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Archive for Sunday, March 20, 2005

Workers likely not dining alone at office desk

March 20, 2005

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Eating at your desk has become increasingly common as errands, exercise and work devour lunch breaks. But you could be serving up more than ham on rye.

An American Dietetic Assn. survey highlights health issues to consider as an estimated 67 percent of U.S. workers eat lunch without leaving the office.

Nearly 30 percent of Americans do not refrigerate their food, with four out of five people leaving it out for more than three hours before consuming it, the ADA survey found.

Leaving food out too long in a common area also poses potential problems, said Rachel Cox, a Utah Department of Health dietitian. Foods such as cheeses, salads, meats and dips containing milk-based ingredients may pose health risks if left out for more than two hours, allowing bacteria to grow and leading to flu-like symptoms, she said.

Your desk is second only to the phone as the most germ-contaminated area of the workplace, according to a 2001 study by University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba.

Funded by The Chlorox Co., the study found the following number of germs per square inch in cubicles, common areas and private offices:

  • 25,127 on the phone.
  • 20,961 on the desktop .
  • 3,295 on the computer keyboard
  • 1,676 on the mouse.
  • 49 on the toilet seat.

The office, said Gerba, is a "bacteria cafeteria." Workers are "slopping their coffee around in the morning, then they're eating their lunch, getting their crumbs (all over)," creating a feeding frenzy for bacteria. Most people don't clean their desktops and offices, he said.

"The cleaning crews don't touch them. Most people don't wipe (them) down (and) they usually end up being in pretty bad shape."

That is compounded by germs spread by coughing, sneezing and sweating, he said. "The (computer) keyboard gets pretty dirty. Your fingers are touching it so you can pick up germs." The problem is worse if workers share a desk.

"Basically you've got an unlicensed restaurant (for bacteria) and it builds up pretty bad," he said. Use some type of disinfectant to clean the area, including keyboard and phone; mopping up spills with paper towels merely spreads bacteria, he said.

Desktop dining also can contribute to poor eating habits because it is easier to overeat when you dine at your desk, Wolfgram said.

"You're not eating mindfully, you end up overeating and not truly enjoying your meal," she said. "You're more apt to eat the whole bag (of snacks) or the whole lunch rather than stopping when you feel full. We've really gotten away from listening to our body in terms of hunger."

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