Worker productivity has risen consistently in recent years as employees spend more hours on the job. Increasingly, that means many workers eat meals at their desk or cubicle. But that might not be the healthiest of habits.

According to a new survey by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods’ Home Food Safety program, 62 percent of Americans continue to eat lunch and snack throughout the day at their desks, while 27 percent typically find breakfast the first thing on their desktop to-do list. Late nights at the office even leave a small percentage - four percent - dining at their desktop for dinner.


“For many people, multitasking through lunch is part of the average workday,” said registered dietitian and ADA spokesperson Toby Smithson. “While shorter lunch hours may result in getting more accomplished, they could also be causing workers to log additional sick days, as desktops hide bacteria that can lead to foodborne illness.”

Companies tend to encourage employees to eat at their desks rather than leave the office. Someone eating a sandwich at their desk can still take calls and maybe even read a report or two. But this added productivity could come at the cost of more employee illness and added sick days.

Top of the Workplace To-Do List – Washing Hands and Surfaces

An office is not the cleanest of places. Adding food to that environment can be problematic.

According to the Home Food Safety survey, only 36 percent of respondents clean their work areas—desktop, keyboard, mouse—weekly and 64 percent do so only once a month or less. A study updated in 2007 by the University of Arizona found the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat.

“Treat your desktop like you would your kitchen table and counters at home,” said Smithson. “Clean all surfaces, whether at home or work, before you prepare or eat food on them.”

Only half of all Americans say they always wash their hands before eating lunch. In order to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, Smithson recommends washing your hands before and after handling food with soap and warm water, and keeping your desk stocked with moist towelettes or hand sanitizer for those times you can’t get to the sink.  

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