your lunch might be stolen from your office fridge today

Office lunch thefts plague offices everywhere, and  no one has found a good solution yet.

One survey found that 18% of workers admitted to eating someone else’s lunch from the office fridge – that’s nearly one in five of the people sitting in your next meeting who might be plotting to waylay your Lean Cuisine.

Lunch thieves are among us. At Slate today, I wrote about this terrible scourge, including many firsthand accounts from victims (including one man who was reduced to running through the halls, shouting “Who stole my meat?”). You can read it here.

{ 583 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Alison – I am disappointed that Spicy Food Thief wasn’t mentioned in that article!

    At my old toxic job, they actually did have signs on all the fridges saying that if you took something that didn’t belong to you, you could potentially be terminated. It was one of the few things they did right.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, that’s the one that made me gasp out loud and a coworker asked me what was up. When I told her, her lower jaw hit the floor.

        1. Iconic Bloomingdale*

          Ditto – the spicy food letter and the one about the boss who demanded all employees be tested as potential liver donors for his brother both floored me. Luckily, the follow up to the spicy food letter had a happy outcome. I was still incensed that the LW had been terminated in the first place though.

          Years ago when my dad was still working, he kept boxes of tea in his desk drawer. He noticed that his tea supply was dwindling more quickly than it should have and he knew a colleague must have been raiding tea bags from the drawer. One day, he purchased some herbal Chinese laxative tea. He replaced the tea bags in the box with the laxative tea and waited.

          Sure enough one day, the boss’ secretary (this was back in the early 90’s when administrative assistants were still known as secretaries) made a mad dash for the restroom. All day long, she was back and forth to the bathroom with a griping stomach and the urgent need to GO! The secretary was a middle aged woman from Great Britain, who presumably had a love for tea. However after that day, my dad never had the problem with tea theft from his desk drawer again.

      1. Stormfeather*

        I was also sad it wasn’t there, although I could see why – it has some karma for the food thief, but a lot of stuff along the way that would probably be too long for a short article. :/

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I tried to work it in but couldn’t manage to have it illustrate a somewhat universal point because it’s so ridiculous! Had it just been the spicy food making the thief sick, I could have used it as a “see what can happen if you steal” anecdote, but then it took so many wild turns that it really can only be its own thing.

      1. Yvette*

        “…its own thing” ??? It should be a Life Time Movie! Still one of my all time favorite AAM*. It had everything, drama, suspense, an amazing level of ridiculousness, vindication and reward for the victim and punishment for the perpetrators.

        *Others being bird phobia and profanity cast. But this one had the most satisfying outcome.

    2. OtterB*

      I have on occasion had to ask the office via email, so, is that Lean Cuisine in the freezer mine or somebody else’s? I think I brought it one day a couple of weeks ago and then went out unexpectedly, but I’m not 100% sure. I once inadventently ate one that wasn’t mine, but I then replaced it with profuse apologies. (I guess I could put my name on things, but our office is small enough that that isn’t really a thing we do except for condiments or your own coffee creamer you’re leaving in the fridge.)

      But pretty sure I would not inadvertently take the meat out of someone else’s sandwich. That’s just nuts.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        lol… this is why our office freezers are full of LC orphans. Everyone’s too polite to eat one they aren’t 100% sure is theirs.

        1. Yvette*

          Someone up-thread suggested putting their name or initials in an inconspicuous spot just so they can be sure it is theirs.

          1. JM in England*

            At my current job, everything that goes in the fridge must be labelled with your name and an expiry date. Every Friday the cleaners check the fridge and anything past its date is disposed of….no exceptions!

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          OMG… with this comment I just remembered that I WAS AN OFFICE FOOD THIEF! I saw a Lean Cuisine that I thought was orphaned– it was way in the back of the freezer-which-needed-defrosting, making it look super old and derelict. But it turned out it belonged to one of the delivery guys!!! I felt so badly for him that I bought him a Marie Callender’s in return. And now I wonder if he even liked the Marie Callender’s version of the meal… Oh the retroactive shame!!! I feel like at the time I was too embarrassed to show proper remorse, which just makes it worse.

        3. Tin Cormorant*

          Our office had to institute a policy of cleaning out the office fridge every Friday. We’d end up with so many forgotten containers in there that there wouldn’t be room for new stuff. There would be big neon signs up in the kitchen saying that if you didn’t claim your containers before Friday afternoon, they were going in the trash.

        4. peachie*

          Aw, that’s kind of adorable. I do not understand the mentality of lunch thieves!

          My last job had a pretty darn well-run office — one thing I especially appreciated was that they had a binder in the kitchen with a few pages of name labels for every employees to put on anything that went in the fridge. (This office also had the only “everyone cleans the kitchen” system that I’ve ever seen work.)

      2. Magenta Sky*

        My boss and I buy the same brand of TV dinners, and occasionally bring the same one on the same day.

        We have had polite discussions over which identical TV dinner belonged to whom. (But don’t get me started on who gets to use the microwave first.)

        A food thief is only the problem the first time. After that, the real problem is the person who should have fired him (or her) and didn’t.

      3. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I’ve accidentally eaten someone else’s yogurt – I just grabbed one out of my fridge without paying much attention to what flavor it was, then stuck it in the fridge at work. At lunchtime I grabbed the yogurt that was the same brand I always buy, on the same shelf I always put mine, and ate it. About 30 minutes later I heard someone kicking up a huge fuss about “who ate my raspberry yogurt?!?!” – and sure enough, there was a strawberry yogurt there that had been shoved to the back of the fridge that was probably mine, and I had eaten their raspberry yogurt on accident. I apologized, but that coworker was always a bit cool to me after that.

        At more than one job we’ve tried leaving a sharpie on/near/attached to the fridge for food labeling – but that seems to disappear even more often than lunches!

        1. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

          Yikes, I get that one might be a bit miffed when you were expecting a raspberry yoghurt and not a strawberry one (double so if you were perhaps allergic to strawberries). However, you didn’t do it on purpose, this was clearly accidental. It is ridiculous that your co-worker treated you more coolly afterwards.

          1. SS Express*

            Yeah I love raspberry yoghurt and hate strawberry so this would be a really annoying turn of events to me, but I wouldn’t hold a grudge when it’s clearly a very easy mistake to make. This coworker is ridiculous.

        2. TardyTardis*

          Our sharpie was attached to the fridge with a pretty good string, especially when we had people sign up for potlucks.

      4. Lana Kane*

        I’m in a small office but I still put my initials on everrryyyyything I put in the fridge, just for this reason – I can’t trust my own memory!

        1. JustaTech*

          The nice thing about working in a lab is we have a ton of sharpies and everyone reflexively puts the date and their initials on everything.

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        I started writing my initials on everything I put in the office fridge not because I was worried someone else would eat my food, but because I was worried I would become unsure if something was mine and be too afraid to eat it haha. This was primarily due to a particular Lean Cuisine that sat in the work freezer for like 4 months before I finally ate it.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          (Just want to note here that the fridge at work was cleaned out regularly but there was never very much in the freezer so things were usually left there a while. It wasn’t gross or anything!)

    3. Artemesia*

      I never really believed it happened — maybe Alison was nervous that it might have been bogus too — it really was over the top and this is such a common problem that choosing more believable examples was probably wise.

    4. Venus*

      It was one of the first AAM I ever read, I think during the updates a couple years ago during the holidays? Needless to say, I was hooked!

    5. Lea*

      I find all of this so baffling as I have never had a coworker take food without asking.

      Well, I did have some cheeze its stolen by someone visiting a coworker once which I thought was rude as hell.

    6. AFRS*

      Came here to say that very thing re: the spicy food! Otherwise, it was a great article! I still can’t get over the manager stealing the food and then, when called out, doubled down and said it was great. That is a special level of awful.

  2. Nanobots*

    What is wrong with people? Beyond how incredibly rude this is, I’m way too nervous about how and where food is prepared or stored to take a chance like that. Who knows how well that Lean Cuisine has remained frozen or whether someone is much more cavalier with mayonnaise expiration dates than you’re comfortable with.

    1. Jamie*

      All of this! I worked with someone who bragged about how he would eat leftovers over a week old and never saw an expiration date he wouldn’t blow past.

      Come to think of it, maybe that was his way of making sure no one stole his lunch?

      Seriously though, 18% is mindboggling to me. I’ve never had anything stolen, nor has anyone in any place I’ve worked, to my knowledge.

      1. ellex42*

        I worked with an “I’ll eat anything no matter how old/sketchy it is.” When I cleaned out the office kitchen (including refrigerator), he was right there trying to take cans of soup with expiration dates several years old and a jar of pickles with cloudy liquid. I put my foot down on that – I told him if he took anything I didn’t approve, I’d get our boss to draw up a disclaimer absolving the business and everyone in it from any responsibility if he got sick and we’d all go down the road to the notary to make it official, and he could pay the notary fee! He let it go…

        But I still made sure to tie up the trash bag and put it in the dumpster as soon as I was done!

      2. Goya de la Mancha*

        Was he related to the guy who ate 5 day old pasta that hadn’t been refrigerated…and then died?

        1. Jamie*

          Mine is still alive and well – and come to think of it I don’t recall him ever being sick in the almost 9 years I worked with him. Immune system of steel.

          1. Mid*

            I’ll be honest, I definitely eat some sketchy things, and I never get sick. I think I’ve just built up immunity after years of being too poor to throw any food out.

          2. Elenna*

            Yeah, I’ve definitely eaten moderately sketchy things (although 5 day old unrefrigerated pasta is way past my tolerance level) and honestly my hand-washing hygiene isn’t great… and I’ve basically never gotten sick in the last few years, except for the occasional sore throat. (Well, I had one day of fever once, but I think that was just my body telling me to sleep more.) I guess I’ve just trained my immune system?

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              OMFG he left cooked pasta out at room temp for a week.

              I’m all for sketchy life choices but if the pizza is left out overnight, it’s trashed. Bacteria is no joke. I’ve never known anyone who didn’t properly refrigerate things but then I read the article and they say a family did this with pasta-salad and that’s awful.

              1. Dahlia*

                Two hours is my limit, as I go by food safety guidelines, and that’s considered too long in the “danger zone”.

              2. Jaydee*

                My acceptable timeframe for eating unrefrigerated food has expanded over the years, but 5 hours is still outside it. I can’t imagine 5 DAYS!

      3. Stormfeather*

        Maybe the 18% are all clustered together in a few offices – one person steals a lunch, so that person has to steal one in order to eat, and on down the line ….

        1. Quill*

          Musical lunchboxes.

          I wonder if the reason I’ve never had any sort of food theft has to do with the fact that I prefer to eat “weird” foods? I’ve never brought an american cheese and baloney sandwich on white bread, and a bag of chips: today’s lunch is clementines, a sprouts and swiss sandwich, and yogurt.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            Not gonna lie, I think the adult who would willingly eat American cheese and baloney on wonder bread is probably “weirder” than your sprouts and Swiss. (But I say that eating a ham and cheddar Lunchable for my own lunch, so, you know, salt lick.)

            1. Quill*

              Alfalfa. I splurged this week on alfalfa and the good yogurts because I already know I’m eating pasta and veetballs for dinner every day of the week. :)

            1. Elspeth*

              My son’s wife is from the Philippines and he ate balut as a dare when he visited earlier this year. He said it tasted like a “chewy boiled egg” and wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. I told him I’d take his word for it.

          2. ellex42*

            Pretty sure no one else wants my peanut-butter-and-margarine-on-wheat-bread sandwich. The little baggie of blackberries probably tempted quite a few people, though!

            1. ellex42*

              I’ve met a few other people who like pb-&-margarine or pb-&-butter, but not many! And most of those would put banana slices on it as well (yuck).

              1. Dahlia*

                Poverty snack from when I was a kid: Saltine cracker, margarine, peanut butter, and strawberry jam sandwich.

              2. Jennifer Thneed*

                PB and butter is a wonderful flavor combo! Do you do it on toast or bread? Have you tried broiling the pb on the bread?

            2. Friendly Comp Manager*

              I actually think that sounds delicious! I have been known to dip a cracker in butter and THEN peanut butter. Something about the two forms of fat that are different textures and levels of salt, really appeals to me! :)

        2. Elizabeth*

          Alison didn’t say that 18% were repeat offenders, only that they admitted to having done it – which translates as “at least once”. I bet most of them aren’t repeat offenders.

      4. Clisby*

        Me either, although it wouldn’t surprise me if somebody had snitched a little of someone’s half-and-half , or mustard, or something. But a whole meal? Or half the filling of a sandwich? (And I’m not talking about the Lean Cuisine example above.)

      5. Audiophile*

        I live with this person right now, who doesn’t believe in expiration dates.

        “Oh, you cooked that meat over a week ago. I hate to waste food, I’ll eat it, so don’t toss it.”

        Ok, dude, enjoy your food poisoning.

        I’ve had mild food poisoning enough times that I just don’t take chances anymore.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, lots of us don’t think that much into food or it’s preparations. I still wouldn’t steal someone’s food ever but I’ve eaten some questionable things over the years so I’m not worried about what Nancy’s kitchen looks like.

      Granted I actively go into places with “Okay” and “good” ratings from the health inspectors. Duncur, gimme my sketchy tacos.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Two of my favorite restaurants here are total dives. I’ve never once gotten sick. But I DID get sick twice from KFC!!

        1. rayray*

          I wonder if those dives are maybe family “mom and pop” type places where they actually have some pride in their restaurant, even if it is kinda divey so they work hard at it. The KFC on the other hand, probably full of teenage employees who are just wanting to make it look acceptable so they can clock out and go home.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Most fast food staff are not teenagers. But they are low paid, barely trained individuals that are just trying to get things done and people out of their hair given their turnaround time requirements!

            But yeah, most kitchens in bars/restaurants are staffed with properly trained cooks who care about their product in some way. Or at least know the real consequences if the place gets shut down for temperature violations.

          2. blink14*

            Second this – there’s an old diner at a long time family vacation spot, servicing a very remote area, and it has not been thoroughly cleaned or redecorated since at least the mid-80s, one if its many “quirks”. Its owned by a local family who moved into the area years ago and opened the diner, which is one of a handful of full serve, year round places in the are. I eat there a few times a year with family, and none of us have ever gotten sick or had any stomach trouble after eating there. The produce is always fresh, everything is cooked to order (even its frozen, like chicken tenders), and the owners are so nice. They will also cook food from their own ethic background (one of the family immigrated to the US years ago), if you call in advance. All around a great place.

          3. Nanani*

            More likely to be underpaid and overworked adults with no sick leave so they have to come in even when they’re spreading germs into the food.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Undercooked chicken is deadly. I have Gordan Ramsey screaming in my head “GREEN CHICKEN KILLS PEOPLE” right now.

          The last time someone I knew got food poisoning it was bad teriyaki chicken.

          1. blink14*

            Yup – both times I’ve had food poisoning was from under cooked chicken, one incident at a national chain restaurant. Not a fun time.

          2. Artemesia*

            The only time I got food poisoning was from a chicken sandwich at a well known chain currently in boycott news. My husband got food poisoned from a ‘salad compossee’ in Paris — one of those classic lunch salads with tuna and egg etc. Neither of us have ordered a fancy french lunch salad since.

          3. Snack Management*

            Yes! The worst food poisoning I ever experienced with long term effects was from chicken; following the incident, I got mildly sick every time I ate chicken until I gave up for 7 years.

        3. AnonEMoose*

          I haven’t eaten at KFC in years, now – not after I got terribly sick after eating from their buffet. My husband ate most of the same stuff, except the coleslaw, so that’s what I suspect. I just haven’t been able to face it since.

          1. Mr. Shark*

            KFC chicken should be cooked. The original is on a timer in a cooker, so really can’t come out undercooked. Crispy is a little more dicey since it can be pulled out early, but it still is on a timer so it’s pretty unlikely.

            I’m not sure what DJ’s problem would be with the potato wedge, though (ick).

            1. AnonEMoose*

              In my case, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the chicken – my DH finished my chicken, and he didn’t get sick. The only thing I ate that he didn’t was the coleslaw. I figure it must have sat too long at too high a temperature or something.

            2. pony tailed wonder*

              I went to my local KFC over a year ago and a patron came in from outside before me with food and said it was not what they ordered. The employee took that food from them and PUT IT BACK IN THE NEW FOOD AREA TO BE RESOLD TO ANOTHER CUSTOMER and then gave the complaining customer their correct order. I actually yelled at the employee and then called their manager on them. Who knows if the original customer touched that food or not?

        4. DJ*

          I will never eat at another KFC if I can help it after one time I bit into a potato wedge from KFC and immediately the taste of manure filled my mouth (and I’ve never tasted manure, but the smell is enough for me to know it was the same thing). Not sure if maybe the potato was rotten or what.

      2. many bells down*

        There’s a swanky-looking ramen place here that’s NEVER been above “good” and is usually “okay” or “needs to improve”. It’s also packed every time I go by, with people waiting outside. I guess people just gotta have their tonkatsu.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I think plenty of people live by the idea of “If it was THAT BAD they’d close them down, right??”

          I read the health inspector report that was released after a nasty bar was shut down years ago…I only like dive bars, unless I want to order ridiculous drinks [I thought Hurricane season was oveeeeeeer.], but that place wasn’t a dark cave of good times, it was just a filthy hole. Ick! Yeah, the report was horrifying, even to my normally steel stomach.

          1. Tin Cormorant*

            I have been to a buffet that had water dripping from the ceiling onto the floor near our table, and after I ate some of the food, I saw a roach crawling on the floor not far away. Absolutely shocked I did not get food poisoning. Reported it to the authorities afterwards, but as far as I know the place is still running.

            It was recommended to me and my husband by his relatives, and now I’m highly suspicious of their food standards.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              My danger zone life style stops at ” buffets”, I don’t do anything with a sneeze guard. That’s how you get norovirus!

              My “gross, stop” meter starts screaming when I see flies inside. I’ve never in my life ever encountered a cockroach and I’m going to continue to count my blessings.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously, who are these sociopaths? And how are they so brazen and common??

    4. LawLady*

      Agreed! I often bring leftovers. Like, I’ll have had takeout fried rice the night before and I’ll have eaten from the bowl and then put the lid back on and brought it to work. I would be so grossed out at the idea of eating someone’s already half-consumed plate of food (unless it was my husband’s, I guess).

    5. Bunny Girl*

      That’s my thought as well. I don’t even like eating potlucks at my department. Our break room is disgusting, so I really don’t want to eat food from my coworkers (either generously offered or stolen) because I can’t imagine what peoples’ kitchens look like at home if they keep the communal one looking like a crime scene.

    6. Magenta Sky*

      Practical concerns may well help some people to act more like adults. But for me, it’s simply a matter of “My mother had her faults, but not teaching her children proper manners wasn’t one of them.”

    7. JustaTech*

      Growing up my mom always made our mayo from scratch. Which means it’s got raw eggs in it.
      This never did me any harm (partly ’cause I don’t love mayo and partly because my mom was very serious about insulated lunch bags), and now I usually just buy from the store.
      But if someone were stealing sandwiches? You bet your buttons I would loudly announce that I was going back to home-made mayo with raw eggs.
      (Actually now I use pasteurized shell eggs, but there’s no reason to tell the sandwich thief that.)

  3. Canadian Public Servant*

    Ross: Someone at work ate my sandwich!
    Chandler: Well, what did the police say?

    (I couldn’t resist)

    1. Pomona Sprout*

      Ross’ sandwich was absolutely the first thing that popped into my head when I read the topic of this post!

    2. Tequila Mockingbird*

      I’ve always wanted to know what Phoebe’s nasty note said – the one she wrote for him to keep food thieves away!

  4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I was scarred enough by hearing the stories here about food theft.

    Then there was some dillweed on the radio that actually called in and admitted to being a “lunch thief” as well. Totally cackling and whooping it up over how awesome but “naughty” they are. I just cannot with theft of any kind but it’s even worse when you are impacting people you frigging know and work next to. Argh at 18%.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I hope that person’s coworkers recognized their voice (or better yet, heard them call in from their desk) and plotted something appropriate.

      Despite the legal implications, I love hot food and hot sauce, and I would readily douse my food in it to see if I could catch a thief, but we only had that problem once here. Things other than food were also going missing, so after some investigation by management one person was let go, and everything went back to normal.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        No. It’s a program that does “secrets” and changes voices for that very reason.

        I am also the kind of person who would set a trap like the spicy food. I would also make a loud stink about it because I’ve long left my shyness behind.

            1. Third or Nothing!*

              Crossed with a daschund. Labs are way too people-pleasey. Daschunds have sass.

              (FTR I have a lab/weenie/terrier mix.)

              1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                My favorite Lab headbutts people, so I’m thinking of him when I say that. Along with “doesn’t know their own strength”, LOL.

                I’m just a big oaf, who will roll around in poop and jump on your couch if you’re going to make a “big deal” out of it.

                1. Third or Nothing!*

                  Your Lab sounds hilariously adorable. My Hermione will jam her head into your hand until you pet her, stare at you with judgement in her eyes until you let her on the couch, chase anything and everything like she thinks she’s Diana Goddess of the Hunt, and relentlessly lick the floor until every molecule of food my daughter dropped is gone. Man I love that dog.

              2. Galloping Gargoyles*

                One of the times that I really really wish there was a like button is reading your description of yourself!! :-)

                I once inadvertently created a lunch thief. My sister and I worked together and she had gone home for the day and left her lunch behind so I told a colleague she could have it. Imagine sis’s dismay the next shift when she went to eat her lunch only to find I’d given it away. Then said colleague thought it was okay to continue to eat sis’s lunch and nobody wanted to tell big-scary-gal that she couldn’t lol. Sis still occasionally gives me grief about this, 30 years later… cue “let it go” now

      2. Lynca*

        Honestly I think that is the one thing that keeps my food from being stolen. I am a NOTORIOUS spicy food lover.

        It really wouldn’t be a trap as much as just natural consequences of their actions.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      Yeah, there is nothing funny about this seeing as though you could be taking the lunch of someone who can’t afford to eat out, thus depriving them of anything to eat that day. People are so effing disgusting and entitled.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Between the affordability thing, lots of places are tucked away in locations and have limited lunch time. So you could be taking John’s Lean Cuisine, he may have a million dollars in the bank but he doens’t have the time to get food. So yay, your coworker gets to go hungry, how hilarious!

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Good point. I’ve always worked downtown in my city where there’s a ton of food options for lunch and, for most of my career, I’ve been salaried with the expectation that I could take an hour or so more for lunch breaks, so I didn’t even think about people who work in remote areas with little options for quick dining and/or those who only get half hour lunch breaks. That’s terrible.

      2. Beth Jacobs*

        Yup. Or mobility issues. I eat out quite often, but this week I’m diligent about brown bagging every day, because I’m recovering from surgery and it’s hard for me to walk. If anyone steals my lunch, I’m murdering them.

        On the other hand, I have lovely colleagues who a) don’t steal b) would probably bring me a take away if something like that happened.

      3. Tinuviel*

        Or they’re just human and get hungry at lunch time. The victim doesn’t need extra qualifiers to make this wrong.

    3. mark132*

      I wonder if that is a lifetime thing? If someone one time grabbed something that belonged to someone else from the fridge? I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of lunches I’ve had stolen.

      1. Construction Safety*

        Yeah, that was my thought. Have I once in the 8,000 business time lunches I’ve eaten, ever stolen someone’s lunch?? Well, for me, the answer is “No”, but for the +18% surveys, the answer was “yes”.

        It’s been a recurring problem on construction sites where everyone keeps their lunch on a table in the lunch tent. We make a few announcements, let them know they can come to the office and at least get them a can of soup or tuna or a few packs of peanut butter crackers or sumsuch.

      2. TardyTardis*

        I think I’m lucky that my lunches were always peanut butter and salad (lemon juice for dressing). I had my Weight Watcher points down to a science.

    4. galatea*

      I have food allergies and getting my food stolen would probably mean no lunch for me. it feels melodramatic but I’d have a really hard time working with someone who stole my safe lunch and left me to my own devices.

    5. Alexandra Lynch*

      My boyfriend worries about that. He’s had gastric bypass, so he can’t just eat anything without getting very very sick. He brings his lunch, and the requisite protein snacks he needs to get through the day without his blood sugar tanking, and it is a good lunch, because I am a good cook. (This week he has either broccoli beef, no rice, or pulled pork in sugarfree bbq sauce with cauliflower in cheese sauce and green beans.) If someone eats his lunch, he’s up the creek, because there’s nowhere round his office to just go get something safe, and there’s not a lot in terms of fast food that he can eat that’s safe.

      Right now he doesn’t take his food to a communal kitchen at all; I send it with an ice pack, and he has a little heating box that he plugs in at his desk, so by lunch time he has hot food. This works, and no one imperils his food supply.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m actually pretty angry knowing that people have to worry like this. That’s such a horrible place to be stuck in.

        Very few folks do well not eating at all or surviving on some random snacks for an 8 hour day. And a lot of people have restrictions and limited funds/resources. Just leave people’s food alone, jfc!!!!!

        1. Alexandra Lynch*

          I intend to replicate this when my girlfriend gets a job, if at all possible. I’m totally willing to label her container if she wants to put it in a community refrigerator, but really, cold packs work just fine, we found that out when she was at school. The school provided free food, but she preferred to bring her own. Cause it was better.

          1. JustaTech*

            We don’t even have a lunch-thief problem (not at any of the 4 places I’ve worked in this city) and I still always pack my lunch in an insulated container with and ice pack.
            Sometimes the fridge is full, sometimes there is something pungent in the fridge, but honestly most of it is probably just 10 years of packing lunch for school.

        2. TardyTardis*

          Where I worked, people had enough nonperishable food stashed in their desks for three weeks (and I knew who they were). But yes, surviving on chocolate, almonds, and bouillon is not optimal.

    6. Lemon Ginger Tea*

      I had a partner at my former law firm (so, making like triple what I make) cop to stealing my lunch with an impish smile and an “I’ll replace it!” … which of course he never did. He seemed to think it was quaint that I was pissed about my lunch disappearing. I live in a small city and this dude is known as a major a-hole.

      1. Alexandra Lynch*

        It plays into that whole “how does he treat the waitress” thing as a way to assess a date, doesn’t it? I wouldn’t trust him as far as I can throw him if that’s his way of doing things.

  5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    18% of people may have admitted stealing food, but I can guarantee it’s a lot higher. The bottom line is too many people are entitled assholes. There is NO excuse – ABSOLUTELY NONE – for taking food that does not belong to you. I bought a small refrigerator and stuck it under my desk because I was tired of my food being stolen.

    1. MatKnifeNinja*

      People who steal others food need a round house kick to the throat. Especially the jackalopes who pull sandwiches apart with their grubby hands or take a bite and put it back.

      Nice sub sandwich or a sandwich with Drano Crystals sprinkled for an added kick? Your move food thief. Maybe I rinsed that tupper dish in the toilet? I’ve had so many fools rip me off lunch, these fantasies keep me from choking them out.

      The people who thieve are never the ones in true need. It’s some clown making much more than you.

    2. DecorativeCacti*

      I have a fridge in my office, but it doesn’t have a freezer. Whenever I have to put things in the communal freezer, I put my initials all over the cooking instructions so the thief has to be confronted with their shame.

    3. Ms Jackie*

      I will admit to stealing someone food before. I was working really late and starving. No one else was in the office. I stole a yogurt and ate it. I, however, went to the store on my way to work the next day, bought the exact yogurt and replaced it. Now i keep peanut butter crackers in my desk :)

    4. This Daydreamer*

      There was a recent case where I work in which someone’s meal was “borrowed”, but there were extenuating circumstances and the meal was replaced the next day. There are rare times when it’s okay, emphasis on rare. The jackasses who make a habit of it can go to hell.

  6. Lily in NYC*

    I’ve only had my lunch stolen once, and it was by my boss’ dog. I left my lunch bag on my desk and went to go wash my hands. I was walking back to my office and saw the dog running down the hall with my bag in his mouth. It was cute; he was running in that way dogs run when they know they are being naughty. I was able to get it back from him before he ate it (it had onions in it and I didn’t want him to get sick). My boss was embarrassed and tried to give me $20.

      1. Miz Behaven*

        That’s awesome! :D Glad the thief was cute and LW got the onions away from him in time!

      1. Faith*

        I would absolutely NOT be OK with this food theft. I also happen to keep several large bags of chocolate covered fruit (including raisins). So, I would really hate to be the cause of someone’s dog getting poisoned because their owner failed to train them properly.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      OMG, I’m eating my lunch (safely stored in my personal mini fridge) and I almost spit it out! Too funny!

    2. starsaphire*

      Well, at least the dog doesn’t make 3x your salary! ;)

      Yeah, I’d be a lot less miffed at losing my lunch if the thief was four-legged, tbh.

  7. Sara*

    I once accidentally stole someone’s lunch (I took the wrong frozen meal out and cooked it before I realized it) and I felt horribly guilty for a week. I can’t imagine doing it on purpose!

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I did that once too. And then I started writing my name on my frozen lunches so I wouldn’t do it again.

      1. not really a lurker anymore*

        Same here. There’s a couple of us that eat Lean Cuisines so every once in a while I think I have a meal, realize it doesn’t have my initials on it and put it back.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I haven’t done it before but I’m super paranoid about it. So even though it’s pretty hard to do around here [nobody else brings the same stuff I do but it may happen one day, you never know!] So I have everything marked discretely. I don’t want to scrawl my name on it because that looks so…aggressive? So I just put my initials where I know to look for my own peace of mind!

      1. Mockingjay*

        We scrawl names in bold Sharpie in our office, since we have lots of people with the same initials. No one has ever had a lunch stolen here. Current Job is terrific in that people routinely put stickies on food in the fridge: “Please help yourself!”

        ExToxicJob – people would eat and drink anything that wasn’t nailed down. Most people went out to eat to avoid the issue (and to get out of that place for a break).

      2. Lana Kane*

        I always put my name on it clearly because 1) I forget all the time, and then I’m too chicken to eat something that is quite possibly mine!, and 2) someone else could assume it’s theirs, and miss any initials I put in there too discreetly.
        No one has ever cared, but if anyone mentioned my big ol’ name on my stuff I would say it’s there mainly for my own benefit, because it’s easy to forget which stuff is mine if there’s more than 1 in there.

    3. Parenthetically*

      Yes, this totally happened on occasion at my old job — with drinks especially — and all parties always felt awful about it! Luckily there was a grocery store about 2 minutes away so it was pretty easy to replace stuff.

      I cannot get my head around intentionally taking someone’s lunch, though. It’s sociopathic as hell.

    4. Nanobots*

      Ok I have to admit I did it on accident once. My housemate and I worked at the same place. I opened the fridge, saw the pumpkin curry that I thought I’d forgotten to grab, and was pleasantly surprised. “Oh, I guess I didn’t forget after all!”

      Fortunately my housemate knows how much of a space cadet I am, and guessed that I’d stolen their food inadvertently. I apologized x10000 and ordered out for delivery for them.

    5. Phoenix Programmer*

      I did this with someone’s soda once. I felt so bad I sent an all staff email like “I drank a Sprite, thought it was mind then remembered I drank my last Sprite yesterday! Come to me and I will replace it!

      1. kittymommy*

        OMG, I drank someone’s sweet tea once (I’m in the southern US, so this *is a thing*) and felt horribly guilty for days and going around to find the owner to apologize! In my defense I thought it was communal tea as it was a gallon size.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I was the person who had theirs taken once. I put an anonymous note on the fridge, but it was probably a little snotty. Someone left another anonymous note back saying they thought it was theirs and put one back for me. Then I felt like a real jerk. I was all fired up about it, but then realized at least half of the Diet Coke drinkers on the floor were probably in my small department and I was most likely anonymously “yelling” at a friend. Other than that, I don’t think I’ve ever lost a lunch item in a communal fridge in 15 years. No one wants my hot pocket and yogurt.

    6. A*

      Same here!! I didn’t realize it until I took the Lean Cuisine out of the microwave and went to use the box as a tray…only to discover that it had my co-workers name on it. Oops! I tracked her down and caught her eating the one I had brought in. She hadn’t even noticed. Luckily we had a good laugh about it. Granted, we only mixed up ‘chicken stir fry’ and ‘chicken dinner’, so it wasn’t really a big deal regardless.

    7. Sabrina*

      I grabbed someone else soda from the office fridge once, total accident! We both had white and blue cans, I didn’t realize until a I took a sip and it tasted wrong. I ended putting an apology note on the fridge letting the victim know they could take mine if they wanted it or come by my cube and I’d pay them back. They did come by, just to let me know it wasn’t a big deal cause they had a backup. Still I’ve been super careful since, losing your food is an easy way to have a bad day.

    8. Doug Judy*

      Something similar happened in my office. Bob and Sue both brought in 3 slices of cauliflower crust pizza and put it in the fridge. Bob heats up pizza and is eating it in the breakroom. Sue walks in and they chat for a bit. An hour later Sue looks for her pizza and it’s gone. She tells Terry someone ate her pizza. About 30 minutes later Bob goes back in the fridge and sees his lunch still in there. He tells Terry “I think I accidentally ate someone’s pizza!” Terry said “Oh that must have been Sue’s!” Bob then realized not only did he take Sue’a lunch but he ate it in front of her!

      1. EPLawyer*

        This is the best one.

        Accidents where you apologize and/or pay for the missing lunch is not a big deal. Mistakes happen.

        The problem is the people who deliberately take someone’s lunch or part of it, and have no remorse about it. They just do it again.

    9. Shark Whisperer*

      I accidentally stole part of someone’s lunch once. I was working for a small nonprofit at the time. Our boss would often order us pizza if we have to work late. I went into the kitchen on a late night and there were multiple pizzas on the table! I just assumed they were for everyone and started to eat a slice. It turned out that one of my coworkers had ordered himself pizza for dinner and have gotten extra to serve as his lunch all week. I was beyond mortified.

  8. RJ the Newbie*

    I immediately thought of Spicy Food Thief because I am still disappointed that it has not been turned into a Coen brothers film.

    In my office, we have at least three different signs warning people not to steal other employee’s food. There is a small sign INSIDE the refrigerator. Like clockwork, the lunch bandit strikes at least twice a month. I wish I could get staff to submit timesheets/expense reports as regularly as the LB attacks!

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      It’s a damn shame you have to put signs up telling grown adults not to take stuff that doesn’t belong to them like they’re kindergarteners.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I bet the signs are having the opposite effect; the thieves are MORE likely to steal just because several signs told them not to, and they are offended at being treated like…thieves. That’ll show ’em! (sarcasm)

  9. ZSD*

    My co-worker’s noodle dishes kept getting stolen from our office fridge. Oddly enough, the thefts stopped when she started labeling the food, “If you take this, I will end you.”

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      LOL, A+ note.

      I think that part of why this never happens anywhere I’ve been is because we’re always a bunch of vocal yokels. If someone’s food disappears, you will hear about it. They will go around asking questions. Then we’ll talk about it in a group standup and discuss how things may happen by accident but you still need to admit to it so we can move forward.

      The most that’s happened was someone has taken someone’s dish from the diswasher, thinking it was their own. Since it’s just some basic tupperware stuff. “Where’s my dish, who took my dish?!” was heard for days. It showed up again, never to be spoken about again.

      1. Anonymeece*

        We had the opposite. A colleague and I have the exact same glass dishware sets. An empty dish, washed and cleaned was left out. Everyday I walked by and thought, “Is that mine? No, must be B’s…”

        Apparently B was doing the same thing.

        After about 5 weeks, someone brought it up when we were both in the same room. Apparently we were so paranoid about stealing someone else’s dish, we just left it there!

          1. Anonymeece*

            Lol! We went home and counted our bowls and came up with that it was (probably) mine. We both agreed on it, anyway, so it all worked out. Didn’t realize I had set up a mystery!

    2. mcr-red*

      I rarely use the office refrigerator and will especially not be now after having something stolen, but when a friend and I would go out to lunch and bring back leftovers or desserts, we would either write, “I licked it and I have a cold” on the boxes or “If you take this, I WILL find you.”

  10. Bree*

    I have never stolen anyone’s lunch, nor been a victim of lunch theft, so that number seems impossibly high to me. Is it because I’m Canadian, maybe?

    1. Witchy Human*

      I’m American, and it seems high to me as well. I know a couple people who went through full-on shoplifting phases as teens, and I still can’t really imagine any of them stealing someone’s lunch.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        The only time someone took my lunch it was a pregnant coworker who immediately told me about it, apologized, and offered to get me a replacement. She’d had a weird craving or something.

        1. WellRed*

          She had a weird craving of something you just happened to bring for lunch? Suuuuuure she did.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Meh, she was growing a weird parasite thing inside her – it makes folk do weird things. Plus I’d had it delivered while I was out, so she would have been able to smell it strongly.

        2. Cambridge Comma*

          I came close to eating someone’s lunch while I was pregnant. I‘d eaten mine at 11:55 and by 13:00 I was ravenous. I didn’t do it, but my moral boundaries were almost completely eroded. I‘ve never known a hunger like it.

    2. esra*

      Also a Canadian here. I’ve never worked anywhere that stolen lunches were a thing, but we did have a press conference for a gov’t announcement at the startup I worked at previously, and one of the journalists took a developer’s juice from the Private Fridge (as opposed to the Public Fridge, full of drinks for everyone), and the developer had an absolute meltdown on slack afterward. Like, in the company-wide #general channel.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I thought it seemed high too. I suspect it includes people who one time took a Coke out of the office fridge that wasn’t theirs. (Not that that’s okay! But it’s different than someone who’s regularly pilfering sandwiches.)

      1. Sara*

        I was actually wondering if I would be included in the 18% because I *did* drink a Coke that had been in the fridge for months… only to find out it belonged to a coworker who brought a coke every day and, I guess, put it in the same spot. I promptly bought him a coke from the vending machine.

        1. sunshyne84*

          lol I’ve done that. I don’t know if it belonged to someone though. I assumed it was leftover from some party.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          You reminded me of a weird story & something I did. There was always a set of towels and sample aveda body wash sitting in the same spot by the towel shelf at the gym. I made an assumption that the spa put this in there daily for whoever needed it. (There was a big basket of disposable razors and a stack of wet clothes bags, so not the strangest assumption.) One day, I grabbed it after my shower to take home. (Finally! I beat everyone to the free sample!) Then, I heard another woman in from my gym class saying someone took her stuff. She apparently set it in that same spot every day between going in the sauna and taking a shower. I realized I had taken her personal stuff! I was mortified, so I didn’t give it back. I took it home and pitched it.

          1. Not Sayin'*

            I buy the kind of hand cream I like and leave it in the women’s restroom for all to use. It’s very popular, and people are sure to let me know when it runs out so that I can replace it. We have a massage therapist who comes in monthly. One month she forgot to bring her oils, so she snagged my hand cream. I got emails from a bunch of co-workers saying, “It was full this morning — what happened to it?” I sent out a staff-wide email saying I buy this for my own use, and willingly share it, please use it to your heart’s content in the women’s restroom but don’t remove the bottle, yada yada. That’s when I learned that the massage therapist had taken it to use on her clients and emptied it. I let her know I was unwilling to support her business by providing her supplies.

      2. AnotherSarah*

        Yeah, I once took a seltzer (the coworker to whom it belonged regularly offered me one…so…) and once a splash of milk from an unmarked (but not expired!) milk. I could be part of that stat.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          It might include all the people who think “well I did once have a bit of Fergus’s butter when mine ran out, oh and argh that one time I thought it was a communal donut box but it turned out Sally was saving the pink claw for her husband.”

          I imagine the proportion who would actually think “shared fridge: first come, first served” must be vanishingly small.

      3. F.M.*

        Oh, that would make sense. Because as the question was phrased, I was thinking “Yes, I’m in that 18%, I accidentally drank someone else’s Coke that one time and when he got mad I felt so guilty I never told him it was me, and I may have mistaken someone else’s frozen meal for my own and never noticed.”

      4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        My first thought was that a lot of people accidentally took something they thought was theirs and honestly felt bad about it so told on themselves. The only time in my career there was a food thief at work, it turned out to be someone who had access to the office, but not really within the office personnel — so like night cleaning crew or building security guard or a family member who tagged along or a trespasser that was able to get past security…

      1. Heidi*

        I would also argue that this is probably an underestimate. A certain percentage of food thieves are going to deny it, but it’s far less likely that an innocent person would admit to a crime they didn’t commit. My office is nice, but I’ve heard of people in another department who will steal a whole platter of catered food before people start to arrive for a meeting.

    4. Plush Penguin*

      There was a lunch thief at a place I worked waaaay back 15 years ago. In the Canadian federal public service. So it can be Canadians.

      Most notable part of that story, the guy whose lunch was stolen put a note on the fridge that read, “I don’t mind you stealing my lunch, but please bring my Tupperware back.”

      1. KnittyGritty*

        One of the offices I’ve worked at previously had a major problem with lunch thieves. These thieves – no idea how many, but thefts happened a lot so there had to be several – would take someones lunch bag/box, eat the lunch then wash the containers and put everything back into the fridge! So the rightful owner would go grab their lunch bag/box only to discover they had been cleaned out.

    5. Goya de la Mancha*

      American, but I’ve never been the victim of or really known anyone who has either. I have a picture in my mind that this only happens in large companies because if your office only has 4 ppl…it’s a little hard to get away with stealing someone’s food all the time or if you work at fast food joint that might not have break room area.

    6. Campfire Raccoon Horking Potatosalad*

      This seems low in my experience. I wonder if it included “Stolen someone’s soda/creamer/weightloss shake”

    7. Cookie*

      Seems low to me. I’ve had lots of coworkers complain to me about their food being stolen or about someone else’s lunch being stolen (both actual leftover or homemade type lunches that were stored in marked bags/containers, and also storebought things like a container of creamer or a takeout salad).

      I’ve never had my lunch stolen, but I never leave any food in the fridge to avoid it getting stolen.

    8. Antilles*

      It seems weirdly high to me too. Remember, to say “yes” to this, you need to both (a) be willing to admit it and (b) think of your actions as theft rather than something unintentional where you never realize that no, that wasn’t a free-for-all, that soda can was actually part of someone’s lunch.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        Ehhh. That depends on the wording.

        Have you ever taken someone else’s lunch or part of their lunch?
        *Thinks back to time I accidently tok someone’s soda and clicks yes*
        18% of people are lunch thieves!!!

        1. Mr. Shark*

          I think it seems high.

          I agree with you, Phoenix Programmer. If it’s phrased that way, you’re going to get a higher percentage saying yes. If it’s someone stealing sandwiches or the meat off of someone sandwiches, it’s going to be lower. The idea that it happens a lot at a specific office may be because it’s the same person doing the stealing, multiple times.

    9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think it may be skewed, most numbers tend to be after all. Their polling numbers are going to be weird since you have to actively admit to it and you have to be one of the control group they choose for whatever reason they’re setting up. [Basically I trust nobodies numbers because you can manipulate numbers, I’m in accounting, so.]

      But yeah, it’s rare in my line of work. We’re not a strictly office-worker setup, if anyone stole our production crews lunches, there would be actual fist fights going on. So yeaaaaaaaaaah!

      I’ve also regularly worked with people who are extra particular about food. One place didn’t even do communal food, when our vendors brought it in, it would rot if I didn’t take it at the end of the day or throw it out.

    10. Ra94*

      This thread seems to be made up of people either saying they’ve NEVER seen or heard of this phenomenon, and people going “ugh, yes, this happens ALL the time.” So maybe the lunch thieves occur in clusters, emboldening each other within specific offices, while most offices are spared?

      1. Mockingjay*

        Probably depends on office culture. Lunch stealing was rampant at ExToxicJob – just one more symptom of a really bad, dysfunctional, depressing workplace. Never happens here at Current Job.

    11. Trisha*

      I’m Canadian as well.

      I think that the 18% also covers situations like mine. I keep a big box of breakfast foods/snacks in my office (clif bars, protein bars, goldfish, chips, nuts, granola bars, etc.). If someone asks for something I gladly share. The director comes by frequently (even when I’m not in my office) and will pilfer through the snacks and take what he wants. He forgets to tell me many times and will sheepishly come by to let me know the extent at which he has taken stuff (sometimes it’s astounding – I had a box of individual serving chips – a 20 pack. he ended up eating all but the ketchup ones before I even noticed).

      Anyway, my Senior manager who works at another location, would come to our location usually one day every other week. I told her while she was here, to feel free to enjoy whatever from the box. I know she was frequently caught up in back to back meetings and didn’t have time to run out to grab something. Anyways, she ended up temporarily filling in for the Director for 3 weeks – apparently every-single-night for 3 weeks, she raided that box for her dinner. She didn’t end up saying anything until much later when she was back to her once every other week visit and told me that she was now addicted to the clif bars since she made those the basis of her dinner for the 3 weeks.

  11. Some Windex for my Glass Ceiling please*

    Makes me want to trot out the ol’ Ex-Lax brownies recipe.

    Yeah, I know, not a good idea.

    But oh, so satisfying!

    1. KoiFeeder*

      I confess that I’m, really, really worried for the poor sod who ever manages to steal my lunch, because I sometimes have to medicate my food… and it ain’t Ex-Lax that I’m using.

      1. Alexandra Lynch*

        Yeah, the other day Boyfriend remembered at the last minute that the sugar-free dark chocolate fudge he was enjoying was, ah, enhanced, shall we say. So maybe he shouldn’t offer some to his coworker. (giggle)

        (It’s a straightforward melt chocolate chips with sugar and evaporated milk and butter recipe, and if you use sucralose and sugar-free chips you can get sugarfree fudge.)

    2. Isabel C Kunkle*

      The Fratty Bubelatties I had to share a dorm with in college would steal my dinner stuff on the regular. The only thing that kept me from ex-laxing them was that I was 80% sure they wouldn’t respect shared bathrooms either.

  12. Shiny Onix*

    My old line manager took her sandwich out of the fridge one day to find someone had taken one single bite, then wrapped it up and replaced it.

    I’m mostly just annoyed I was off when it happened and missed it!

    1. Some Windex for my Glass Ceiling please*

      A co-worker brought in a very large jar of peanut butter for her lunches for the next week. The following Monday-before she’d had the chance to open the jar- she discovered a large “divit” . Someone had taken their hand and scooped out a large fist full of peanut butter. Into the trash it went.

          1. Campfire Raccoon Horking Potatosalad*

            This is actually a curse at my house.
            “Step on a lego bare-footed.”
            “I hope someone licks the peanut butter spoon and sticks it back in.”
            “May you get swamp-bottom, but only on one side.”

            1. M. Albertine*

              That was exactly what it looked like, when this happened to me at home, but it was VERY obvious that the culprit was my toddler.

      1. annon this time*

        So gross! I stopped keeping my food in the work fridge when I heard that a co-worker was sniffing other people’s food, and sometimes opening things up to sniff them. No idea if he stole anything, but keep your nose out of my food!

    2. Classic Rando*

      I once had someone open my last package of pop-tarts and eat half of one, then leave the remaining 1.5 pastries in the box like it was nothing. Definitely had a Mrs. White moment after finding that.

      1. Jamie*

        I’m not usually in favor of capital punishment, but exceptions must be made for those who defile Pop-Tarts.

    3. Kes*

      To be fair, that could mean they thought it was theirs, took a bite, realized it wasn’t and put it back. Still not well handled and I wouldn’t blame your manager for not wanting to eat the defiled sandwich afterwards

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        I immediately thought that they intended to steal the whole sandwich, took one bite and didn’t like it, so put it back. “Oh yuck, ham! I thought it was turkey. Never mind, you can keep your ham sandwich after all.”

        1. JustaTech*

          And this is why I pack liverwurst and onion sandwiches.
          Really I pack them because I love liverwurst (and it doesn’t smell!), but it’s amazing how few people will pester you about what you’re eating after you tell them “oh, liverwurst!”

  13. jenny*

    IMO, if the fridge has a rule clearly posted on the front that “All food must be labeled with your name”, and you don’t label the food with your name, then it’s fair game. Would others agree?

    1. EPLawyer*

      Unless the office also has communal stuff in there, you know it’s not yours.

      I do not understand people who take other people’s lunches. Its not yours, don’t touch it. This is like kindergarten level learning.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is my response as well.

        Unless it’s a fridge where you regularly keep communal things that are “shared”, then it doesn’t work that way.

        If your company regularly buys say yogurts, milk, creamers and other assorted shared food. It makes a lot of sense that “not marked, it must be from catering of the last meeting, so it’s all good!”

        But that doesn’t give you the right to touch someone’s lunch bag or grab a frozen meal, when your company never provides frozen meals, etc. So just keep your hands off of it.

        Labeling requirements tend to be more so that the cleaning crew can toss it at the end of the day on Friday or whatever more than “If it’s not labeled, it’s up for grabs!”

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Labeling requirements tend to be more so that the cleaning crew can toss it at the end of the day on Friday


          1. Flyleaf*

            At one job any non-labeled food would be quickly tossed in the trash, not by the cleaning staff but by one of the many admins that worked on each floor. Sometimes people would throw away unlabeled food to make room for their labeled food. It usually only took one time before you learned the rules (unfortunately for me I learned it on a nice pyrex container).

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Ick. That’s so wasteful. I always dump the “stuff” and then put the dish in the dishwasher at least. But I know most admins don’t have the luxury of sparing that extra few minutes to not fill the landfill with things that aren’t actually supposed to be there.

    2. Bree*

      Absolutely not! Far too risky. Default should be *not* to eat food you’re uncertain about.

      Every office I have every worked has had a designated table somewhere where treats up-for-grabs go. If they need to be kept cold, they’re labelled with “Please help yourself!” or something.

    3. You Don’t Get A Cheeseburger!*

      What? No! You know what you have (or haven’t) put in the fridge. A lack of a name doesn’t mean something is fair game.

      1. Antilles*

        Right? If you’re capable enough to successfully navigate to and from work and hold down a job, it seems perfectly reasonable to expect that you can successfully remember what couple items you brought to work and put in the fridge a couple hours/couple days ago.

        1. Not a Blossom*

          Maybe, but not always. There’s a frozen meal in our work freezer that I’m 90% sure is mine but not 100%, so I haven’t touched it. I sometimes bring in frozen meals to keep on hand if I have a day when I don’t have time to make lunch, so they may sit for a while. I’ve started labeling mine so that I don’t run into this problem again.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Even then, it’s not cool. Any time I go to my mom’s house – this is the woman who gave me life – I ask before I take something out of her fridge. She hates it and always asks me why I ask and just take what I want, but I don’t know what her financial situation looks like at any given time. Shoot, I could go in there and eat the last of her lunch meat and not realize that she was rationing it for the week until she gets paid – you just don’t know.

        1. Asenath*

          I was brought up to always ask before grabbing something at my grandmother’s house – and in fact, anywhere other than my own home, which had different rules (eg I was expected to know if something was being kept for that evening’s desert). Some of my cousins were brought up to help themselves. My grandmother could never bring herself to complain about that, but more than once something intended for a meal disappeared and something else had to be found. Variations in early training counts for a lot!

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Yeah, my mom did such a good job at drilling the Ask First thing into our heads as children that me and my brother don’t feel comfortable just walking into her kitchen and helping ourselves to anything other than the water that’s in her Brita pitcher. If she has flavored water? I ask first. Anything food related? I ask.

            She regrets this training every day, lol. Now she’s teaching my 5 year old niece to go help herself.

        2. Jamie*

          Awwww…you’re sweet but I get why she hates it. When my daughter comes home and heads right to the fridge it makes me happy…and if I knew she was coming I’ll have some of her favorites in there. It’s not about the food, it’s about adult kids not feeling like company. Idk – but I get why your mom feels that way but it’s so considerate of you to consider her situation and not clean her out of frozen cookie dough (ahem – in case my daughter ever reads this.)

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            LOL please tell me your daughter’s at least baking the dough for all of you to enjoy?

            And yeah, I think that’s what it’s largely about with me – I’m 32 years old. I haven’t lived with her in nearly a decade – I am, for all intents and purposes, a guest in her home. I’m just incredibly uptight about that kind of thing, lol (and it’s probably because I’m anal and I absolutely hate people touching anything of mine without asking). Plus, I make way more money than she does, and I know she struggles with bills and being able to stock her fridge with food – I would feel like shit knowing I ate her last when I can, more often than not, afford to buy my own stuff.

        3. PhyllisB*

          I never mind when my adult kids eat something or borrow something to use at home (can of soup, kethchup, ect.) But TELL ME so if it’s the last whatever I can add it to my shopping list.

          1. PhyllisB*

            Bit OT, but talking about adding to the shopping list…I keep a notepad by the phone and add things as I think of them before going to the store. Everyone in the house is encouraged to write down what they want or need. Well, my grandchildren know this. I ripped off my list and headed to the store, and when I got to the store and looked at my list, I found the following additions: Toys, Candy, Fairy Wings, Small Doll, Army Men, Gum, and Slime. Being in a good mood, I bought a couple of the requests, and saved that list to share with my daughters. We all had a good laugh.

            1. not really a lurker anymore*

              We’ve got a whiteboard. My kids have been adding “cat” and “latest Trials of Apollo book” along with the snacks they want. they’re 9 and 11.

    4. Annie on a Mouse*

      Disagree. At the end of the day, an office fridge is a communal space to store non-communal food. If the rule is that food should be labeled, then each person should label their food, but failure to label doesn’t make it a free for all.

      1. LizB*

        +1. The appropriate consequence for failure to label is that your food may get thrown out during a periodic clean-out because nobody knows who it belongs to, not that someone else will eat it the same day knowing full well they didn’t bring it.

    5. fposte*

      Nope. It’s fair game when you’re told it’s for sharing; otherwise it’s paws off.

      I admire the cunning of the Samuel Maverick approach there, though :-).

    6. The Cosmic Avenger*

      No! Some people may forget, some figure no one would mistake their lavender lunch bag or lime green tupperware for their own, but at least in my office, things that are leftovers are left out on the counter, often even perishable items, and even then they usually get a post-it that says “please have some!” or “please take me home!” If it’s not yours, you shouldn’t eat it! (Unless your company provides free food and/or drinks, in which case it should be clear to everyone what is provided.)

    7. WellRed*

      Uh, no? If you didn’t put it in there, you know it’s not yours. I suppose you also subscribe to the finders keepers method of life where you don’t even attempt to find the owner.

    8. Parenthetically*

      Absolutely not. “Oh rats, I forgot to label my Lean Cuisine this morning” should not be a mistake that leads to you actually not getting to eat lunch.

      I can see bringing in, say, a stack of frozen dinners you got on sale and realized you didn’t like, or the rest of a deli tray from a Sunday afternoon reception that you weren’t going to finish off, but I’d still label them or stick a note on the fridge to the effect of “Didn’t like these but if you do, please help yourself/left over from my parents’ 40th yesterday evening, please help yourself” — Parenth.”

    9. Nowhereland*

      No, I think that’s weird.

      I don’t assume that any fridge food is communal. We have a counter area where communal treats are placed (bagels, cookies, or other special treats that someone brought to share)

      1. WellRed*

        Same here. You know what’s meant to be shared. Our communal offering today is unicorn cupcakes.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah, most people around here know where to find the community food offerings [the breakroom]. If I do get refrigerated goodies for a gathering [I had a cheese plate awhile back], I go so far as to put up a note in the breakroom say “DONT FORGET THERE’S CHEESE IN THE FRIDGE!” and then take it down once the goodies are gone. It’s not a difficult time consuming process.

    10. Asenath*

      No. If it’s not yours, don’t take it. We have an unwritten rule that food left on a particular cabinet is for sharing. Anything anywhere else belongs to someone whether it’s labelled or not.

    11. CMart*

      I think the only things that could even possibly be considered “fair game” in an ethical sense are items that could reasonably be assumed for sharing. A party tray of vegetables, an economy size of coffee creamer, a jumbo Costco pack of muffins. A supply of 30 identical yogurt cups being stored in their original cardboard display box.

      Otherwise no. An unlabeled Lean Cuisine or even medium sized container of salad is not “fair game” just because someone doesn’t put their name on it. Sure, some hungry jagweed could rules-lawyer and be all “hurhur no name, fair game! The sign says!” but it would be a poor defense. Everyone would know they were stealing someone’s lunch in that situation, no reasonable person would think “hm, an unlabeled lunchbox with a single sandwich and string cheese, must be up for grabs!”

      1. CMart*

        To clarify: the first paragraph is specifically about a fridge situation with the rule “all items must be labeled.”

        In any/all other situations, I would never assume anything is for the taking, even a rack of yogurts or gigantic creamer. Those are probably for a specific group to share, or someone’s stash for the week.

      2. Amber Rose*

        It’s generally understood here that unlabeled condiments are fair game, because they were probably bought by the company during our last BBQ. Also if it was a tray of food that we know is leftovers from a company lunch.

        Other than a couple bottles of mustard and ketchup and the occasional tray of mini sandwiches though, the only unlabeled food that it’s OK to touch is anything growing mold or clearly rotting. I’ve made it very clear to all staff that any health hazards in the fridge are subject to immediate trashing.

    12. Fortitude Jones*

      Hells no. It’s theft, period. You didn’t buy it, don’t touch it – it’s that simple. And if you see something you like that’s unlabeled, send an email out to the office asking who it belongs to because you’d like some of whatever it is – let the person who brought it in have a say in whether or not they share their food. God, some of y’all have zero home training or manners.

    13. Goldfinch*

      If the names on the food are Jack, Roger, Sam, Eric, Ralph, and Piggy, then yes. Otherwise, no.

    14. mcr-red*

      Do you think the food just magically appeared there? Unless the food is provided by the company, then no, keep your hands off!

    15. Yorick*

      What??? No! If you didn’t bring it, then it’s not yours. Nobody is bringing in secret free food for their coworkers.

    16. Senor Montoya*

      NO. If I leave out my wallet with cash in it but it doesn’t have any id in/on it, is it ok to just help yourself to a couple of 20s because it’s unlabelled? No, it is not, and this is the same.

      If it’s not yours, keep your hands off it.

    17. Nanani*


      As the stories in the article demonstrate, a lot of thieves are doing it on purpose. Adding a rule about names will at most put in a layer of denial like “you didn’t label it clearly enough” or something like that.

      Asshole thieves gonna be assholes and steal.
      The solution is for them to stop being assholes, not anything that the people being stolen from can do.

      1. Kat in VA*

        Ah yes, the old rules-lawyering trick.

        “You didn’t do this to my satisfaction, therefore I managed to weasel my way out of social norms because your label was insufficient…as will the next seven iterations of said label, because I have no intention of stopping what I’m doing.”

    18. LadyByTheLake*

      Plus, labeling items in a fridge is difficult. Post-its frequently fall off and definitely lose their stickiness in the cold and it is difficult to write on a lot of packaging meant for cold storage due to the wax. Hands off unless it is YOURS.

    19. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      No. You know it’s not yours. It’s just childish to say that it didn’t have a name on it, therefore it’s up for grabs.

    20. Jedi Squirrel*

      No. If something’s up for grabs at our place, we put a sign on the door saying “Help yourself to the leftover pizza in red box labeled HELP YOURSELF”.

    21. The Original K.*

      Hard no. Eat what you brought to work, and ONLY what YOU brought to work. In my experience, communal office food is left OUT of the fridge and put elsewhere – on the counter or table in the kitchen, in the conference room, etc. I’ve never worked anywhere where the kitchen fridge was fair game.

      1. Not a Blossom*

        When we have food for sharing in the fridge, it’s labeled as “please help yourself” or someone will put a note on the table that says “XYZ in the fridge; please help yourself.”

        If I’m not 100% it’s mine or up for grabs because it is labeled as such, I’m not taking it.

    22. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      That’s the rule in my house, but we specified both halves – that is, “Unlabeled food is community property; if you bought it special then you should’ve put your name on it.” Husband is notorious for forgetting to label his stuff, but he also doesn’t complain if something gets et.

    23. Strawmeatloaf*

      We just use round stickers to show that if something has the sticker, it’s personal food. No sticker means communal. Lunch bags/boxes are an exception because those are obviously private.

  14. greenbeanz*

    I’m genuinely curious why someone would do this on purpose. Is it the thrill? Revenge? Some other reason? Please tell us, lunch bandits.

    1. Anon Librarian*

      Power. I think it’s usually a power trip or the thrill of breaking the rules and trying not to get caught. Psychological reasons. Or being really hungry but broke and/or too tired to walk to the store and get something.

      That last reason is why it’s really great when offices have free snacks. There are moments when you need something but the logistics aren’t coming together.

      1. Nom the Plumage*

        My office has a TON of free food, free lunches on Friday, and people still steal! It’s definitely intentional.

        1. Parenthetically*

          In fantasy world, I take turns being the Big Boss at each of these places, and institute a zero-tolerance policy for lunch thefts: if you steal another person’s food, not only robbing them of monetary value and time spent on shopping and prep but forcing them to GO HUNGRY, the day you’re found out is your last day. Period.

          I frankly don’t understand why more companies don’t have policies like that. Lunch theft is THEFT. It’s insane to me that stealing someone’s lunch is overlooked.

          1. rayray*

            Yep, stealing someone’s lunch is overlooked but they’d get mad if you stole $10 worth of office supplies.

          2. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Someone’s lunch is probably worth more than, say, a ream of copier paper. Employers would damn sure fire someone who took home a ream of blank paper every day, or even once a week, because that adds up! But bad employers 1) don’t care if it doesn’t affect them, and 2) think “figure it out amongst yourselves” is a management technique.

            1. fposte*

              I think the key difference there is that the employer isn’t funding the lunches. If somebody took the catered food before the guests got to it, I think they’d be in job trouble.

            2. Parenthetically*

              think “figure it out amongst yourselves” is a management technique.

              Ye gods, ain’t this the truth.

            3. EH*

              Yeah, if it isn’t costing the company money, they don’t care.

              If every employee in the office who’s had their lunch stolen walked out in protest, maybe they’d do something? Most places hate unions, so if you do anything smacking of union organizing, I bet you’ll get their attention.

        2. Lora*

          Even when I worked someplace that bought us lunches and snacks every day, for free, there were still tons of people who would wait for the snack refill contractors to show up and then grab all 50 or whatever of the “good” snacks and hide them in their desks so nobody else could get mango chips or whatever. You’d stop by their desk to review something and they’d open a drawer and suddenly, packets of mango chips bursting out like adventurous goldfish all over the floor. These were people making upwards of $170k, who could definitely afford all the mango chips they wanted on their own.

          1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

            Oh my god that reminds me of a VP we had several years ago. The office would get variety packs of candy for the reception candy dish — not cheap bulk stuff like starlight mints but the nice varieties like mini peanut butter cups/snickers/kit kat type bags. The VP would have his executive assistant pick every one of the mini peanut butter cups out for him, thereby leaving none for the rest of the office. Why he didn’t just have her order him his own personal bag I don’t know.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              And why didn’t the VPs assistant just buy a bag and give those to the VP instead? Oh, because nobody else got to have that delicious treat, only him. Fsckr. (I really like pb cups. Is it obvs?)

              1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

                Well, the way purchases are done around here, there is always a 2-level approval process on purchases or expense reports (or 3 if it goes through the purchasing department) So the EA can’t just order whatever, the VP needs to approve the purchase. This is why, when my boss takes his department out for an appreciation lunch, his EA uses her company credit card, rather than he uses his company CC — he approves her expense reports, but his boss would have to approve his and apparently his boss is a bit of a Guacamole Bob. I imagine that the VP didn’t think it necessary to have her buy a separate bag for him or maybe he wanted to fool himself that he isn’t eating as much candy as he really is… and I’m with you, PB cups are my favorite and for a long time I was always wondering how they were already gone from a brand new bag.

    2. rayray*

      I’m thinking sometimes it’s entitlement. Sometimes, it’s just pure selfishness. Some might like that thrill. Some just have zero empathy and can’t be bothered to consider how they’re causing someone else to go hungry. Sometimes it can be an accident, someone grabbed the wrong frozen meal, thinking they had brought the salisbury steak dinner when really, they had brought the frozen enchiladas that day.

      1. Parenthetically*

        I wouldn’t call the last one “theft,” though, just an honest mix-up. Theft to me signifies malicious intent. “I know this isn’t mine but I’m going to take it anyway, societal mores be damned.”

    3. Ada*

      I’m curious about this, too. I would love an ask-the-readers post on this, though I don’t know if enough people would be willing to confess to make it worthwhile.

    4. London Calling*

      Where I used to work – ‘because I can and I don’t care if I get caught because do you know how much money I made for the company today?’

    5. Libbie*

      Some people are really good at rationalizing things. Like, I know I shouldn’t take this frozen meal, but I am having a bad day and I’m really hungry and I’m broke and the person who put this here forgot to put their name on it so really it’s fair game or there is a name but I know that person makes more money than I do and that’s not fair so really the universe owes me this frozen meal. Etc.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*


      Revenge is usually only if it’s a one-off kind of thing. Or they could have such a huge chip on their shoulder and seriously hate someone but yeah, that’s really not the “usual” kind of setup.

      They think it’s no big deal. They think that they’re important. They are only thinking about themselves.

  15. EmilyAnn*

    I have worked in government. First for a branch of the military, then a civilian org. Never had a lunch stolen, and I bring it every day.

  16. WFH policy*

    I label things like soda when I put them in a communal fridge–not because I worry that someone will steal them but because I want to make sure I know that I’m taking my own. It horrifies me that so many people are cavalier about taking other people’s food.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      We label things too, because sometimes my boss likes to go on a cleaning spree and suddenly that half empty jar ends up in the trash.

    2. tink*

      Yeah, I usually drink something the rest of my office doesn’t, but I have had a bottled starbucks go missing when I didn’t label it. Since it’s only happened with the one thing (and only when it wasn’t labeled), I assume one of my coworkers who occasionally brings that drink in thought it was theirs.

  17. poolgirl*

    Three Christmas’s ago, my mom cooked all of her specialties for our family’s Christmas dinner, and my sister packed a lunch for me of them for the next day in one of those Rubbermaid containers with separate compartments. At lunchtime at work the next day, I opened the container to microwave it, and discovered someone had taken exactly half out of each compartment. I discarded the rest, not knowing how sanitary that person had been, and was very upset since Mom had told us she wasn’t planning on cooking anymore Christmas dinners as it was too much work for her anymore. Then she had a large stroke and wasn’t able to cook anymore even if she wanted to. I wasn’t upset about losing my lunch, I lost my chance to eat the last dinner she made.

    1. Parenthetically*

      Holy shit, that person is such a dirtbag on so many levels and I am so sorry you had to deal with such a sucky situation. I would have sat right down and cried.

    2. blink14*

      This is awful – and I bet that person was rummaging through lunches, looking for Christmas dinner leftovers. I would have taken those containers around to every single person and asked if they had taken food out of it.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Hell, I’d be tempted to go around and smell people’s breath. You DO NOT STEAL HOLIDAY LEFTOVERS FFS. I mean you don’t steal other people’s food, period. But special holiday food? That’s, like, a whole ‘nother layer of extremely not okay.

    3. Senor Montoya*

      I hope you shared that info with your office so that perhaps the selfish person who did that at least felt bad.

      And I’m sorry that happened to you. It’s really awful.

    4. Fortitude Jones*

      That’s awful. I hope that person ended up getting E. coli (though not from your mother’s food).

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m so sad that this happened to you =(

      I’ve heard the weird stories about people doing that kind of crap, they think that it’s okay to “share” and “I just wanted a little taste!” kind of thing. It’s so outrageous. I’d rather you just take the whole thing instead of leaving behind some scraps. I’ll share if you ask, just don’t be a jackhole who assumes.

      1. Jamie*

        I have a child who I love despite the fact that they refuse to ever, ever finish a container of ice cream and will leave less than a tablespoon behind so they aren’t the ones who killed the box.

        Despite never once having been in trouble for finishing ice cream and many times been on the receiving ends of my pleadings to stop the agony of thinking there is ice cream in there to see that….unless one was craving a tsp or so there is not.

        They don’t touch other people’s food at work, so their siblings and I are their only victims so there’s that.

    6. London Calling*

      athat been me there’d have been an email going the rounds saying exactly what you’ve said – with a nice passive aggressive ‘DO hope you enjoyed it’ at the end.

    7. WorkIsADarkComedy*

      If any of these sociopaths are capable of feeling shame this would be the instance. I wonder what would have happened if you had sent some office-wide communication about it (other than the formation of a mob with pitchforks and torches).

    8. Anon for this*

      I think something like this should have an automatic rule that you are allowed to give the food thief exactly one punch, square in the nose, with no consequences.

      Yes, I am advocating violence. And yes, I am a wimp in real life.

  18. Anon Librarian*

    I don’t keep my own food in common areas for this reason. People can be weird. Why worry about it? If I bring something, I hide it in my own bag.

  19. rayray*

    I’m lucky this has never happened to me. There was one time when I had a couple of those snack packs with the nuts and cheese taken, but I realized it wasn’t an intentional theft – basically what had happened is that I worked on an end of the office where our fridge was only used by a few people, and some of us kept things in there to keep on hand like snacks or lunches for the week. One of the attorneys had decided to stock up the fridge with sodas and snacks for everyone, and I didn’t think to go back and label my own things I had brought for myself. They were taken by people who probably thought they were part of what the attorney had brought for everyone.

    I currently work in an office that is very small, so no lunch thieves but they also keep some food and snacks on stock. I wonder if this is at all helpful to keep thefts down. I know not all work places can afford to do this, and I could also see it not working at some work places where all the snacks would be hoarded by some, leaving nothing behind. Maybe though, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to keep things like ramen noodles, bread, peanut butter, jelly, etc. on hand for people who forget lunches. They’re not exactly the most appealing things to eat every day or to steal, but it’s there for people who have nothing to eat.

    1. Sara*

      A friend of mine has a small community food pantry in her front yard. It looks like she used a “Little Free Library” plan. She stocks it with the types of foods you listed. Her house is right across the street from the high school, so hopefully she is catching kids who might not get a good meal from home. She is a single mom to two teens and is an elementary school teacher – and yet she still finds the time and resources to keep her little pantry stocked.

  20. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    Man, I wish people were disciplined more strongly for stealing lunches. It is theft! You have stolen someone else’s property. It is the same as going into their bag and taking $5 out. And it is almost never a food-insecure person doing the staling. It is almost always an entitled a-hole who doesn’t care what they are costing you by stealing your food. If I were in charge, stealing food would be a fireable offense. Maybe not the first time, but definitely the 2nd time after you’ve had a very clear warning about the repercussions if it happens again.

    1. Parenthetically*

      Yup. I get so het up about this, in part because I have pretty sensitive blood sugar and skipping a meal is absolutely not an option for me. If someone takes my (almost always homemade) lunch, they’re not just stealing the value of the food and the time spent preparing it, they’re putting me at risk of fainting or being ill. And that’s not even thinking of people who are diabetic, or have really specific intolerances that make it hard for them to replace food, or struggling to eat because of early pregnancy or fertility treatments, or in recovery for an eating disorder that could be re-triggered by skipping a meal! If I were in charge, intentional food theft would be a “box up your stuff and get escorted to your car” level of offense.

      1. blink14*

        I so relate to this – I cannot skip meals for any reason, except for breakfast on weekends sometimes (sleeping in always wins). I keep emergency food in my desk that can be microwaved, in case this happens or I have a random hypoglycemia episode during the day.

      2. many bells down*

        They order in food at my husband’s office, and someone once ate his clearly labeled gluten-free lunch because it “looked better.” He couldn’t come home for lunch that day because of a meeting so he didn’t get to eat any lunch. That he paid for.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Woooow. As someone with celiac disease who’s also strictly gluten-free and thus knows exactly how much our food costs in comparison to everyone else’s, I’d be LIVID. That whole office would hear from me, lol.

          1. many bells down*

            Mr. Bells is sometimes too nice for his own good, and as the offending party was a young new hire who made WAY less than my spouse, he didn’t feel like it was worth complaining about. Officially, I mean. He complained to me XD.

      3. love will tear us apart*

        +1 I have worked in so many places where, if my lunch magically disappeared? Sorry, boss, I gotta go home now, because I need to eat food, and I cannot replace it anywhere near where I work.

        These days with food delivery sites, it’s a little easier (there are three restaurants I can eat at, and none of them do their own delivery, but one is on grubhub thank god), but it’s still not perfect.

      4. LeahS*

        Yeah, I’m diabetic and unfortunately living pretty paycheck to paycheck right now. I’ve experienced my blood sugar bottoming out pretty severely before and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. I thought I forgot my breakfast this morning and was freaking out. I’d be pretty upset and freaked out if someone took my lunch and I didn’t have extra money to buy some.

        1. JustaTech*

          I had a coworker with diabetes who was forever going through people’s desks for snacks late at night. Eventually a bunch of people got really frustrated with him about it.
          “What, do you want me to die?”
          “No Bob. Of course not. But Jane and Beth have stocked snacks *for you* in their desks. There’s a vending machine downstairs. There’s a convenience store across the street. But you keep choosing to steal Olaf’s special Canadian chocolates. You’ve got to stop doing that.”
          “But I’m Canadian too!”

          (We later discovered he was helping himself to the entire box of chocolates one of our vendors was sending us for Christmas.)

          1. Kat in VA*

            On the opposite end, my husband is also a diabetic, and I buy him his own sugar substitute and sugar-free creamer because his work doesn’t stock them. So guess what people steal? Maybe they think it’s “special”. So sometimes he ends up going without any sweetener or creamer because people just take the whole damn container. Not even use it, just take the *whole thing*. I hate thieves. And seriously, combined, they’re store-brand and cost less than $10, and I personally think they taste chemically and gross…but apparently the thieves are enamored of the flavor and won’t buy their own.

      5. M*

        As someone who has both anorexia (mostly in recovery but some weeks are better than others) and celiac lunch thieves make me so anxious.

        Food is still really fraught with anxiety for me; having to eat something different from what I originally planned would cause a lot of anxiety and there is a good chance I just wouldn’t eat because even when I’m doing well, the more obstacles between my mouth and food the less likely I am to eat. Eating on a consistent schedule is SO important for people in recovery (both for medical and psychological reasons) and the level of freak out that would ensure from my lunch disappearing would probably force me to disclose some things that I would much rather keep private.

    2. AuroraLight37*

      I have worked in places where, even if I could afford to go drop $10 on lunch, there was nowhere for me to buy anything. The nearest place to get food was a short car ride but a long walk, and I didn’t own a car. Given that I had a half hour to eat, I’d have spent most of it walking back and forth, and that doesn’t even add in things like delays at the counter or checkout. So, not only are you left without food, you can’t get a replacement.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I am in total agreement with this entire comment.

      And besides the money/property aspect, you may also be taking the only food that person is able to eat — either because of allergies, a special diet, or they can’t get away to buy something for lunch. You’re basically making someone go hungry.

    4. paperpusher*

      My partner is a paramedic and his co-workers are the worst for taking each other’s food. He’s put food in the fridge with his name scrawled across every surface, and found the empty box replaced in the fridge. A big part of it is that teams travel to different bases and don’t care about the food belonging to people they’ve never met. I feel that people who prove that they can’t be trusted with their co-workers’ stuff shouldn’t be trusted to go into patients’ houses, but as long as they’re not stealing the narcotics no one cares.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If we had a thief in any of the companies I’ve been in, the villagers would riot if they weren’t fired. I’m shocked so many places shrug it off.

      A one off thing is just handled “in house” by asking and making a stink. An active thief would be flushed out and put in the stocks to have rotten fruit thrown at them. Then escorted to the unemployment line.

  21. Asenath*

    We don’t have food theft – either we’re all honest, or there are so few of us in our little corner of the building (and not all of that small number use the fridge) that it would be obvious who took something. I confess I did once take a soft drink belonging to someone else – it was the type I always drink and she rarely does – but I confessed and gave her one of my drinks. That was an honest mistake, and not theft, though.

    I am not normally really concerned about expiry dates, but the one time I did do a long overdue refrigerator clean-up, I went around asking everyone who owed the two formerly frozen dinners that had been sitting in the fridge (not the freezer section) for a very long time. We eventually concluded that they must have belonged to someone who had retired quite a while back, and threw them out.

    1. SarahKay*

      I label my soft drinks so that no-one takes them by mistake, because they’re impossible to buy in that formulation any more.
      The UK government imposed a sugar-tax on drinks (not fruit juice though) last year and the manufacturers of my favourite drink switched the full-sugar version to one containing aspartame – despite the fact they already had two low-sugar versions and there was a campaign for them to keep the full-sugar version – grr! Aspartame doesn’t agree with me (sweetish aftertaste, not unpleasant, but lasting for twelve hours) so when I finish my stockpile of full-sugar I’ll never be able to have it again. The thought of someone taking it by mistake, or just thinking they’d replace it tomorrow, and my horror when I tasted the vileness that is the aspartame version – just…NO.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        Side note, but yes this is so annoying. I rarely drink soda, usually only when I’m feeling sick. The time I had the flu and was really looking forward to my sugary ginger ale for the nausea and realised on the first sip that although it was not labelled as “diet” it was made with aspartame was a sad day. I guess the sugar tax is working, though, because I don’t buy soda at all now.

      2. Nessun*

        Are you by any chance an Irn-Bru fan? I keep some at home as a treat, but I’d never bring it to work because it’s an import here and if someone stole my $3 can of soda I’d be furious.

        1. SarahKay*

          I am indeed. I was once caught by site manager singing “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine” to can of Irn-Bru. (It’s orange – that’s sunshine-ish colour, right?)
          Barr’s issued a profit warning earlier this year and honestly, I think they’re missing a trick. My stockpile comes from eBay at £2/can (retail price for horrible aspartame version approx £0.60/can) so there’s surely a market for full-sugar Irn-Bru, even at a higher price due to the sugar tax.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Here in the US there’s quite a side market for Mexico-bottled CocaCola because it is sugar not corn syrup. I see it in markets in New England even.

          2. Nessun*

            100% agreed! Tax it if you want, but offer me the good stuff! Honestly, if we’ll pay for it, why the issue?

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          They’ve also subbed sweeteners into full-fat Ribena to get under the threshold. It’s completely undrinkable now. Very gloom inducing.

  22. MicroManagered*

    Isn’t a weird paradox that people’s lunches get stolen, yet potluck leftovers often linger in the fridge for a year.

    1. fposte*

      Maybe it’s not paradoxical but connected. The food theft is by people who thought they’d make lunch over the leftovers and then realized how old they were.

  23. Myrin*

    Ha! We actually have a food thief at my one part-time job. I’ve never experienced it myself (I’m only there twice a week) and first heard about it in an all-staff meeting where my boss, who is too kind for her own good (truly, not just in this situation), said she makes a big pot of soup every evening and would love to share if someone is going hungry for whatever reason.

    Shortly after, one of my coworkers got fired for stealing and I think people kind of assumed she had been the food thief, too. (I wouldn’t have been surprised by it but I’d actually suspected someone else.) Now turns out, the thievery continues!

    Just last week, my sister – who works there full-time – brought, among other things, a bunch of grapes to eat. She wasn’t feeling well and left early, thereby forgetting her lunch box in the fridge. When she went a day later to retrieve the forgotten box, someone had eaten all but a single grape! It’s hilariously bizarre and makes me want to take a look into the mind of whoever did this. (My earlier suspicions are corroborated by who was there between my sister’s departure and her arrival the next day, btw. I’m a veritable Hercule Poirot here!)

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      The psychology here is weird. “Well, I didn’t steal them because there was ONE left!”

      I honestly think this is what that person was thinking.

    2. Quill*

      Was it a raccoon? I once had a raccoon get into a cooler, tear the corner off a plastic ziplock of grapes, and pick them off one by one, leaving only the stem behind.

  24. Peaches*

    I’m astounded at how common this is. I’ve worked two jobs out of college – one at a large corporation where hundreds of people were in and out of the break room during the day, and one (currently) at a small office with <15 employees. I've never had this happen to me at either place (nor have I heard of it happening to anyone else). The fact that 18% of people are bold enough to literally take SOMEONE ELSE'S food out of the fridge literally blows my mind.

  25. The Babiest Babyface*

    The allergen thief manager haunts me. There’s about 80 policies of polite society being broken and all of it happily and openly! What the hell!

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      I would have quit that job as soon as I found out it was my boss stealing my food. Totally unacceptable and disrespectful behaviour.

  26. mcr-red*

    OMG, so timely. I threw a fit the other day related to this. I go home or go out for lunch and rarely leave anything in the refrigerator at work for this very reason. One day I wasn’t feeling well, so I brought in a little package of crackers and cheese (real cheese not the cheese spread stuff) and had to store it in the refrigerator. I ended up going home sick, so I never ate it. A week goes by, and I’m back at work and think, I’ll go eat my cheese and crackers for a snack. Go in…no cheese and crackers. People taking my stuff SETS ME OFF and I threw a massive fit to my boss, even going so far as to say that’s why I hate it here, who informed me…someone did the same thing to her. There’s someone in another department in the building (we share a lunchroom) who has taken it upon herself to be the frig police and clean things out when it’s “bad”, and my boss brought in her Lean Cuisine for lunch that day – by the time she went back to eat it, it was gone. And my boss completely believes the woman did it on purpose, as it was a frozen meal that was unexpired, not someone’s leftover takeout.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      At my work they throw out ANYTHING in the fridge at 5pm on Friday. No exceptions.
      That includes lunch bags and water bottles.

      I understand not wanting spoilt food, but that is so unbelievably wasteful.

      1. CMart*

        Well, people shouldn’t leave things in the fridge then. ::shrug::

        We have the same rule and almost zero waste. People take their stuff home. It took me losing a nearly full coffee creamer within my first weeks to learn my lesson quickly.

        1. annon this time*

          Sure, and that works great except for the person who ends up sick on Friday but left food there.

          1. mark132*

            As long as the rule is very clear, I personally think it’s acceptable. It sucks if your lunch got pitched. But I’ll take that over a fridge that is full of biology experiments.

        2. MissDisplaced*

          Well yeah, but you’d be pretty pissed about your Yeti water mug.

          I never brought things like that in, but there was definitely some griping. The most I lost was an unopened can of Diet Coke.

      2. mcr-red*

        That’s crazy!

        And ours isn’t like that. Like I’m gonna clean out the fridge every Friday. No. It’s whenever the mood strikes the department witch. So like 1 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 a.m. on Thursday, etc.

      3. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I think the idea is that everything that is wanted should be removed from the refrigerator, as the people cleaning it shouldn’t have to worry about what to keep and what not to keep, or checking lunch bags and opaque containers for food. The onus on removing anything that could be reused or kept is supposed to fall to the owners, not the people doing the cleaning.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Not only that, it keeps the fridge(s) clean enough that others can bring in food for safe keeping. My last company only cleaned out the refrigerators on the last Friday of every month, and you could barely get anything in either one because people would bring food in and just…leave it, taking up space. However, I used to work at a law firm that cleaned out the fridges every Friday, and there was always room for people’s lunch bags and leftovers. An email would also go out every Friday before cleaning reminding people to come and remove all unwanted and unlabeled items or they’d be thrown away. People usually complied and very few people complained even when their stuff was dumped – they were warned.

      4. Nowhereland*

        I’m actually OK with this rule. There is no perfect method for ensuring that a communal fridge stays clean. For many workplaces, it’s hard to find someone who has an official duty in their job description to keep the fridge clear (periodic cleanouts, etc)

      5. Not a Blossom*

        The water bottles would irritate me. We have a filtered water dispenser, but the water that comes from it is not cold, and I like water cold. I leave a (clear) water bottle in the fridge overnight so that I can have cold water the next day. It would suck to not be able to have it every Monday morning.

    2. Dahlia*

      You left it there for a WEEK. That is not remotely the same thing. For all you know the cheese had gone moldy.

      1. mcr-red*

        The cheese had gone moldy in a sealed package with a clear expiration date on it? From the same large package of individual sealed cheese and cracker packages that I had literally eaten one of like a day before at home? Yeah, NO.

        And I don’t know that it was thrown away, my boss had her frozen meal thrown away. For all I know, it was eaten the very day I put it in there.

    3. Summertime*

      Gosh, that’s so annoying. I once cleaned out the fridge with a coworker because no one had done it in ages. And my coworker was hesitant to throw things out because they could’ve been someone’s frozen dinner, just not labeled with the name. We had a light bulb moment and realized we should just throw out everything that was expired. If the expired food belonged to someone then we’d be doing them a favor and would let them know. Thankfully, all the expired food was 2+ years old so I don’t think we threw out anyone’s lunch for that day.

      Frig police shouldn’t be throwing out things willy nilly or just because you think it’s an eyesore.
      mcr-red, perhaps you could ask the building manager to get the cleaning crew to clean out the fridge on occassion and post a sign that employees shouldn’t be throwing out things that aren’t theirs. That might put Frig police in their place and establish a better fridge cleaning routine.

      1. mcr-red*

        The weird thing about this is that until very recently, the frig police was sending out a company wide email, like “Hey I’m cleaning out on Friday, so grab your stuff if you want it!” There was no notification like that when my boss’ food went missing, and I have no idea why the Frig Police suddenly went rogue. Apparently somehow my boss figured out she did it, and confronted her and got told, “I thought someone had just left there so I threw it away.” Zero sense.

        My crackers and cheese incident was after that happened, and again, no notification of a clean-out. And I really don’t know that it was thrown away, my boss suggested that. I’m in the “someone came by and ate it” thought.

    4. !*

      We don’t have a schedule but we do a clean out when something smells *ripe* and we have to first find the culprit and then we start doing the date check and chuck (if expired). I’m always shocked when I find things that were expired 2 years ago in the fridge because we do this clean-out a couple of times a year or so. I absolutely hate the mystery food that is frozen in glass containers in the freezer which have not moved in months. No date, no name, but if it’s thrown away, we know that someone will bitch about it. As long as I can’t smell it, and there’s still room in the freezer for other things, it will be left in there.

  27. MissDisplaced*

    I did eat someone’s frozen dinner once. But it was an honest mistake! I had bought the same kind (on sale) and really thought it was one I brought in and sort of forgot about for a week.

    But man, the person got SO unreasonably upset about it, even after I offered compensation for the meal and apologized.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I can imagine there’s past history there… he may have had it happen a lot before you put your foot in it.
        (The author in me imagines that someone at home told him to label it and he rolled his eyes and… now he has to admit she was right. The horror.)

  28. Phony Genius*

    Question: Does it count if you “borrow” a squeeze of someone’s mustard and put the bottle back in the refrigerator if your sandwich came back from the deli dry?

    1. rayray*

      Depends, I feel like it’s still polite to ask first. Most people would be totally okay with it. I kinda think with condiments, maybe it’s not the best idea to take up real estate in the fridge with those if you’re not willing to share just a few drops here and there. If you’re not willing to share, write your name in bold dark marker. Try to make it known to coworkers if you don’t mind they use a little bit, or if you do mind.

    2. Jamie*

      For me this falls into the category of “I wouldn’t do it, but I wouldn’t care if it was done to me.”

    3. Parenthetically*

      This wouldn’t bother me at all — condiments definitely feel more communal to me — but I think it’s still more polite to poke your head in their cube and say, “Hey, Bob, my doggone hoagie came completely dry from the deli and they didn’t put any condiments in the bag. Would you mind if I took a squeeze of your mustard? I’ll buy the next bottle.”

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        That’s what I used to do with my colleague’s coffee creamer at a job I worked many moons ago. She was pretty cool about us using it, she just wanted people to ask first and notify her if she was running low so she could restock.

    4. Campfire Raccoon Horking Potatosalad*

      Giant Costco French’s mustard leftover from some event: Go for it.
      French’s mustard: questionable.
      Fancy nummy mustard with horseradish, wasabi, jalepeno, or garlic: die a thousand deaths.

    5. fposte*

      Other people are more generous than I am, it looks like. To me, nope, you don’t get to take people’s food without asking, whether you’ve left them a little or a lot. Just ask them.

    6. SarahKay*

      I think it kind of does, because you’re probably not the only person thinking that you’ll just have one squeeze.
      I had a bottle of BBQ sauce in the work fridge, and between leave, travel, and just not using it because the meals from the work canteen didn’t suit BBQ, it was about a month between uses. And during that month it went from half full to quarter full. Not the end of the world, probably not any one person taking it – but still kind of irritating.
      And yes, there’s plenty of space in the fridge, otherwise I wouldn’t have left it there.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        I think it kind of does, because you’re probably not the only person thinking that you’ll just have one squeeze.

        This – just ask, folks.

    7. Senor Montoya*

      That’s stealing too. The fact that you used scare-quotes means you know it’s wrong. If you want some of the mustard, ask the owner if you can have some.

    8. Dahlia*

      It’s not yours. You “borrow” (plan on giving it back?) a squeeze and then so does Joe, Meg, and Steven and then suddenly Susan’s mustard is empty and she’s barely even used it.

      1. CMart*

        And if you don’t know who to ask, then you’re probably not someone the owner would be happy helping themselves to it.

        I’ve nicked a splash of someone’s milk before, for my coffee. I did not know whose it was and I knew I was doing a bad thing. I did it afraid I would get caught by the owner – which is how you can tell the thing you’re doing is wrong.

    9. Libbie*

      I had a full bottle of mustard with my name on it that mysteriously emptied itself and I suspect this was the reason. I kinda shrugged my shoulders about that, but next bottle, I stored it in a plastic bread bag that looked a little old and sticky, and that worked like a charm! I admit that it looked a little gross, but I knew that it was perfectly clean. And then I could enjoy my entire bottle of nice mustard that I paid for, and not just a few squirts of it.

    10. CMart*

      This was a definition question I was asking myself, including “what kind of person is a food thief?”

      Would I ever take someone’s sandwich or otherwise obviously “single serving lunch”? No!
      Would I take a few olives off someone’s salad because I was snacky and they had a bunch in there? No that’s… weird.
      Would I ever take cheese from what looks like a leftover platter from a party but was clearly tucked back into the depths of the refrigerator? No, but I have stared into the fridge longingly thinking “what if?” in that situation often.

      But would I ever take a squeeze of mustard, or a dash of milk? I would. I wouldn’t think I was doing anything ethical though. I will admit to once having gone to make a coffee and realized I was out of my own, and I hate black coffee more than I hate being a creamer thief.

      Does that rank me among the 18% Or are we talking straight up taking Susan’s brown bag with the love note from her husband tucked inside?

      1. fposte*

        I think you might be in the 18%, and that it’s not all packed-lunch destruction. That would also explain why it seems so high.

        1. CMart*

          I honestly really hope that it’s people like me making up the majority of that number. The one-off, maybe once in a career, filching of someone else’s condiments even when we know better, rather than nearly 1-in-5 of our colleagues being willing and able to just take people’s whole lunches.

      2. Elenna*

        Yeah, I have definitely stared into that fridge going “… but is that cake common property now? Can I just take some?” I didn’t take it but I could easily see someone doing so.

    11. Mobuy*

      I think that people who leave big condiments in the common refrigerator are jerks, unless they are bringing something for the common good. You are not allowed to take up more than your fair share of space! I bring the occasional condiment — or butter — for everyone to use. Yes, I bring it for me to use, but I’m happy for others to use it as well.

      I worked at a school once where one of the teachers brought in a week’s worth of lunches. A head of lettuce, a pound of lunch meat, a couple of tomatoes, condiments galore, an entire Costco bag of tortilla chips. He had a meltdown when someone ate from his (unlabeled) bag of chips. Sorry, dude! There are 20 of us and you are taking up 2/3 of the food space! We didn’t know you needed three pounds of chips for your lunch this week!

      When he left, another teacher commented that we lost a teacher but gained a refrigerator. She was not wrong.

  29. Senor Montoya*

    My solution from a couple of decades ago: Get a mini fridge and keep it in your office (we have offices with locking doors).

    Otherwise, put your food in a little cooler and/or thermos that you keep in your desk or at your feet.

    1. Mockingjay*

      Ah, but in Cube Farm land, Facilities will come around and make you unplug them because the fridges draw too much power/are a fire hazard/are forbidden by Mystery Policy X…

    2. Even Steven*

      I am not allowed a bar fridge – I wish! – so I use a cooler bag with ice packs, and keep the bag under my desk. I even bring my own dishes. I rarely set foot in the kitchen. And if the whole department is scheduled for a meeting out of sight of our cubes, I lock my lunch bag in my filing cabinet. Boom – done. It’s a big company, and too far away from anywhere to run and grab a replacement lunch even if it was an honest theft/mistake by someone, so yeah – locked up. What a weird world we live in.

      My lunch today was leftover habanero soup from a football party I was at yesterday. Coworker – I DARE you to steal my lunch.

  30. Parcae*

    I will never stop being shocked by lunch thieves. Is the rate of petty theft just much higher than I ever imagined? Do 18% of people swipe candy bars from the grocery store, too? Fill their pockets with screws at Home Depot? Stealing a lunch seems even more depraved; you’re taking a meal from a real person! Potentially making them go hungry!! It’s wild.

    The only time I’ve had my lunch stolen, it was an honest mistake– my coworker and I both had Chipotle bowls in the fridge, and she missed the name written on mine. I was still hurt by it, even though I knew intellectually it wasn’t a big deal. There’s something primal about food.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, there so is! My only two lunch losses were from people who cleaned the fridge out and didn’t follow their stated start and finish times,. They were both lovely people going above and beyond for a fridge that’s a tragedy of the commons, and they were deeply apologetic. And yet I’m still bitter.

      1. CMart*

        Honestly, I’m still grumpy that my used-once liter of creamer got tossed in the widely known, clearly labeled “5pm Friday Clean Out”.

        Did I know that was going to be the consequence of forgetting it when I left for the weekend? Yes.

        Did I hold out hope the cleaner would have mercy on me? Also yes.

        My brain knows that rules are rules so people don’t have to make judgement calls, but my heart is still stewing about the loss.

        1. fposte*

          Mine was somebody doing a cleanout early Friday morning that was scheduled to happen late Thursday night. Two of us who arrive very early in the morning got caught in that one.

    2. Parenthetically*

      Almost exactly my thoughts. Casual theft with no regard for how it affects others is such a “you have no conscience” signifier that you see it in montages in con artist movies, for crying out loud.

  31. Goldfinch*

    Just this past week, someone took my mother’s sandwich out of her work fridge. She was in hysterical tears because it was in a Tupperware that HER mother gave her as a wedding gift in the early 70s. She posted signs begging for the Tupperware back, no questions asked. Nothing. I want to light her colleagues on fire.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Your poor mom – you have my permission to seek vengeance against these lawless heathens.

    2. Shan*

      Not quite the same, but my mom brought in stuff for a potluck at the small school she’d taught at for years. When she went to pack up, she discovered someone had switched out her blender jar (which she’d taken very good care of for decades, after receiving it as a wedding gift) with a scratched up, stained one. She’s very non-confrontational, so she just let it slide and bought a new blender shortly thereafter… I, on the other hand, would have been room to room asking if anyone had “accidentally” taken mine.

  32. Oof*

    Several of use store multiple frozen dinners (3-4 at a time). There have been times when I’ve worked very late or all alone, and helped myself when I’ve been out – but purchased a new one one on my commute in.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, that’s an interesting grey area for me. I think I’d still only do it if I knew them well enough to know it was okay, though.

      1. Oof*

        We have a small office, and even less who like to keep a selection of frozen dinners. So we all know each other.

        1. fposte*

          It sounds like you all have evolved a consensual sharing economy–that’s a very different thing.

    2. Parenthetically*

      Ah yeah funnily this feels different to me too. If you’re replacing it with an identical item before it’s able to have any effect on your coworker… that genuinely does take a ton of the wrong out. If it were my frozen meal that had been eaten and immediately replaced, I wouldn’t have any issue with it.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah, but what happens if the coworker comes in before Oof and notices her food is gone? I have to say, if it were me, I’d be pretty pissed. This is still sneaky as hell, replacement or not. Why not just text the person and ask if you can have it? Or speak to the coworker in advance and say that you sometimes work really late and run out of meals and ask if it would be okay to eat one of theirs and you’ll replace it when you have time to run to the store in the morning.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Eh, I think it really depends on your relationship with your coworkers. I would have been upset if I found out that one of my coworkers at Old Job had gone hungry rather than eating my dumb $3 Healthy Choice enchiladas. A person I like had a food emergency and I had extras? I’d think it was silly if they didn’t take it. If you don’t have that sort of relationship with your coworkers, sure, send them a “Help! Stuck in the office waiting for Portland office email to come through and starving, can I heat up your enchiladas? I go past the grocery on the way in tomorrow morning so I can pick up another one to replace it!” text.

        2. Oof*

          My colleagues would rather I just use one and replace it, then text them while they are not at work to check on that. This is definitely a “know your audience” call, but no one loses on this.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Then your situation isn’t remotely similar to food theft because you and your coworkers have a pre-standing agreement or understanding that this thing occasionally happens and instead of you guys sitting around hungry and anxious, you can help yourselves to each other’s stuff as long as it’s replaced timely. That’s a good policy.

    3. Parcae*

      I judge the grey area stuff by, “Would you feel comfortable telling the coworker you’d done this?” In my office, eating and replacing the frozen meal would be 100% fine; we all know each other and there are no lunch thieves here, so I’d be perfectly comfortable announcing at the staff meeting that I’d eaten someone’s lunch and having my coworkers tease me about the “theft.”

      1. Parenthetically*

        Great rule of thumb. If you can’t see yourself saying, “Thank God you keep those extra Lean Cuisines in the freezer, Patty, I was here until 9:30 waiting for that godforsaken email to come through so I could get this stuff off to the printer, and I would have been found by the cleaning crew skeletonized from hunger without it, thank you so much — I replaced it on the way in, though,” ask first.

        1. Oof*

          Yup, and I am comfortable sharing that info! I’m not sure if this matters, but I usually have my extras, and am very free with EZ mac and granola bars. But even I run out sometimes. (TBH if you saw how much food we clean out of the fridge, it may be one of the few places where a lunch thief could get by just fine)

      2. CMart*

        I agree.

        My go-to example is taking a splash of someone’s milk because that is a thing I did once. If it belonged to someone I was friendly with, I would have no problem saying “hey, I got desperate and used some of your milk this morning. I owe you a cookie or something next time I bake some.” But if it belonged to someone I barely knew in passing or didn’t know at all… yikes. No. I’m trying to imagine an essential stranger coming up to me and saying “head’s up, I used some of your creamer, hope that’s okay!” and it is extremely awkward at best.

  33. Sharkie*

    I think people who do this are the worst. Like seriously, how in good conscience do you do that. I hate when people mess with your food. One time when I was lifeguarding we ordered chipotle for the whole staff. I opened the bowl clearly labeled “Sharkie” and it was clearly not my food. Since there were about 40 guards on staff it took a while for me to find my order and then it was time to go on rotation. The guy whose food was labeled Sharkie was so angry that I had the guts to open the food with my name, that he forced himself to eat my food and his own.

  34. Former Govt Contractor*

    At BigLawFirm we had The Cold Cut Bandit. If you had a ham and cheese sandwich in the fridge, the Bandit would take just the ham, and put the reassembled sandwich back. Or just the cheese. Or a piece of fruit. No one wanted to touch the remainder of their tampered with lunch for obvious reasons. It happened 2 summers in a row which led us to believe it was one of the summer clerks. We couldn’t figure out of they were joking, or harboring a food addiction, or really poor, or what.

    1. Elbe*

      I wonder if they actually thought that they were being sneaky, that no one would notice “just” the ham missing.

    2. Lana Kane*

      I would have been so tempted to buy a pound of cold cuts, label it for the Food Bandit, with a note saying “Please eat these, and leave our lunches alone”.

  35. anonymous, the culprit reads here*

    When I was pregnant I treated myself to full fat organic milk in a fancy glass quart bottle — for awhile, I couldn’t keep much else down. I put it in the office fridge with my name on it (lots of sibs, I know that people will eat unmarked food).

    Every day, 1/4 to 1/3 of the milk was used by someone. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knew that it belonged to the only pregnant woman in the office, and they all knew that if I didn’t have it to drink, I was not getting much nutrition.

    Finally, I put a giant sign on the outside of the fridge: Who is the rotten person who is drinking the hungry pregant woman’s milk? [all caps, exclamation points]

    It was one of the women who prided herself on her feminist bona fides…her reason? I like it for my coffee and I figured you wouldn’t mind.

    That’s when I went to a cooler that I literally carried with me because I didn’t trust her not to get the key to my office and help herself.

      1. anonymous, the culprit reads here*

        She was so sure I’d be ok with it that she didn’t bother to ask. And if she had asked, I would have been ok with it — once in awhile. Seriously. I put up the sign, later that day she saw me in the office and said, very cheerfully, Oh that’s me.

        The really outrageous thing is after her “confession” I said, Well, I’m not ok with it so please stop doing it. And she said, Oh, I don’t know if I’ll remember, I’ll try.


        1. SarahKay*

          Wow. Just… wow. Your co-worker’s behaviour is utterly appalling. I’m frankly impressed you didn’t rip her thieving arm off and hit her with the sticky end.
          I mean, I was furious on your behalf just from reading your first comment; the update is even worse.
          You have all my sympathy.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          “Oh, I don’t know if I’ll be able to forget that you’re a petty thief and entitled jerk, but I’ll try.”

    1. Some Windex for my Glass Ceiling please*

      Wait- every day, this woman is taking 1/4 to 1/3 of your quart of milk for her coffee? That’s at least 8 oz – one cup- for her coffee, every day?

      How much coffee does this woman consume?

      Ingrate. Hog. Disgusting bitch.

        1. Elan Morin Tedronai*

          I feel they’re justified in this case, since we know the thief was a woman… But having said that I tend to get irrationally angry at food thieves.

  36. Rebecca*

    I’m starting to think this is a benefit of having a lunch like mine – a slice of whole grain bread, natural peanut butter, baby carrots, hummus, an apple…I’ve had people say “you actually eat that?” Yes. And no one has ever taken anything out of my lunch bag. And there are ZERO excuses for helping yourself to someone else’s lunch. If you are legitimately hungry, broke, etc. all you have to do is say something. I’ll BUY you lunch, make sure you have something to eat, split my food with you, whatever, no problem, but please don’t just steal it because you’re too lazy or entitled to pack something or run out to pick up a sandwich.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      I keep food like that in my mini fridge and have let people who might need it know they can always check with me — secretary with three kids aged 1 to 8 who doesn’t always have time to make lunch for herself, and so on. I also keep a basket of granola bars, nabs, that sort of thing for students — you never know if a kid is dealing with food insecurity so it’s there for anyone, that way kids who need it can have at least a little something.

    2. Amber Rose*

      My lunch is a piece of raw chicken with some carrots covered in butter.

      I cook it at my desk. Anyone trying to steal it is just gonna get raw meat and weird buttery carrot pieces.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I’ve got to assume she inherited the department microwave like I did recently, when my group lost its communal space.

    3. Quill*

      My lunches have always been this sort of thing (My mom was a 90’s health nut) and throughout school I always got made fun of for having things like a “peanut butter, honey and wheat germ sandwich” on whole grain bread, or a variety of pita-based sandwiches, or yogurt in a reusable container…

      The only other reaction I’ve ever had to my food, especially since becoming a part time vegetarian (I eat meat at max twice a month,) has been bonding with people who also spent their childhood bringing “weird” food to school or that one guy who seriously acted like he wanted to stalk my lunchbox.

    4. Lora*

      This was one of the few benefits when I worked in the Midwest, everyone thought my food was weird so nobody touched my lunch box. Now I live in New England which is chock full of hippies, and it’s back to keeping my lunch in my backpack in a cooler bag because packing ful medames, flatbread and homemade Caprese salad is no longer so weird that nobody will eat your food.

  37. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    My work used to do an event where they’d feed everyone working the event (maybe 50 people?) dinner. It was usually low key bulk food, like catering trays from the grocery store or Costco.

    WELL. We had someone walk off with a catering tray of lasagna that served 12.

    Security tapes were reviewed, employees were questioned, and to this day we don’t know where it went.

    1. Dame Judi Brunch*

      We had something similar happen! Someone took a Black Forest cheesecake that was a gift to our office out of the fridge. We still have no idea who did it.

  38. Pennalynn Lott*

    I used to bring in a 12-pack of Diet Coke on Mondays and store it in the office fridge to have sodas for the week. Someone started stealing my sodas. So, with every new case I purchased, I took the cans out of the box, slathered on my brightest red lipstick, “kissed” each can right over the pop-top (stay-tab) opening, then put them all back in the box. No one ever stole another soda.

  39. Health Insurance Nerd*

    A very long time ago I worked in an office where a new mom had her breast milk stolen. Her BREAST MILK!!!!

    1. Serin*

      Me too! It was unmarked, though, and the guy who was taking it thought it was coffee creamer.

      I mean … it wouldn’t have been HIS coffee creamer; he knew perfectly well he hadn’t bought coffee creamer and brought it to work in that cute little bottle. So he was stealing, and he knew he was stealing, but he was shocked when he learned WHAT he was stealing.

      1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

        Anyone stealing breast milk should have half a day of their vacation time forcibly removed and given to the victim of the theft. To make up for the trouble.

    2. !*

      I think that is something that should be labeled as such since it’s so very important and takes work to make!

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Actually I have been told of creeps who will intentionally steal it if it is labelled as such, it’s their kink. Our lactation support group was warned. :(

        1. WS*

          This happened to my friend! She took a locum job for three half-days in a large hospital as a trial of going back to work while still pumping. First day: clearly labelled container stolen from the fridge. Second day: first container found in a different staff fridge, empty and unwashed, second container left alone. Third day: clearly labelled container taken, never to be seen again. Fortunately it was a secure area and the whole thing was on camera. It was a male doctor who confessed he used it for self-gratification reasons. AFAIK he was told to apologise, never do that again, and that was the end of the matter.

  40. mark132*

    FWIW, for me the (far) bigger problem has never been thieves, rather people bringing something and then abandoning it in the fridge. In some fridges, I would welcome thieves to create room for me to put my lunch in the fridge.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This is the reason why I keep everything at my desk. I bring cold packs in my lunch if necessary (most of the time it isn’t; I don’t bring things that spoil easily and I don’t like my food to be super cold). I used to keep a canister of coffee and my reusable K-cup at my desk too. And my tea. And my coffee cup. I don’t even use the communal half and half for my coffee. At this point it’s no longer paranoia, just habit.

    2. Elenna*

      Yeah, this is the reason I just keep my lunch in an insulated lunch bag at my desk. (Well, actually it’s because I’m too lazy to go to the fridge and find space for it every day, but this is a good perk.)

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, I almost never use the office fridge and I sure as heck would not keep my lunch in it. I occasionally put a giant lasagna in there for my volunteer job after work and I make darn sure it’s only in for a day and then get it out.

  41. ggg*

    There are signs on our office fridge all the time warning food thieves. They get updated every few weeks to a new stern message about prosecution and punishment. Yet I have talked to a lot of people next to that fridge, and no one has ever had anything stolen.

    Once I was kind of excited because I thought someone had stolen my Chinese restaurant leftovers — aha! There really IS a food thief! — but it turns out my food had just been pushed to a remote corner of the fridge.

  42. Libbie*

    We have only had one thief, thankfully, and she was “encouraged” to resign for other reasons. Everyone suspected it was her taking the food, but she never quite got caught. No one was surprised when the lunch thefts stopped as soon as she left, though! L

    1. Serin*

      Well, see, this is my thinking, too. If someone would take food that doesn’t belong to them, I assume that they have some antisocial attitude — “If you can’t physically prevent me from taking it, it’s mine,” “The rules against stealing don’t apply to me,” “Yeah, I know, but I WANT it, and that trumps everything else” — and I would expect those attitudes to affect their work in other ways, too.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t know if that’s true in practice, though. I think it’s pretty common for people to commit what they consider acceptable breaches–maybe they exceed the speed limit; maybe they’ve taken home pens from work–while still keeping firmly to other boundaries. I think a lot of lunch thieves feel like they’re speeders.

        That doesn’t mean I’m not with you–it reminds me of the biting letter, in that if you do this I don’t know what your boundaries are and don’t really want to spend a lot of time figuring it out. But I don’t know that there’s any correlation to other behaviors in actuality, either.

        1. Quill*

          Pens, the speed limit, and coffee creamer can easily be accidents. The people who open someone’s tupperware, deconstruct their sandwich, and then close the rest up after they’ve picked out what they want are on a whole other level of self-justification.

          (Also the speed limit thing… there’s people who exceed the speed limit by 5-10 mph because the speed limit is posted at 55 and in reality only the far right lane is doing 55. And then there’s people who fly past me and all the other reasonable, keeping up with traffic speeders at 95mph, weaving in and out of traffic like they’re going for the high score on frogger.)

          1. fposte*

            Most people don’t speed by accident, though; they speed because they think they can break that rule and still be responsible citizens and good drivers. People generally don’t take pens simply by accident either; they just don’t worry about whether the pen came from work or not, because many people don’t consider ownership of a plastic Bic to be a significant concept. Probably all of us have some rules/laws we think it’s okay to break and possessions it’s okay to appropriate.

            I’m not arguing that it’s super-cool to go bologna-diving in other people’s sandwiches; I am saying that it can be really surprising to find out how compartmentalized people’s moralities are about what boundaries they can cross and still operate responsibly elsewhere.

            1. CMart*

              Agreed. It’s always very interesting and surprising to find out how NOT universal the things that people can find to be “eh, I know it’s a little wrong but it’s not a big deal, and I want to.”

              See: speeding (but how much over?), taking pens (from a bartender? the copy room? off someone’s desk?), using breakroom refrigerator mustard (just a squirt once? every day?)…

              And food in particular is a special class. Both in how possessive people are of their own food, as well as how far people can go to rationalize eating something because they want to (“I was really hungry… Steve would understand… he has Starbucks every morning I know he can afford to miss it this once… Just this one time…” or whatever).

              1. Isabel C Kunkle*

                Yeah–like, there’s Mass Pike “speeding” (the posted limit is 65, I’ve only seen grandparents and furniture trucks going slower than 80) versus going 20 mph over in a residential area; there’s “well I’m using the copy room pen at work *too*” versus walking off with one from someone’s desk, etc. I’d put once-in-a-while condiment/creamer theft in the first category and full-on food swiping in the latter.

                I think a lot of it is the notion that if nobody notices, nobody’s hurt, so it’s not wrong (which I agree with in the speeding/pen cases and some others, though I’d feel weird taking milk without asking).

        2. mcr-red*

          Do NOT get me started on people who take my pens, the good expensive ones I buy, and leave the cheap BIC ones that we are given at the office and that I have a cup full of that they can take.

  43. Arctic*

    It’s funny my work is the exact opposite. I always buy some English Muffins and milk for my tea/coffee through out the week. But I’ll never eat them all or use all the milk before it goes bad. So, I clearly label it “all” or “help yourself”. And STILL people always track me down to ask me if they can have an English muffin or use some of my milk.

      1. Arctic*

        It doesn’t bother me but tracking someone down to pester them when they are in the middle of working on something or even in a meeting (once) even though they gave full permission to use their stuff isn’t actually very polite.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Hmm, I can see that point. I hate being interrupted as well, so yeah, that would get annoying. But I wonder if they do it because they really want you to know that they just took a little bit of whatever you set out in the event you change your mind later and decide you want your leftovers? I’ve seen that happen, and some people are the better safe than sorry types.

  44. MerelyMe*

    We don’t have food theft, partly because we have so many lunch meetings that usually have leftovers. What we do have is the Notorious Mooch, who hovers outside lunch meetings until they end, and has been known to make off with all the leftover chips, half a tray of sandwiches and half a tray of cookies before anyone else can get there.

    1. seahorsesarecute*

      If I were running meetings there, the last thing on each agenda would be “Please pack an extra lunch on your way out and give it to one of your office neighbors.”
      Notorious Mooch gets crumbs!

  45. Aphrodite*

    My boss and I both have private offices and we each have a mini refrigerator in them so no worries there. But what always astonishes me about these food threads is the number of people who have been ripped off, especially intentionally, and don’t seem to make a fuss about the theft part of it. As someone above pointed out, it is THEFT. Why is this particular theft treated more casually than the theft of money (using a company credit card for personal expenses), or a company computer, or a colleague’s cell phone or jacket, or any other damn thing. It’s not just a matter of a day’s lunch but of the victim’s money, especially when the thief makes more money than the victim. It’s a serious crime and why is it not treated as such even by some of the victims of it? To me, it would be a firing offense, no second chance because while today it might be a lunch tomorrow it may well be embezzlement.

    1. CMart*

      I would have no idea who/how to raise hell if my lunch got stolen! One of the perils of working at a huge company I guess. There’s 150+ people on my floor alone.

      HR? Facilities? The exec admin who seemingly manages the goings on of the floor? It would have to be an especially egregious or ongoing problem for me to take the time/effort to make an official fuss.

      But “someone stole my leftovers!!!” would absolutely be my water cooler chat for at least a month.

  46. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

    Another timely one from AAM!

    So I’m back working, found a nice little A/R job with a small, local company. Family run, nice folks. We rent heavy equipment to contractors and DIYers (think trenchers, backhoes, stump grinders, etc.). I mention that because out in the yard, we have the guys. For the most part, they are respectful of food in the fridge/freezer, but a couple weeks ago I had to lay down the law!!!

    I had been in the hospital (again). Ulcerative colitis (yes, it’s been a helluva year). Upon discharge, I was put on a bland/liquid diet. Apple juice, Italian ice….my neighbor said I could put the steak I wanted so bad in the blender. (I asked her “Why am I even friends with you? What kind of a savage puts a Porterhouse into a blender?”) I brought three boxes of Italian ice into work. I knew before I even got here that those were going to be tempting to the guys (Florida, these guys work out in the heat all day and sweat) so I purchased a TON of those frozen ice sticks for them, but I got the good ones, the Jolly Rancher flavored ones. I put a note on my Italian ices saying “Please please please don’t eat these, I am on a severely restricted diet and this is all I can eat right now please don’t eat them! But because I know how hot it is, I brought in the Jolly Rancher ice sticks for y’all! Enjoy!!!!!!”

    I thought that was pretty cool of me.

    I go out the next day to grab me a watermelon Italian ice and…..they’re all gone???? WTAF??? Not just the watermelon ones, ALL of my Italian ices are GONE. I go to the shop manager (Mark) and ask him. He asks around and comes in to tell me that the two new guys had been seen eating them the day before.

    So I marched back into my office and typed up a new sign for my Italian ices. It said (in 72 point type) NOT YOURS.
    I taped it to what was left of my Italian ices. It worked and no more of my Italian ices disappeared.

    Later on that day, one of the perpetrators came up to me and said “Hey! Thanks so much for the Italian ices!” I took great pleasure in making him feel incredibly guilty for leaving me foodless at work for four days. (Fortunately, I am working my way back into real food again so am not stocking the freezer with Italian ices.)

    1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

      Forgot to mention….when Mark told me the two new guys had eaten my Italian ices, I asked him if we were now hiring illiterates since I had put a nice note on my food.

      1. Arctic*

        I don’t know if that was necessary. You made your point without that kind of classist language.

        1. Evan Þ.*

          Why is that classist? Your comment actually reads to me as more classist, since you seem to be assuming lower-class people are much more likely to be illiterate.

          1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

            Thanks. I agree. I had taken the time to type out s nice note that said “Please don’t eat this and here is why” and also took great pains to spend money to bring in treats for them (with another sign that said “These are for you! Enjoy!!”) and they ignored both signs and ate the only food I could eat.

            They would have to either be illiterate or completely lack compassion.

    2. Buttons*

      UGG. Did he read the entire message and only saw “Enjoy!!!!”
      Glad you are feeling better!

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        I asked him and he said he only read part of it. Which leads me to seriously thinking he is illiterate…..

    3. Elenna*

      Off-topic, but there’s a recent Bon Appetit video on YouTube where they try various ways of cooking steak. One of them is putting it in a blender (it’s exactly as gross as you think it is). Maybe your neighbour was referencing that? (I say this because the other possibility is that they actually think you could put your steak in a blender, which, no. :P )

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        Ummm. . . my mom definitely put her steak in a blender when she had extensive mouth surgery and could only eat liquids. She added some veggies, beef broth, and mashed potatoes and said it was quite tasty.

        1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

          She definitely wasn’t talking about the YouTube video. I think she was attempting snark but it fell flat…..bad timing. Just the thought of putting any steak in a blender makes me just……no. Of course, this time last week I was eating mashed potatoes and baby food (gross!) and tonight I had skettis and meatballs….hoping to be able to eat that steak this weekend…and no blender will be involved in the preparation.

        2. Elenna*

          Hmmm, I can see where it could be good with other stuff added. Raw blended steak with nothing else but salt apparently tastes gross (which does not surprise me).

  47. Beatrice*

    My husband had to fire a cafeteria thief once. She was buying lunch from the cafeteria, and then stealing extras from around the checkout counter before leaving (i.e. showing the cashier her burger and fries in a takeout box, then closing the box lid while the cashier rung her up, and sleight-of-handing a candy bar into the box.) The cafeteria was run by a third party contractor, and they built up a pretty solid case with video of multiple incidents before approaching him about it. I initially worried she was doing it because she was hungry or didn’t have adequate access to food, but she had enough money to routinely buy lunch from the cafeteria, and she wasn’t consistently choosing the lowest possible cost item, it really seemed like she was just stealing to steal.

    1. Iconic Bloomingdale*

      About 7 years ago, I had a colleague who was busted stealing breakfast and lunch from the cafe located in the lobby of our office building. She would order her meal and then casually stroll out without paying. Employees noticed what she was doing and tipped off the cafe owner to her theft. He then set up a little “sting” operation where he caught her outside of the cafe with a stolen breakfast one morning. The cafe owner (who had a congenial relationship with most of the building tenants) reported her to management at our company and said he wouldn’t call the police if they took appropriate steps to deal with her.

      She wasn’t terminated. However, she was demoted from her managerial position to a lower title, with a 20% salary reduction. It equated to about a $14,000 loss in salary. A few weeks later, she was transferred to another division with a less prestigious assignment.

  48. blink14*

    I’ve never had my lunch stolen at work, thankfully, but I have had a co-worker who felt like whenever I was eating something, or had something they wanted (like a cough drop or Advil), they could ask for some. I don’t mind handing out the occasional Advil, cough drop, mint, etc or even a piece of candy, but don’t assume you can just keep doing it. After about the 5 or 6th time of this person asking me for Sudafed (not exactly cheap and obviously a personal purchase), they said “oh I guess I should just buy some instead of asking you all the time.” You think?!?!?!

    My strategy for keeping my lunch together and less likely to be rifled through: put everything in a plastic shopping bag, in containers that require some effort, like glass with snap lids, tie the bag and place in fridge drawer. Only put in one serving at a time of things like drinks – I keep a supply of soda locked in my desk and put one in the fridge with my lunch each morning.

    I think most people who steal food from lunches aren’t those who really need food, they either can’t understand that a communal fridge doesn’t communal food, or they enjoy stealing things, or they have an unhealthy relationship with food. I had a roommate who was recovering from an eating disorder (learned this after she moved in), and even though she was well stocked with groceries, she consistently stole my food. Our pantry was clearly delineated, and it was very obvious that she was the culprit, but she denied it every time. I finally started keeping certain food items in my bedroom or bringing them to work for safekeeping (ironic given the topic!)

  49. AuroraLight37*

    My office had a food thief who stole one coworker’s frozen meals. She was understandably pretty ticked off when she went to grab her dinner and it was gone from the fridge. They checked the security cameras and found out that not only was Food Thief stealing food, they were stealing money out of people’s lockers. Food Thief is no longer here, much to everyone’s relief.

  50. staaaaaaaaaaaar*

    My BOSS has stolen people’s food often. When called out on it she’s like “Oh, I’ll just owe ya one.” WTF

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Your boss should be fired. She’s stealing from people she makes more than? Horrible person.

    2. AuroraLight37*


      My manager occasionally jokes that he’s going to steal my lunch because it smells so good, but I know very well he’d never do it.

  51. SugarFree*

    I had a sugar container tucked away in one of the breakroom cabinets with the Sugar in the Raw for my coffee. It was in a cabinet that only had flowers vases in it. After about 4 months it just was gone. I put up a “Have you seen me?” milk carton picture, but it never reappeared. Thiefs are everywhere.

    1. Elbe*

      This is worse than just a coworker taking it. First, stealing is even worse when you’re taking from someone who makes less than you do. And, it also seems like an abuse of power to do something so miserable to people who may not be in a position to push back.

  52. just a small town girl*

    I’ve used creamer that I didn’t know who it belonged to, but I was careful to not use very much and only once. I’ve never had my food go missing, but I have lost a soda once. Thankfully, at least to my knowledge, it isn’t a common thing around here.

  53. Ugh*

    One time, I put my lunch in the fridge, deciding to buy instead. I set a reminder on my calendar to grab my lunch from the fridge at 4 pm since I didn’t want to leave it there overnight. Come 4 pm, I opened the fridge only to find that my lunch was gone. I told my coworker that my lunch had been taken and he would not believe me. He said I probably thought I put my lunch in there but really didn’t. I told him about my calendar reminder, and he still would not believe me – claimed it was all in my head. So not only did I have a lunch thief, but I also had a gaslighter.

  54. Summertime*

    I always imagined that you could catch a lunch thief if you brought in a lunch container with a colored lid and then smear the lid with ink that was the same color as the lid. Then put the lunch FAR in the back of the fridge so someone has to work to get to it and won’t touch it to access their own food. Then you wait for the thief to grab the container out of the fridge and get their hands all inky. Sort of the same concept as a bank robber with a dye pack. Would this actually work?

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      Doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.
      – This requires ink that doesn’t wash off easily and doesn’t dry within hours. Just getting that seems like more trouble than it’s worth.
      – It’s completely normal to move lunchboxes around to make room, stack them on top of each other, or take one out to see if it’s yours or just a similar one. Yes, even if it’s in the back. You risk both staining an innocent colleague and providing plausible deniability to an actual thief.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Clearly you’re not in the PNW where we have more vegetarians/vegans per capita than most places it seems ;) Then you’d have to lock that kale down.

      1. Quill*

        People flip when they discover that I know how to cook things that are vegetarian and vegan that aren’t just relying on faux meat or faux cheese.

        In reality my entire repitoire of foods is recipes where you can just not add meat – think lots of curries and stir fries!

        1. Parenthetically*

          My closest vegetarian friends and I joke about this when they come over for dinner. “Yeah, it’s SO hard to cook for you guys, I get to the point in the recipe where I’d normally add meat, and then I have to actually remember NOT to add meat?! Ugh, so difficult.”

          1. Quill*

            Knowing to cook a satisfying vegetarian or vegan meal covers 99% of your non-allergy bases: generally a vegetarian meal is also halal and kosher…

    2. Close Bracket*

      I would steal a kale salad :)

      (kidding, of course, I would never steal someone’s lunch, but I do love a good kale salad!)

  55. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    Ooof, sometimes in property management (apartments specifically) you wind up having to use a fridge that residents have access to. The amount of food stolen from me was excessive. Weirdly, it was at the worst at on of the highest end complexes that I worked at. The most enraging thing, though, would be when the food thief resident would PARTIALLY eat my lunch and then put the rest back. FLAMES. FLAMES. ON THE SIDES. OF MY FACE. Putting my name on my food didn’t stop it. Putting notes on my food didn’t stop it. At least until I put a note on some particularly yummy leftovers stating that the cameras in the clubhouse were now trained on the fridge and I would be checking them regularly so I could come and personally say hi to anyone who tampered with my tupperware. That bought me at least two weeks of lunch safety.

    1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      The worst food thief that I knew of in our college dorm was one of the students who grew up very wealthy. When confronted, she just said “but they wouldn’t want me to be hungry!”, and it’s clear she’d just never been in a place in her life before where Someone Else didn’t keep fridges magically full of food for her, so she had no idea how to budget her own money to get through things like the cafeteria being closed over spring break. She also just grabbed and drank a soda I had cooling in my window when she was visiting me once without so much as asking if she could have one – just assumed that since we were good enough friends for her to be in my room, I must be her soda supplier now. I don’t know if she ever really figured out that she was supposed to be an adult now and in charge of getting her own groceries and that none of us were secretly either her parents or her staff. I’m not sure she really saw other people as real and understood that they also had needs. I don’t know how one can graduate high school (or preschool) without figuring that out, but apparently it’s possible. (She also once asked me to skip class on no notice to drive her to have a cosmetic dermatology thing done, and was very surprised that I was not going to drop everything to do so.)

  56. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    I find this beyond strange. I’ve been working for 25+ years and have never experienced this, or heard about it in any of my workplaces. I’ve mostly worked in big companies where it would be pretty easy to steal from the fridge without being suspected. Not in the US if that’s of interest. Or Canada! I live in Africa.

    1. Bagpuss*

      When I read the article I did wonder whether the figures would be similar worldwide or whether there would be significant differences in different countries.

  57. Shan*

    I’ve only stolen something from a work fridge once, and it was a complete accident. Right as I was rushing out the door on a Friday, my coworker texted me to say “hey, I had leftovers from my cobb salad at lunch, it was delicious, grab it so it doesn’t go to waste.” So I open the fridge, and see a Tupperware container in a plastic bag that hadn’t been there at lunchtime. I threw it in my purse and ran out to catch my bus. When I got home, I pulled it out and immediately realized how strange it was that he had put restaurant leftovers in a Tupperware container, in a plastic bag. It was also REALLY cold. Of course, it wasn’t the salad. It was the blandest, saddest looking soup – frozen broth so pale it looked like water, and nothing visible other than alphabet noodles. I was heading over to a friend’s place who lived near my office, so I stopped off and switched it out with the salad (which was packaged, as one would expect, in an obvious restaurant takeout container).

    All told, I had it for less than an hour, so hopefully I didn’t screw someone over. I still feel bad, but I also have so many questions about who was putting frozen soup in the freezer mid-afternoon on a Friday! Especially since I was always one of the last people to leave the office, and it definitely wasn’t a “work late night and weekends” kind of place.

    Oh, and my coworker was right – the salad was delicious.

  58. selenejmr*

    I’ve only had my lunch stolen once. I had cottage cheese in the original container in my lunch box in the communal fridge. I would bring in a big container of it and eat it and vegetables over the course of 4 days. Jokes on the person who took it though….I had already eaten 3 of the 4 days worth so they got a dose of my saliva when they ate it!

  59. Delphine*

    Has anyone seen that ad that’s been running recently where a man is standing in front of the office fridge with an open Tupperware in one hand and half a sandwich in the other and his inner voice is egging him on, telling him to go ahead and eat the sandwich, his coworker won’t mind? Except she comes up right behind him and the look on her face says she very much does mind. Couldn’t even tell you what the ad is about, but it always makes me think of AAM. Why do food thieves never get caught in the act like that?

    Anyway, I think lack of impulse control is at the root of all food thievery. People just don’t know how to tell themselves that doing XYZ is wrong.

    1. fposte*

      There was a comment here not long ago of somebody who did catch their co-worker! I don’t remember enough to find it (I don’t even remember whether it was in an open thread or on a relevant topic), but IIRC the co-worker was coming back from the office kitchen to eat at their desk and the commenter was like “Um, you’re bringing *my* food back to *your* desk.” (My recollection is also that the co-worker wasn’t particularly ashamed.)

  60. I'm just a hangry girl*

    Years ago I worked for a family -run department store chain in the NYC Metro area. I was working the late shift, and my brief lunch time would be around 7pm or so, therefore I purchased a nice salad with chicken from the vendor that was only there at regular lunchtime. When hungry me clocked out for my 1/2 break at 7pm, the salad was gone from the communal fridge. There were no places to get food anywhere near the store in the time I had available. I told my supervisor, and I was allowed to go downstairs to the Cheesecake Factory and order an expensive replacement meal, and given extra break time without penalty. Food theft was rampant there.

    That was my first, and last stint in retail.

  61. Heatherskib*

    After viewing enough sitcoms growing up I just never have used office fridges. I have, however, been accused of stealing someone’s yogurt because I happened to he eating the same brand/flavor when they realized theirs was gone…
    My husband had his leftovers from a favorite restaurant taken once, and he left a creatively edited transcript of Liam Nieson’s monologue from “Taken” as a warning to future thieves… it was up for months!

  62. tangerineRose*

    “18% of workers admitted to eating someone else’s lunch from the office fridge” Does this include people who did this accidentally – they thought it belonged to them and then found out they were wrong?

  63. Pipe Organ Guy*

    I haven’t had food stolen, but once long ago my boss decided it was time to clean out the office fridge, and tossed out my lunch that I had brought that morning (some delicious leftovers I was looking forward to eating). When I came in looking for my lunch, she realized what she had done and gave me money to go to the cafeteria and get a decent lunch.

    More recently, a former co-worker of mine had gone to a pizza place and had gotten herself a special gluten-free pizza. She put it in the fridge in the kitchen, with her name written on it. (I remember seeing it in the fridge.) Later that afternoon, she discovered it gone. She proceeded to question everyone in excruciating depth. It was quite a performance! No one could help her, because no one had seen it disappear; she was distraught. Not cool that someone stole her lunch, especially at a church, but a whole lot of drama swirled around her constantly.

  64. Third or Nothing!*

    Well here’s one unexpected plus to having food intolerances, I suppose: no one wants to steal my dairy free, egg free, sugar free meals. Victory?

  65. angrytreespirit*

    There is a completely simple solution to preventing food theft for any regular office worker. Food does not need to be kept at ice cold temperatures until it is time to eat it. Buy a lunch-size soft cooler, put your lunch in it, and keep your lunch at your desk.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Things get stolen from those too–thus the person who had to buy a LOCKING lunch box. And if you have mayo on your lunch and a stupidly hot office, food can go off fast. Not to mention the fun of getting called to a long meeting and getting back at 2 to a lunch that would have been healthy at 11am…

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Ew! I hate the way sandwiches get in those insulated bags. They’re warm. Ick!
      But I keep my bread in the fridge, so I’m used to it cold.

  66. Airy*

    The closest I’ve ever come to lunch theft was drinking a colleague’s Coke Zero from the mini fridge when she was absent. I replaced it before the end of the day so she was unaffected but still felt I was walking a very fine line between decency and turpitude.

    1. Airy*

      To be quite clear, she was absent all day. The surreptitious Coke substitution was never perceptible to her.

  67. Gymmie*

    The boss one is the most upsetting, because it’s so blatant and he even went into the person’s drawers. How could you work with someone like this, I’m sure there were a lot more issues they experienced.

  68. Rainbow Dash*

    I remember when I worked at a job where we had to merge with another department in a new building. My water kept disappearing, no matter what I did. I even put tape over the top. One day, in the break room, I spotted my boss’s boss equal from another department removing the tape. I actually confronted her. “I thought these were free.” was her excuse. “I put tape across the top and wrote my name on it.”

    In spite of my coworkers vouching I had been polite and professional, I got wrote up for this. I left a few months later.

    1. !*

      Seriously…be glad to be out of there! I would love to know how these people were raised who have no qualms about taking things that aren’t theirs, never mind confirming if they are available to all or not…and with tape and your name on it no less!

    2. ggg*

      Ugh…our admin used to put the leftover bottled water from meetings in our office fridge (which I did know about), and at the same time another co-worker was bringing in his own bottled water and putting it in the same fridge (which I did not know about). So I went literally weeks thinking I was drinking free water, when in fact I was stealing this poor guy’s water.

      I told him and we laughed about it and I bought the bottled water for the next month, but I still felt like a big jerk.

  69. The Original Karen from Finance*

    I was expecting to see the spicy lunch fiasco lol! I purchased a freezeable lunch bag that I put my lunch in. I just freeze it overnight and then pop my lunch in it the next day. So convenient! I didn’t purchase it due to theft, but we did have a few things go missing in the office, but because the fridge was so disgusting I couldn’t imagine storing my food in there.

    People would leave all kinds of food in the fridge and then either forget about it or be too lazy to throw it out and expect that someone else would deal with it once it morphed into some congealed-molded mess. Man, I’ve seen some things in that fridge.

    I remember when a colleague’s lunch was stolen. He was so upset and put up an awesome message on the fridge. It said something like “Beware friends, there is a THIEF among us.” His lunch was never stolen again lol!

  70. !*

    I remember a coworker accidentally eating the lunch of another coworker because his mother made his lunches, so he never knew what they were until he opened his brown paper bag to eat it. :) He was mortified of course, and I don’t know if the other coworker ended up eating his lunch which I’m sure was very good, his mom was a good cook!

  71. schnauzerfan*

    We planned a campus event that got canceled at the last minute. We had 12 dozen cookies delivered. So we put the cookies in the freezer planning to serve them at the rescheduled event 2 weeks later. The disappeared. First day we noticed someone had opened a package and helped themself to a cookie or two. Then a whole package disappeared. We posted a sign and told people to leave them alone, we’ll be using them next week. Then 3 dozen went… Then they were all gone. Amazing. Only 8 people had access to the freezer.

  72. wayward*

    That’d be an interesting way to get rid of expired food that’s been sitting in your refrigerator too long to be safe to eat.

  73. Xavier89*

    This is why I don’t store food at work, too afraid of people touching it

    I only bring things that will be fine at room temp and I keep them in my backpack

  74. JustMePatrick*

    Had this happen sporadically where I work. Some co-workers and I witnessed a guy going through the coolers picking out food like it was buffet during one of our lunches! I reported it to my Manager who took to our Asset Protection Manager. We went to the area where he was working and I ID’d him. He was fired a day later. They now keep hidden camera’s pointed at the coolers.

  75. DrRat*

    I worked at an organization with multiple locations and we had food thief problems. One day the CEO sent out an email that said “FREE FOOD” to get everyone’s attention. He said he was tired of seeing employees in tears because someone stole their lunch and they had no money or time to go out for lunch, so he was starting a new policy immediately. If you were caught stealing food, you would be immediately fired for cause, regardless of your position in the company, including CIO, CFO, VPs, etc. You would not be eligible for unemployment, and any future employers calling for references would be told that you were fired for cause and ineligible for rehire. We never had another food theft at either office. I work remote full time, but I really wish more companies would crack down in this way. If your employee is stealing from other employees, he or she is probably stealing from the company, too.

    An old boyfriend worked in a restaurant where they kept having someone steal desserts. The food thief was fired after the chef put green food coloring in the middle of a decoy dessert. They guy kept standing there denying up and down that he was the thief and asking how they could possible suspect him…with bright green teeth, tongue, and lips.

    1. Nifty*

      Yes! I worked at a place with a terrible food-theft problem and the management — eventually, but I think they meant it — made a similar promise of instant dismissal, no reference, for anybody at any level who was caught stealing food.

      As in your case, it was the only thing that worked — this was after months of fierce memos, general cajoling, offers to discreetly help anybody who was having trouble affording food, threats of a security camera (a big investment in those days), trying to make people sign in and out of the break room, etc. An idea was even bandied that no one would be allowed to be alone in the break room. (Not practical, obviously: “Hey, can someone be my break room buddy?”)

      What *really* stank in this case was that we had many student part-timers who brought their own food for budget reasons, and it was about 100% certain that it was a full-time employee or employees doing the stealing — the part-timers were far too busy and always on the phone; they had no time to be lurking around the break room.

  76. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    We were warned not to leave any food at all in the fridge in the parents lounge on the postnatal ward or (later on) children’s ward. It’s not just a work thing. Some people just suck.

  77. Jaid*

    One of my co-worker’s mummifies her food by wrapping it in a crapload of paper towels and rubber bands.

    Me, I have a huge insulated bag. The only time I leave food in the fridge is if I’m gonna eat it the next day and oddly enough, no one seems to want my kimchee or green smoothie…

  78. Ciela*

    I once did walk into production and yell loudly, “Who stole my crackers?!?”
    “Oh, I thought those were for anybody” No, they were not. And then the next week my cheese was missing, then someone’s Hot Pockets were gone.
    There were 12? 13? of us at that time. Food started disappearing a week after she started, and hasn’t been a problem since she quit.
    Since she’s been gone, I buy granola bars by the gross, and maybe 4-5 go missing from a case. But it’s usually my nephew who forgot breakfast, and he tells me after he eats one.

  79. alittlehelpplease*

    Somebody did come up with a solution to this: lockable lunchboxes, which are readily available and, other than the lock, identical to other lunchboxes.

  80. Anji*

    A coworker, the owner’s adult son, used to actually fork his way through others people’s lunches. You bring lasagna, don’t assume your food with no be branded with his multiple fork marks!! It was insanity to feel like you had to put a padlock on your damned Pyrex!!

    1. Anji*

      A coworker, the owner’s adult son, used to actually fork his way through others people’s lunches. You bring lasagna, don’t assume your food will not be branded with his multiple fork marks!! It was insanity to feel like you had to put a padlock on your damned Pyrex!! (My apologies for the typos… darned auto correct.)

  81. tamarack & fireweed*

    My sister-in-law just posted a meme about this. It’s in German, but the text goes something like this:

    There’s a weird new fad going around my workplace:
    People are putting name labels on their lunches.
    Today, I had a roast beef sandwich named “Gerd”.

  82. Elan Morin Tedronai*

    I bring lunch to work almost every day and chill it in the fridge. During my first job in a tiny little 3-person firm, the fridge, in a repurposed house, was in a pantry shared by my firm and 3 or 4 similarly-sized companies within the place. During my first week at the company, I was warned that there was a food thief, but I figured that (1), they’d only steal snack food like crisps, chocolate and drinks and (2), I wouldn’t be that good of a cook that they’d try to steal my food more than once.

    Of course that was a mistake. My food kept being pilfered – and I’m not talking about a few chips missing here and there. Despite me labelling my food, taping or tying my lunchbox shut or the like, the thief actually took major portions of my lunch, on one (very!!) memorable occasion even going so far as to eat the whole thing and leave the empty unwashed container in the fridge with a post-it note inside it saying “thanks (:”. A look at the CCTV footage showed that it was a guy from one of the other firms, but even with that and said infuriating note, neither my boss nor the people at the other firm would do anything about it. I resorted in the end to keeping my lunchbox with me, chilling it with gel ice packs which were much messier.

    Fast forward 9 months. As per my country’s standards, I’d given a month’s notice for other unrelated reasons (mostly due to my boss). Thief was still there. I returned my lunch box to the fridge, but this time started to subtly mess with the food I prepared. It wasn’t anything too major, except I’d fry something with lard instead of olive oil, or use MSG instead of salt, or glaze something with corn syrup rather than honey… It kept disappearing nonetheless, which was sort of what I was hoping for. My last day, the coup de grace. I packed buttered rice and beef short rib in my lunchbox – but this time, I coated my rice with butter and dulcolax, and for good measure, added the stuff to the beef glaze. My dear friend ate the whole thing, and once I discovered it was missing, I did two things.

    First, the facilities in this place were limited to two cubicles marked by gender. They were next to each other and separated by a partition. I went into the male one and locked the door. Then I army-crawled under the partition into the female one and exited the restroom from there, taking all the toilet paper with me. Soon after, I listened with relish to the sounds of someone knocking, then pounding on the cubicle door, accompanied by stomping which sounded like someone doing Dance Dance Revolution at thrice the normal speed. I started walking over to the bathroom when I heard a loud groan and the sound of a door being flung open and slamming, which I guessed came from him literally throwing himself into the female cubicle. That left me time to do the second thing, which was to tape his insulting note onto the cubicle door – now accompanied by a handwritten “You’re welcome :D”.

    Looking back on this, it was petty and malicious. It was mean. I probably wounded my soul by how long I held that grudge. I could also have gotten into terrible trouble with my methods, which if you recall included food spiking and a certain amount of breaking and entering. But damned if that evening wasn’t one of the best of my life up till that point.

  83. Eirene*

    I worked for PayPal Credit in the call center a decade ago and we had a horrible lunch thief. Whoever it was never took homemade food, but it didn’t matter whose it was; supervisors and managers had their lunches stolen as well. It stopped when they put up a camera in the kitchen – until the thief realized that the camera was for show and didn’t work. I went into my lunch bag on a Saturday and found that the leftover BK cheeseburger I’d brought was gone. They were “nice” enough to leave me the apple and granola bar. Of course, the deli around the corner was not open on weekends, there was nowhere else to walk to, and I didn’t have a car, so I survived the day on snacks. I reported it to one of the team leads – as we’d been instructed to – and his response was literally, “What do you want me to do about it?” (He was the same team lead who questioned why I was taking slightly longer bathroom breaks than usual during one particular week and I just stared at him and said, “I’m a woman, Fergus.”) I haven’t had my lunch stolen, either on purpose or accidentally, since I left that terrible, terrible job.

  84. Agnes*

    I think food stealing doesn’t trigger the same instincts as money theft does, say, because going to the fridge and rummaging around is something most of us do, and usually most of the food is available to all. (I know not always in a roommate situation, but usually in a family one.) So it’s somehow a different behavioral pathway.

  85. somebody blonde*

    There actually is a solution to lunch thievery, but sadly, it seems to only be available in a couple industries: the company can just provide lunch. I work at a fancy tech company and it’s pretty nice to never worry about my lunch. We also have staff whose full-time job is to manage our kitchens, so we don’t have the dishes wars either. It’s amazing how much more goodwill you can have in a company when you have no idea which of your coworkers would be slobs or food thieves in other companies.

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