper towels, obviously), you could bring it up with him once or twice, and avoid shaking hands with him yourself, but I don’t think there’s a way to say to clients/visitors/colleagues- “hey Bob doesn’t wash his hands in the bathroom!” People who have a personal line about hand-shaking will decline to shake all hands, and I think the same is true with sandwiches.

  59. animaniactoo*

    LW, I would try once more from a different direction: If you can find a SHORT article that describes in layman’s terms the issues that people may experience from eating unsafe food, meaning general physical symptoms that they may not have previously really been associating with what they’re eating and how, then I would pass that to the person you are closest to in the office to start with. Maybe 2-3 people you’re fairly close to. If that gets any traction, let them pass it around and bring up the idea of figuring out how to handle food a little differently in the office. Maybe making sure that catered food is delivered closer to the meeting time. Or that a fridge or other appropriate storage is available on-site when things need to be held on to for awhile.

    But from the other side: Part of what you’re missing is that it sounds like you’re in an environment where food insecurity has been a real thing for them or people around them, and a mild stomachache/diarrhea/nausea is a comparatively small price to pay for being able to have any food at all. They have been surviving it for a very long time and don’t see it as a problem, so they have internalized the “don’t waste food” to the point of an extreme where they don’t understand that they are not wasting food if they throw it away, they are throwing away probable [X, Y, Z]. And it’s fine to be a little lax about food safety BECAUSE they have all been surviving it for a very long time, no harm, no foul. The idea that there are steps they can and should take to better preserve the food ahead of time is the goal that you need to shoot for here if you’re going to start to be able to move them anywhere in your direction. Because those are small steps that can be taken with pre-planning, which are ALSO about not wasting food – keeping it safer and available for longer.

    As far as the potluck goes… eh. You are ALWAYS taking your life in your hands at any particular potluck. You just don’t know it. If you’re squicked out to this level, then attend the potluck but stick to food that you know can survive for longer periods of time. Or be mildly sick that day and have a drink but not feeling very hungry. Maybe a slice of dessert.

    1. it's me*

      I think it might be a stretch to conclude that the OP’s coworkers are on the verge of starvation. People like free food. I work in tech in an expensive part of town and we’re all over the after-lunch-meeting leftovers.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Not that they are NOW on the verge of starvation – but that at some point in their lives, they either were in the category of “eat this or don’t eat”, or knew people who were, and they learned a different standard of “acceptable” for food safety. That’s why the statement about experiencing food insecurity was in the past tense.

        1. remizidae*

          There are LOTS of people on this thread who don’t follow OP’s super-restrictive food rules, and I find it hard to believe they all experienced food insecurity in the past. I know I didn’t. It would be incredibly condescending to try to lecture them about symptoms that they probably don’t even have. Let adults manage their own diets.

          1. CMart*

            Yeah, I just like free food dude. Means I can leave my lunch in the fridge and don’t have to worry about it tomorrow.

      2. Colette*

        Yeah, I spent a lot of my career in high tech and people would make a beeline to free food, even if they have no idea where it came from.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Please no. If someone came at me with an article on food safety, I’d roll my eyes and walk away. And assuming OP is in an environment with food insecurity is a pretty big stretch.

  60. Amber Rose*

    OP, one strategy that I’ve been given is to gather statistics on sick days: how often people call out and how many.

    Brass wants to know what’s in it for them. Point out that lax food safety rules are costing them money, and they may step up. That said, it’s possible this isn’t causing the health crisis you think it is, so if there aren’t that many people calling out sick, then there’s not much left to do.

    Source: my hazards instructor told a story about a company that was plagued with people calling out sick all the time, and it turned out the cleaning lady was re-using disposable gloves. So she’d clean the bathroom, tuck the gloves into her pocket, go into the kitchen, put those same gloves on and put away the leftover donuts or whatever, etc. Once they sent her in for cross-contamination training their cost of gloves went up, but sick days dropped to almost none.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Source: my hazards instructor told a story about a company that was plagued with people calling out sick all the time, and it turned out the cleaning lady was re-using disposable gloves. So she’d clean the bathroom, tuck the gloves into her pocket, go into the kitchen, put those same gloves on and put away the leftover donuts or whatever, etc. Once they sent her in for cross-contamination training their cost of gloves went up, but sick days dropped to almost none.

      EWWWWW! What the hell possessed her to do this?! Like, who thinks it’s appropriate to wash nasty, dirty toilets with all kinds of bacteria from fecal matter and urine and then go into the kitchen with those same gloves and start “cleaning” things?! Your company is a good one because I would have fired her on the spot for that, lol. So gross.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I’ve worked places where we got chewed out for “wasting” gloves by changing them, even when it was badly needed. Toilets-to-food is beyond horrible, though. At least my stingy bosses were just being stingy about food-to-food.

        1. Quill*

          A friend once worked in what I can only describe as “sandwich hell,” a fast food franchise where her manager solved the “problem” of “going through too many gloves” by simply not ordering more…

          The place got health inspected like three times the month after my friend left.