office kitchen wars are back

With many companies bringing people back to the office at least part-time, office kitchens wars are back!

Today at Slate, I wrote about workplace kitchen aggravations — the take-out food from months ago left rotting in the fridge, the politics of who gets stuck cleaning up after others (and who doesn’t), the brazen thefts of other people’s food … and some Covid-specific indignities that grossed out workers returning to the premises after their office kitchens had gone unused for months or years. You can read it here.

{ 147 comments… read them below }

  1. OlympiasEpiriot*

    I dimly recall a letter about someone bringing in an especially inappropriately harsh cleaning product for an office kitchen. It came to mind as I read the article to the discussion on people’s varying standards of cleanliness.

        1. lilsheba*

          yikes that’s a bit much. Oxy clean maybe but I would not use a coffee maker after bleach, that’s a good way to get sick.

          1. Firestar*

            yep people were getting sick that is how they found out, they got a new coffee maker and she wasn’t allowed to touch it

          2. Warrior Princess Xena*

            I would, but I’d only bleach a coffee maker if something really horrifying had started growing inside it and I know how to properly rinse it out. More importantly I wouldn’t use an unapproved product on a workplace coffee maker.

          3. Peanut Hamper*

            Yes, you really need to make sure that all the bleach has evaporated from the nooks and crannies; ideally you would let it dry overnight. I can’t imagine just cleaning it with bleach and then making a fresh pot. Yikes!

        2. hiptobesquare*

          This was with friends, but apparently this one guy was cleaning his coffee pot with bleach water… and I made coffee with it. Luckily, only I drank it and no one was harmed but… I did get to call poison control from the front porch of a frat house so, you know, good story.

        3. TootsNYC*

          I ruined a coffee maker by running vinegar through it, undiluted. The taste and smell never got out.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        on dishes and silverware…to clarify for anyone thinking, “well, those sinks and counters get nasty.”

        1. wolfinthewall*

          Over here like…yeah, totally, if it’s clogged!

          Didn’t realize they were WIPING DOWN THE WHOLE SINK WITH IT.

      2. Dahlia*

        There was one where an employee was using Drano on the dish washing sponge and making people sick.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      The letter was “I saw my coworker wiping down our kitchen sink with Drano” from June 27, 2016.

  2. Rock 'em sock 'em managers*

    Our workplace has an elegantly worded message on the break room fridge: “If there is food and drink in here that does not belong to you, please do not eat or drink them.” They also started firing folks for stealing food, which cut back the practice pdq.

    1. GreenShoes*

      At one office I frequented, they started having a rash of food thefts out of the fridges + snacks and candy left on desks. Turned out it was a couple of the contracted security guards who were caught on video.

      1. Cat Lady Esq.*

        This happened in my old workplace a long time ago and it turned out the cleaning crew they hired was basically bringing their whole families to work, kids and grandmas alike, and just hanging out and raiding the fridge like it was their second home. They even brought in a console game system and hooked it up to the break room tv. It finally got noticed because so much food was going missing from the fridge and from people’s desks, and the kids left some toys in the break room. Management installed hidden cameras and the cleaning company was replaced shortly afterward. They were stealing office supplies, rifling through people’s desks… it was bad.

        1. female peter gibbons*

          I had the same issue at my workplace. I saw the video and everything. It was just one or two cleaning women that I saw in my case though.

      2. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Stealing the hidden chocolate bar turned into a joke thing with the JD Robb In Death series till whoever took it over and added things as backstory that were never in the earlier books.

    2. TomatoSoup*

      This is amazing. Both for the firing but I’m also amazed that it happened often enough that multiple people were fired for it. I think the worst I ever saw was people “borrowing” splashes of other people’s coffee creamers without telling them. The company provided whole milk and other people brought in whatever they preferred, usually labeled.

      1. Fishsticks*

        Oh man. I stole one day. I DID. I stole milk from a woman who brings in a half-gallon of milk each day. I wanted it for my coffee because I was so tired of our crappy creamers. I used it.

        An hour later, I was so overwhelmed with guilt I left, went to the store, bought new milk, and put it in the fridge with a little note apologizing. She found me in my office later and was dying laughing because I had taken so little she couldn’t even tell except for having left her new milk and a note!

        1. JustAnotherKate*

          Ha, this reminds me of the time that I accidentally finished a co-worker’s salad dressing because I thought it was mine, and I felt so guilty! And I compounded it by sending her a chat like “I’m such an asshole, I finished your raspberry vinagrette! So sorry, I wasn’t trying to be a butthead” or something similar. Which would’ve been fine as we spoke casually all the time — except that she was presenting to Board members! Thankfully, everyone thought it was funny and she graciously said it was her fault for not putting her chat on DND. (And of course I replaced her dressing.)

  3. Never Knew I Was a Dancer*

    There’s something about the line “It’s fine if highly paid people don’t clean up after themselves because they’re paid a lot and it’s better for them to do other work,” that sticks in my craw the more that I hear it. This isn’t the same as delegating a work task, this is about one person making a choice that creates some kind of mess that impacts others, and then saying it’s fine for that person to disregard that impact and pass it on to someone else because the mess-leaver happens to be paid more than other people.

    It’s 1-2 minutes tops to wash a coffee mug. Clearing out a fridge can take longer but can also be split with someone else. If I saw my boss/department head/executive leader take that 2 or 10 minutes to pitch in for something that impacts us all, instead of saying in deed if not word that they expect me and my peers to clean up after them because we’re peons, that also has a positive impact on the company even if it can’t be measured by proportions of hourly pay (never mind that executives are salaried and not paid by the hour). I would have a deeper level of appreciation and respect for them, and be a morale booster to see that kind of message message about how the organization views and treats its people.

    1. Missb*

      yeah, our office volunteered sections within the floor to clean. Those duties were shared by the higher paid folks and the lesser paid folks in each section. It was strictly volunteer but management helped and so did the technical folks (engineers). We were all using the kitchen.

    2. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      I hear you, but I interpreted Alison’s recommendation to be saying that senior staff should still be cleaning up after themselves outside extenuating circumstances, and it’s only the larger scale clean ups that should be delegated to people whose tasks could be done by others.

      From a logistical standpoint, if you have tasks that can only be done by you but someone else has tasks that can be shared among many people, then stuff like this should be delegated to those that can share tasks for efficiency’s sake.

      1. Ashley*

        This. I once spent 20 minutes screwing around with the paper towel dispenser because I was the unlucky one who they ran out on. Now imagine if that was a CEO who had to get to a meeting.
        But if you pour a cup of coffee and spill, wipe the counter.
        The washing of the mugs is why so many places use disposable which creates there own problems.

        1. Never Knew I Was a Dancer*

          Now imagine if that was a CEO who had to get to a meeting.

          Heh, I would think that anyone who needs to get to a meeting would set the paper towel dispenser/microwave mess/empty coffee pot to the side. I am not a CEO but none of my coworkers would be impressed if I rolled into a meeting late because I was taking care of any of those.

        2. Mongrel*

          I think the differentiation should be between general cleaning and cleaning up after yourself.
          Wiping up your spills, putting your cups in the dishwasher, taking your nearly empty container out of the fridge etc are cleaning up after yourself

      2. Never Knew I Was a Dancer*

        From a logistical standpoint, if you have tasks that can only be done by you but someone else has tasks that can be shared among many people, then stuff like this should be delegated to those that can share tasks for efficiency’s sake.

        But, there are plenty of work tasks that I do and know how to do that my boss/CEO can’t, and that other people rely on for their work. If the stability of the company is threatened by a higher-up spending 10, 15, 30 minutes once a quarter on something that strictly speaking isn’t work, then there are larger issues at play than them doing this task.

        Also food for thought—if an executive pitching in here isn’t a good use of their time because they should be off in a meeting somewhere, does that mean it’s not a good use of their time to spend 10-20 minutes every now and then chatting with regular employees? I’d think most of us here would see the value in that. So is there a qualitative difference between that and spending 10-20 min on pitching in with others for a space they use?

        1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

          That’s why I didn’t base my statement around titles or pay but around responsibilities! To me, it doesn’t feel like an issue of valuation or worth, but of prioritizing how you use a limited resource.

          And logistically, organizing an office cleaning is very different from stopping to talk to someone for 10 minutes when you both coincidentally have the time.

          In my office, we have quarterly building and grounds cleanups where everyone pitches in, but there always end up being higher priority conflicts for some staff, and for our senior management they almost always have those conflicts. If there was nothing that had to be scheduled or with a deadline competing for their time, then yes they absolutely should pitch in and consider it time well spent on team building. But the fact of the matter is, the more senior or specialized a staff person is, the more likely they will be to have a meeting or deadline that is higher priority than cleaning the kitchen at a scheduled time.

          It does feel like a frustrating “I’m too good for this task”, but it’s equally frustrating when a manager has not done what you need them to do to get on with your work and you find out it’s because they spent the morning planning the department birthday party or some other task that could be done by someone who shares job responsibilities with someone else.

          I don’t know how well I’ve articulated this, but my point is that it’s generally better to remove ego from the equation and people who have backup on their normal operations should step outside them for communal chores before people who don’t. If a senior employee is able to pitch in without impacting their work, they should. But their schedules are typically more unpredictable and it doesn’t make sense to rely on them having the time.

    3. Lily Potter*

      I agree, Dancer. If a highly compensated employee uses the kitchen, they need to take their turn on cleanup. If they want to delegate the task to their admin or someone junior during exceptionally busy times or when they’re traveling, that’s fine. But to refuse to ever wash out the sink when you use the kitchen as much as annyone else? Nope, not good by me.

      (The example in the article about the busy CEO leaving a mug in the sink was a bit disingenuous. It’d be okay if a “peon” left a guest’s mug, too)

      1. Lunch Ghost*

        The point of the example was that it’s hard to strictly enforce “everyone cleans up after themselves”, and if you allow loopholes it’s even harder to enforce. If people find out it’s okay to leave a mug in the sink when you’re heading to a meeting, there are people who will claim they’re heading to a meeting when they’re not. There are also people who really will be heading to a meeting and really will mean to come back and wash their mug later… but will forget (hi). Then other people will see mugs in the sink and think it’s okay to leave mugs in the sink…

        Hence the paragraph starting with: you should be able to say “Everyone clean up after yourself,” but realistically that won’t be enough, because not everybody will.

      2. rayray*

        I agree. You may be a big shot in the office, but you still need to be a responsible adult. Clean up after yourself.

    4. Meep*

      I mean in my office, the women were expected to take out the trash and do the cleaning for a while. Because those menfolk had better things to do and didn’t need that distraction, apparently. When we finally got cleaners it was $25/week. I never complained about the cobwebs, because those women were being paid slave wages.

      There is definitely a belief that men shouldn’t be wasting their time with something trivial as cleaning. Probably because women do it, and how hard can it be if women do it?

        1. Meep*

          Which part? lol

          But in all seriousness, this is not the worst thing the person who dictated this policy did. All she ever did was commit crimes.

                1. Meep*

                  You aren’t. Minimum wage was $12/hour and they were there for 3 hours. But also the sexist dividing of tasks.

                2. Firestar*

                  I just said that because I reread it and realized you didn’t say how long they were there so I could have been wrong. Thanks for clarifing

      1. Lily Rowan*

        That is especially silly to me because taking out the trash is the one chore that we all agree is a man’s job! I mean, that and grilling, right?

    5. H3llifIknow*

      I read that as “if you’re making an office schedule to take turns cleaning out the fridge, it doesn’t make sense for the $250 an hour CEO to be on the roster.”

      1. Lunch Ghost*

        This, and it also wasn’t an actual recommendation– it was part of pointing out the problems with having a schedule. The actual recommendations were to hire cleaners– and have them come in as frequently as possible, up to and including full-time– or to take volunteers and give them perks in return.

      2. Gingerkid*

        There’s no way the CEO is an hourly employee, and honestly it’s not beneath them to wipe down a counter.

        1. Unkempt Flatware*

          The amount of respect I’d lose for a CEO who felt it was beneath them is staggering.

          1. Birdie*

            I’ve worked with a lot of head honchos who felt it was beneath them. The one I currently work for thinks it’s beneath her to wash her coffee mug. She puts her empty dirty mug on our admin assistant’s desk every evening.

            Anyways, story about a good boss: I was about 2 weeks into a new job at a small non-profit when I walked into the kitchen and there was the Executive Director, who had been there all of a month, unloading the dishwasher! He always made his own coffee, cleaned his own mug, wiped down counters, anything. I asked him about that once and he said, paraphrasing, the organization did not have support staff, so everyone, even him, had to handle their own stuff. And that if he ever decided making coffee or cleaning his own cup was beneath him, we were to tell him to knock it the F off.

            There was stuff he should have delegated, he tried too hard at times to handle it himself. But he is also just an extraordinary person and his willingness to literally get his hands dirty was just another display of his kind-heartedness and compassion and humility. When my husband nearly died, this boss kept bringing food to my house so it was one less thing my mom had to worry about as she watched our son. And that’s just one example. To this day, I’d run through a wall for him.

    6. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I think it depends on the mess. If you’ve got a CEO/executive/whoever deliberately leaving messes (not tossing away trash, not putting coffee mug in the dishwasher), that’s one thing. That takes very little time to clean up, accumulates quickly, and should not all be dumped on one person. On the other hand, if there are larger kitchen chores (restocking the fridge, setting up/cleaning out the coffeemaker after a day’s use, doing a resupply run) outside of very tiny offices it doesn’t make sense to have your highest-paid person working on those tasks.

      1. Ophelia*

        Frankly, it makes sense to have everyone pick up after themselves, but to identify–and pay–someone to do the cleaning, whether that is an external contractor or part of the job description for a staff person. But if it’s an office job that needs to be done, then IMO either your business can afford to compensate the labor that does it, or you can’t afford to run your business.

    7. Angstrom*

      The line in the article was “It also probably doesn’t make the best business sense for your highly compensated CFO to be assigned to an hour in the kitchen each week, rather than spending that time on skilled work only she can do.”
      I absolutely agree that nobody is above cleaning up their own mess, or giving the counter or sink a quick wipe. But if I saw the CFO spend an hour scrubbing ancient explosions out of the shared microwaves I’d think it was a waste of their time.

      1. Never Knew I Was a Dancer*

        If that person used the microwave and helped contribute to the ancient explosions, and thus spent time to help clean up a mess they contributed to, I would have a lot more respect for them, and feel more respected in turn. Having someone with a fancy title or who is potentially paid way too much money contribute their part to a shared resource results in a lot more for the company than simply tidy counters or a fresh pot of coffee. Just because that can’t be reflected in a quarterly earnings report doesn’t make it less worthwhile.

      2. rayray*

        If the CFO uses the microwave and there’s a spill or explosion, they absolutely should clean that up before the next person uses it. If everyone did this, it wouldn’t need a deep clean with scrubbing and taking a lot of time.

    8. She of Many Hats*

      I’m so there with you. I’m the office admin but also do work on other teams. I’ve had to repeatedly ask one of the guys with seniority in role & tenure to clean up after making coffee because he leaves the trash drawer open, the empty pack on the counter, scissors dropped open where they landed, sugar & dry creamer spilled across the counter. Yes, I take care of the office as in making sure you do have coffee. No, I’m not the cleaning lady and she doesn’t deserve that sort of mess either.

      1. She of Many Hats*

        Let me clarify, that even the CEO makes a fresh pot of coffee (with far less mess left behind) if it’s out and will put his mug in the dishwasher.

        1. Neurodivergent in Germany*

          It is the cleaner’s job as in they are the one who has to do it if nobody else does.
          But they often work on a very tight schedule so that they only even make minimum wage if they can move through quickly, sweeping floors, wiping counters and emptying trash cans.
          It is disrespectful and harming them to create a much bigger mess because one can’t be bothered to pick up after oneself.

    9. Jessica Fletcher*

      Agree. When I worked at one particular low paid job, most employees treated us like we were their cleaning crew, but we weren’t. The best ED we ever had was a guy who voluntarily dusted and vacuumed, and told other higher level folks to clean, too. He understood that if the board wasn’t going to hire cleaners, then it was up to all of us. I still remember him telling everyone that nobody was too good to mop a bathroom. He was great (so of course he was run out and replaced by a terrible person).

    10. allathian*

      Our former department head, a man in his early 40s, made a point of always cleaning up after himself and emptying the dishwasher occasionally. Some older directors on the same corridor thought that was beneath them. I mean, I can sort of understand leaving your mug in the sink if the dishwasher’s running, but some people did that as a matter of course. Oh well, at least they brought the mugs back to the kitchen, I suppose. But it was annoying all the same.

    11. Allie*

      This reminds me of a debate that happened constantly in the Army. The rank system is of course leftover from the times of lords and peasants. The lords and gentry were the educated officers, and the peasants were the cannon-fodder enlisted (privates and non-commissioned officers or NCOs, who are sergeants). I am generalizing below based on my experiences and am sure there are others with vastly different ones.

      So, military regs and training enshrine the distinction between commissioned officers and NCOs. Officers are specifically told it’s beneath their dignity to do routine tasks like KP and guard duty (not because they are too busy, but because it would somehow demean them— it’s actually in the field manuals and regs), that they are entitled to cut to the front of every line and take the best of every situation (they eat first and get, say, the only air conditioning unit in the middle of Iraq). NCOs, though, are trained to take care of their soldiers — we ate last, sacrificed sleep, purchased and shared our own gear to make sure our soldiers were equipped, and made sure we were scheduled for every unpleasant duty alongside our soldiers.

      During deployment, this really brought home the differences, because our officers had almost nothing to do. While we worked 80-100+ hour weeks, the lieutenants and captains reclined on their cots in the one air-conditioned space (and wouldn’t allow enlisted people, even those recovering from heat illness or otherwise ill/injured) to use it. When we got assigned additional guard duties overnight, despite full schedules, we were told to just work 36-hour shifts and deal. The unit chaplain was famous for keeping a box of straws he would hand out, telling soldiers “here’s a straw; suck it up”. He also carried a quarter in his pocket and would pretend to hand it to a distressed soldier, saying (like the country song) “here’s a quarter; call someone who cares”!

      But the problem was also that more than 50% of our soldiers had at least a bachelor’s degree, if not more. All of us had graduated from a demanding 2-year training within the military that actually conferred an associate’s degree (the officers had no comparable skill training). We were highly professional, skilled operators and leaders but got treated like illiterate cannon fodder. All because the officers went to 14 weeks of Officer Candidate School (no West Pointers in that unit!), and many had basically purchased a unaccredited degree online with credit for “life experience”. Many of us could have been officers (I had half a PhD under my belt when I enlisted) but chose to enlist because we weren’t comfortable with the idea of being a lieutenant with 6 months of experience taking salutes and giving orders to a Sergeant Major with 30 years in service. No one had a problem with the idea of rank or following orders; we objected to the idea that enlisted people were lesser — less educated, less intelligent, less professional, and less valuable. By acting like they were a completely different class of people, the officers alienated us and pretty much destroyed the unit. Ironically, the unit could have carried on its mission without them, but the loss of the enlisted would have made it impossible.

      The point of my long ramble is that while there are legitimate arguments for anyone with specialized skills to be excused from undesirable tasks, a blanket rank-based ban can make people lose respect for their leaders. As an Arabic linguist in Iraq, it was absolutely absurd for me to spend days on end picking up trash in the middle of the desert, burning human waste with gasoline, or scrubbing pots while my lieutenant with no language training lay on his cot and demanded we deliver him his meals on a tray!

      How about leaving the higher-ups off the formal schedule, but have them make a point of coming informally to pitch in a bit? There was a Captain from another unit who would pitch in for an hour or two lifting crates, washing vehicles, and washing dishes, and she was beloved and revered for not putting herself above such duties. She also used the time to informally check in with her soldiers and get a better idea of unit morale and health. It didn’t interfere much with her usual duties (which she actually seemed to have, unlike our officers!), and it let her nip a few potentially explosive situations in the bud before they got worse (breaking up a contraband smuggling operation, stopping a senior NCO who was sexually harassing a private, and stopping the spread of a STD outbreak by requiring all soldiers get tested and treated). By acting above such mundane concerns, leaders will soon find they have no one to lead.

  4. Random Biter*

    My personal horror story from OldJob… there were only 4 of us in the office every day and everyone was assigned a certain area to clean each week. No biggie as none of us were slobs and were considerate of others. Our problem were the clients!! My office was quite near the one bathroom designated for office/client use. One Monday I came in to the most horrific stench. The bathroom door was closed and when I opened it I thought the smell was going to give me brain damage. As it turned out, the father of one our of child clients had used the bathroom late on Friday afternoon, right before we closed. It appeared he had suffered some erm digestive distress and clogged the toilet. Instead of informing the office person (only one there, everyone else had gone home for the day) and maybe even asking for a plunger, he simply closed the door and left everything as it was. Our only male employee had the wonderful opportunity of cleaning up that mess and from that day forth clients had to ask for a key to use the bathroom.

    1. CSRoadWarrior*

      Okay that is very gross! I don’t blame your company for asking for a key after that. And of course, it was not your fault. But I cannot imagine the disgust you and everyone else felt.

      Also, as someone who is squeamish, this would be very traumatic for me.

    2. SB*

      I think the only male employee who was asked to clean this mess was owed a free lunch for that. I would have refused & suggested that biohazards (which this most assuredly was) should be cleaned professionally & not left to non trained personnel.

      1. Carol the happy elf*

        McD, junior year of high school. Our the general manager, “Bill” took us newbies on a tour of the place. He did have males on grill to start, and females at the counter but that was just to start with.

        When we got to the cleaning station, he said the most wonderful thing I’ve ever heard, “When it comes to bathroom duty, there’s no woman on earth who should have to clean a urinal. When men stand to relieve themselves, andwomen kneel to scrub the floors where they miss, life’s officially not fair. So men, we clean up the mess of the men. The womens bathroom isn’t any sterile operating room, either, but at least this is fair.”
        I always liked that man.

  5. KatieP*

    The thing that bugs me the most, is in an office that’s 90% cis-male, you could have 10 people doing cleanup, and nary a cis-male in the bunch. I’ve seen female executives expected to clean up a pot luck, while male individual contributors just go back to their desks (and leave their dirty pot luck dishes for the womenfolk to clean).

    1. Meep*

      So much this. Our (male) manager found out that our (female) VP expected us (women) to take out the trash because it wasn’t something we should bother the “boys” with (her words). He was horrified and started taking it out any time we started to. But most cleaning is expected by women. It is why I choose to be a slob in the office.

      1. KatieP*

        I wouldn’t say that I choose to be a slob, but I definitely make sure that I clean-up after myself, and little beyond that.

        “His arms ain’t broken,” is my response if asked to clean-up a male colleague’s mess. I don’t know if this colloquialism is common outside Texas, but it basically means, “He’s a grown man and should be doing that for himself.”

        1. Vio*

          I’ve not heard it before but it’s a good one. It’s very obvious what it means and it has the benefit that for extra effect you can add a dramatic pause and a menacing “…yet”

        2. Meep*

          I guess I should’ve clarified. I have OCD so different definitions of “slob” than most. But yep. Definitely only clean up after myself. Everyone else’s mess, while bothersome and eye-twitching, can stay.

    2. Lucy P*

      We have 2 departments–production and admin (which encompasses all normal business departments that aren’t production). Production is 95% male on average, and 100% male for the last 10 years. Admin is almost always women.
      A few years ago, one of the men in production decided to help cleanup after a potluck. By cleanup, I mean that he rolled up his sleeves and washed an entire sink full of dirty dishes. He was reprimanded and told to let the women do the work.

      1. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

        Flames… flames on the side of my face…
        That one guy is cool though.

      2. Texan In Exile*

        My former job had 250 people in the local office. Seventeen of us were women. 100% of the people who prepared for and cleaned up after the potlucks were women.

        (I was not one of them.)(I refused on principle.)

      3. KatieP*

        That one guy is awesome. The rest of them are a lawsuit just waiting to happen.

        Another thing that bugged me about the office potluck is the number of cis men, when asked for the recipe, responded with, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask my wife.”

        Thankfully my DH has never asked me to cook for his office. He’d be getting the, “Your arms ain’t broken,” line. :)

        The reverse, oddly, isn’t true. His holiday fudge is legendary and he makes it for my office every year.

  6. Wash Your Own Stuff or Pay Up*

    I work for a company that provides janitorial services to certain clients. Our contracts DO NOT include washing dishes, loading, and/or unloading any dishwashers as part of the routine cleaning services, but some client staff are not clued into this and assume it is part of the deal and get upset when they are not cleaned up after. Then we have had our own (conscientious against their own good) staff over the years who feel compelled to do the dishes in the sink. We are contracted to clean the kitchen sink itself. It is within reason to remove the dishware, clean the sink itself, and put the dirty dishes right back. This includes your dried-up oatmeal cement and stuck-on granola rocks. Yet most companies who hire janitorial services don’t want to shell out for cleaning of dishes. If you don’t have a dishwasher unit, a human being standing there washing your items takes time that will likely be offset in other areas if they/you feel they must be done. It’s a story as old as time in the janitorial business.

  7. yala*

    Lemme just gag over wanting the tupperware back. YOU WERE FINE WITHOUT IT FOR A YEAR, LET IT GO

    1. KateM*

      Ah but they didn’t have to bring food to work for a year. They were also fine without their suit pants for a year…

    2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      Oh, to be able to close that loop in my head so easily. One of my classmates in junior high (I’m 43 now) “borrowed” a book and never gave it back. I still think of it every once and awhile.

      If I knew my Tupperware got thrown out, I’d understand, but would be irritated.

      1. yala*

        I remain haunted by a copy of “Gooseflumps: Eat Cheese and Barf” that I borrowed from a friend in middle school and lost. To this day, I have no idea what happened to it, and I still feel guilty about it.

        I’ve thrown away my own tupperware when science experiments took up residence. At a certain point, it’s just not worth the three bucks.

    3. alex (they/them)*

      If mold grows in a plastic container, that plastic is now full of mold spores and needs to be thrown out!

      1. I have RBF*


        I no longer have the Tupperware of my youth, because mold and grease scorching rendered it unusable. If I wanted Tupperware, I’d have to buy more. Instead, we buy semi-reusable plastic that is recyclable.

    4. Kyrielle*

      I would never be able to use that container again. And if it were a glass or metal container instead of plastic, I would STILL not be able to use it again. Just no. There are some things that go straight in the trash so I don’t have to worry about even the tiniest hint of it being near my food. *shudders*

  8. CSRoadWarrior*

    At my former employer, we had community drawers and personal drawers in the kitchen. Only, they were not labeled properly. There was a drawer full of snacks and napkins, and everyone took food from there thinking it was for everyone.

    Only a month later, someone opened the drawer and saw the sign saying “This is a personal, not a community drawer.” From that day forward, the employee put her name tag on it and nobody touched anything again.

  9. gsa*

    I am having serious, “déjà vu all over again”.

    I feel like something similar was published a week or so ago.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      There was a thread asking for these stories, which Alison then turned into the Slate piece.

  10. Miss Chanandler Bong*

    Just wait until after Thanksgiving when people’s turkey sandwiches with the moisture makers get stolen…

  11. Candy*

    >> Short of hiring full-time, on-site janitorial staff (great when you can afford it, but not feasible for most employers)

    My company — with two kitchens — pays $500/month for janitorial staff to nightly wipe down the kitchen counters & tables and load & unload 4 dishwashers, as well as sanitize 4 fridges once a month.

    tbh I find it hard to believe that “most” employers who can afford the rent of an office with a kitchen in it cannot also find $20/day to maintain a clean eating and working space for staff.

  12. Dona Florinda*

    A few years back, our kitchen was left so disgusting so often that we hired a cleaning person that was responsible for cleaning out the kitchen (not individual containers though, those would be thrown away unceremoniously if left over) every Friday afternoon. Then one time she forgot to empty the fridge, and the office admin so harsh about it that the cleaning person thought it was better to clean it right away on Monday… throwing away *a lot* of food that people brought to eat that day.

    A long discussion followed with said admin, the entire cleaning crew, HR, and the finance department, who was in charge of reimbursing everyone who got their food chucked. I’ve been wary of office kitchens ever since, and avoid them whenever possible.

  13. ItBetterNotBeACactus*

    These posts have reminded me that I was the office cleanliness fail for awhile. I work on a large campus with a central cafeteria. I loved Taco Tuesday (it was a by weight, build your own affair). I would take a real plate instead of a styrofoam to-go container and take it back to my office to eat (it was an extra busy time for me).

    Then I would put my scraped plate and fork in the local snack area on a tray, where I SWEAR TO YOU FRIENDS, it used to be a “return your cafeteria items here.” Stuff would hang out there for a bit and disappear (usually a collection of drink cups, my plate, maybe some bowls).

    Then one day, someone left a “You mother doesn’t work here, clean up after yourselves!!1!!” note.

    I felt defensive but figured I’d better check myself and I emailed the cafeteria. They said that dish collection was no longer a formal service, but sometimes custodial would bring stuff down to them. Well, then I did feel like a jerk because the custodial and cafeteria service were both contracted employees for different vendors and they shouldn’t have to haul my plates around when it wasn’t their job.

    So then I started picking up the other dishes and taking them back with my plate when I had time (90% of the time, it was empty glasses that stacked so it wasn’t too bad to bring them down with me).

    I also left a reply note that I had confirmed that dish pick up was sadly no longer a service.

    I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes your angry note does work??? And sometimes people are operating on old standards and not being jerks on purpose.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I work in a chronically understaffed lab. Our sink has a similar sign, but with a footnote:

      “Your mother doesn’t work here.* Clean up after yourself.
      *But if she has a master’s in chemistry or biology, she is encouraged to apply.”

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I worked in a place where a mom and son both worked. I think the sign said, “Your mother doesn’t work here – clean up after yourself! (Unless you are Dan.)”

        1. Mr. Shark*

          Haha. It really should’ve said “Your mother doesn’t work here (unless you are Dan) — even if she does, clean up after yourself!”

  14. NotAnotherManager!*

    I have never in my life been so glad to have a paid cleaning crew, a firm policy on fridge cleanout (every Friday, all unlabeled/undated food is pitched), and coworkers who are not complete slobs

    Our office is now open floor plan, including the kitchens, so if you leave a huge mess, chances are someone saw you and it’s much more noticeable. If you make more of a mess than you can reasonable clean up by yourself (like tripping and dumping your whole coffee all the way across the tile entryway, hi that would be me), you need to call the building ops team so they can come and assist, especially if it’s a safety hazard.

    I don’t think I could work somewhere that I was required to clean up after others. I have some weird hangups about moldy/rotten/spoiled foods, which is one of the reasons I clean up so well after myself. I will throw the tupperware away if it starts looking like a science experiment before I will pop the lid.

  15. Oregonbird*

    I tend to see this type of article as positioned to move the results of bad management onto the shoulders of the workers. Sure, they’re unpleasant, sometimes obsessed workers – but while the media tsks at the pettiness and lack if moral high ground, it is masking the lack of engagement in upper management roles.

  16. Rural Juror*

    My office has two fridge/freezers for our use and a third fridge solely dedicated to free drinks in the break room. But even so, people will inevitably place personal items in a fridge in the catering area, which is in another area and totally separate from the break room. We’ll find who cases of soda, lunchboxes, and leftover to-go boxes all. the. time.

    It is SO frustrating to get a catering delivery for an afternoon event (usually fruit, meat, and cheese trays) and open up the catering fridge to find we can’t fit the trays in it. We have to spend time playing Tetris and moving personal items out of the way almost every time. Office-wide emails telling people not to put personal items there do no good, everyone ignores them.

    One time, we had about 5 large bags of ice the office manager picked up at lunch for a celebration for promotions that was scheduled that afternoon. Opened the catering fridge’s freezer and found like 14 Marie Calendars frozen meals…and absolutely no room to put the ice. The person who bought the lunches was pissed at us when we moved them (unreasonably so).

    TLDR: We need to get locks for the catering fridge!

    1. Dowager Crone*

      Locks work! If that’s not feasible, can your office make a decision to empower the office manager/admins/whoever orders catering to move personal items to a table in order to fit the catering food in? Make it an official policy with notification of the new policy via email and signage, and have a permanent sign on the catering fridge that all personal items will be removed if space is needed. Anyone who makes a choice to put personal items in the catering fridge will probably choose differently after finding their food on a table.

      But yeah, locks.

      1. Pennyworth*

        I’d make the policy that any personal item s found in the catering fridge will be immediately thrown out.

  17. MurpMaureep*

    One of my favorite Office Kitchen Outrages was at an old job, a normally mild mannered coworker came into the kitchen and taped up a sign that said “Dear A**H*** who took my bowl, you have the end of the day to return it or I’ll come find you” and walked out…then he came back a few minutes later, sheepishly removed the sign, and muttered something about “I forgot I washed it and put it back in my cube”.

      1. MurpMaureep*

        I admit to not knowing this reference! For what it’s worth, it was (at a high level) a healthcare benefits consulting firm in the Midwest.

  18. La Triviata*

    The office I’m in currently is pretty good about cleaning up after themselves. Other places … not so much. And, as so many have found, it was usually the women who ended up cleaning up … guess the men were too busy or too important to do it.

    However, an apartment building I lived in was one of the few that accepted tenants with dogs. Originally, it was stated to be one dog, no more than 40 pounds. Then the person with two mastiff’s moved in and the person with several small dogs. The real problem was when the dog had an “accident” in the public areas … and, almost invariably, if challenged the dog’s owner would say that we paid people to clean, so why should they be mopping up the urine, feces, vomit, etc., that their dog had left. Grrrr

  19. not a hippo*

    Re gross Tupperware: I used to work at a vet’s office and people would bring in their pets’ “samples” shall we say and the number of people who wanted the containers back was too damn high.

    Most people would laugh & say of course not! when I asked if they wanted the container back, but if you forgot to ask, inevitably that person WOULD want it back and you’d have to fish around in the trash for it. Gag.

    1. Dowager Crone*

      “the number of people who wanted the containers back was too damn high”

      Of course I want that container back–for the next time I drop off a sample. I can’t be sacrificing an expensive piece of Tupperware every time I drop off a sample.

      1. Squidhead*

        I’d use a deli/takeout container, sour cream tub, etc, not something I purchased! It helps that we wash out and save a stash of these at our house for mixing small amounts of paint, drying garden seeds, giving leftovers to someone, & other random tasks.

        1. SB*

          Even a zip lock bag would work & can be tossed when no longer needed. The thought of using anything I needed back is enough to make me want to hurl.

  20. tusemmeu*

    I can’t even go in the breakroom at my current job because my small department is responsible for cleaning it, despite there being no logical reason for it to fall under our duties rather than a different department, and I just can’t relax in there looking at the mess that I’m responsible for. I preferred the rotating schedule at previous jobs. Honestly I even preferred the free-for-all I dealt with at one job. At least people appreciated it when I volunteered to do some cleaning in there at times.

    1. SB*

      How on earth did that happen? Is there scope for this to be revisited & the cleaning of the breakroom to be on a rota? Might be worth bringing up at a staff meeting.

  21. SB*

    Oh. My. God. I have a super gross story that I will regale you all with…strap in people, it’s about to get fishy…

    Christmas Eve 2021 (essential services so no lock down for us, all hands on deck) & the company owner very generously provides a staff lunch of fresh prawns, charcuterie boards & beers before sending us all home early. The left overs were, for some inexplicable reason, put in the fridge by the owner in spite of the fact that the office & production floor were about to be closed until January 3rd…at some stage during the Christmas shut down, the power went out due to a storm & the Australian summer did her thing to those poor prawns. At 0630 on January 3rd I unlocked the office & almost threw up from the smell that greeted me…

    There was a thick, vomit inducing sludge at the bottom of the fridge where the prawns had spoiled & leaked from the top shelf where they were left to the bottom, infecting everything on the way down. I am allergic to shellfish & bivalves so I backed away & let the Operations Manager know what had happened & asked him how he would like this managed. Thankfully for everyone in the office, he immediately authorised us to buy a new fridge & write the old one off as a total loss, but as the fridge had been in the kitchen since before the new benches we installed, it was no longer able to be removed as the gap was now smaller than the fridge even with the doors removed. We had to get an appliance tech company to send some guys over to dismantle the fridge completely & take it out in pieces, which left this gross goo on the floor in the kitchen. There are still stains on the concrete floor where it fell but thankfully once the fridge was eventually removed (on January 5th) the smell cleared quite quickly.

    You cannot imagine the amount of air freshener we burned through for those three & a half days between discovery & eventual removal of the old fridge. We now have a rule…the fridge must be emptied out before the Christmas shut down, switched off at the wall & the door left propped open to prevent any such disasters in the future.

  22. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

    I worked in a large organisation that had a small legal department. I was in the staff kitchen one day when one of the lawyers came in, used the dish sponge to wipe over his shoes, dried them with the tea towel, and then hung the dish towel back on its hook. He did this in front of me as if it was a regular occurrence and perfectly normal.
    At the time, I was speechless.

    1. Baby Yoda*

      Lizzie my previous employer (president) was seen taking the cooking spatula and using it to dislodge something stuck to the kitchen floor. Then placing it in the sink as if used for food.

  23. rosie*

    Our building recently bought one of those machines that turns food waste into cooking fuel (used at the restaurant off the lobby). Very cool! So now our facilities team wants to get a separate food waste bin for us to contribute to this and raise our ‘green’ credentials a bit. But as the office manager who knows it’s nigh on impossible to get 20+ adults to sort their rubbish from their recycling properly, a THIRD bin would be a step too far.

  24. Yoyoyo*

    At a former office, we had a big refrigerator problem. As in, I could smell the refrigerators from my desk when they were closed. Finally, my boss decided that every Friday afternoon he was personally going to throw out anything in the fridges that was out of date or not labeled. This was announced at a staff meeting, via email, and every week reminders would go out beforehand to make sure any items that you didn’t want thrown out were labeled. And people STILL got angry that their rotten salad mix and salad dressing that had turned solid were thrown out.

  25. Marna Nightingale*

    I’m shuddering about the post-lockdown fridges.

    When people were allowed back into Fort McMurray after the big fire, in many cases after months away, there was a huge Public Health campaign telling people what to do about their fridge and freezer:

    Tape it heavily or otherwise seal the door so that kids or animals can’t get in their and get trapped and *take it to the curb without opening it, they can’t be made safe for use and trying to clean them is dangerous.*

    A fridge or freezer that’s been left like that isn’t just gross. It is straight-up actual hazmat and should be treated as such.

  26. Orange You Glad*

    These stories all remind me of my worst experience with a shared kitchen. It wasn’t at work but in college, I lived in a sorority house with 16 other women. We had a normal kitchen with 2 fridges for communal use.

    I had a job on campus so I came back to the house right after Christmas to work through the break. I walked into the house and was immediately knocked over by the foulest smell. It was like something died in the house – and not just a mouse or rodent as usual. This was 1000x worse.

    Luckily I lived on the 3rd floor and so did the other resident staying over break so the smell didn’t affect our rooms. We spent a few days building up the courage to go deeper into the 1st floor every day to discover the source of the smell. We’d walk a few feet into the living room before running away gagging. Eventually, we discovered it was due to a large frozen turkey that was left on a freezer door in the kitchen. Gravity did its thing causing the door to swing open (probably not long after the culprit left it there) and the turkey and everything else in the freezer defrosted and started rotting over the holiday. There was rotten turkey and blood and guts all over the kitchen floor. Cleaning it up was the grossest thing I’ve had to do at this point.

    The worse part is the person who just put a turkey on the freezer door and then left for 3 weeks never apologized or admitted to doing anything wrong.

  27. LadyVet*

    The last day I went into my old office before I was told I wasn’t allowed to take the subway anymore in case I got Covid, I mentioned to one of the two other women who came in that I was thinking about going through the fridge to see if there was anything that was going to expire in the next two weeks (ha!).

    She and the other woman decided to join me. Friends, we found stuff bearing the initials of former colleagues who hadn’t worked there for at least a year! After we took everything out and threw out everything that wouldn’t last two weeks, we gave it a major scrub down with bleach.

    I wonder if they kept that up when they finally reopened the office after the first round of layoffs.

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