Memo to Working Americans: 'Desktop Dining' Trend Demands Attention to Foodborne Illness and Food Safety

CHICAGO -- For many working Americans, eating a meal is just another task to juggle during a busy workday of e-mails, phone calls, meetings and deadlines. And as more employees opt to multi-task their way through breakfast, lunch and even dinner, "desktop dining" has quickly become a mainstay of corporate culture.

According to a new survey by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods, a majority of Americans eat lunch (67 percent) and snack throughout the day (61 percent) at their desks, while more than one out of three typically find breakfast the first task on their workplace to-do list. And office demands are winning out over dining ambience for the small percentage (10 percent of men, seven percent of women) who dine desktop for dinner, as well.

"In many cases, desktops have replaced kitchen tables as the primary place to eat meals, but that doesn't mean we should allow bacteria to work overtime," says Carolyn O'Neil, registered dietitian and national spokesperson for ADA/ConAgra Food's Home Food Safety ... It's in Your Hands program. "It's important that your mealtime multi-tasking also includes practicing proper food safety techniques."

The traditional lunch hour may be a thing of the past, but when it comes to protecting themselves against foodborne illnesses, many professionals are still "out to lunch."

According to the ADA/ConAgra Foods survey, the most popular brown bag options for working Americans include meat and cheese sandwiches (69 percent), leftovers (64 percent) and salads (37 percent) -- all of which can spoil if not properly refrigerated.

Yet, survey results show that nearly 30 percent of Americans who bring their lunch to work don't store them in the office refrigerator. And of those, more than four out of five typically leave their lunch unrefrigerated for more than three hours before eating -- which means foods may be spoiled even before the first bite.

"Perishable foods should never sit out for more than two hours," says O'Neil. "At that point, bacteria begin to multiply rapidly, increasing your risk of food poisoning."

The same food safety rules also apply to shared foods. From staff birthday celebrations to post-meeting leftovers, these community treats are an office staple -- but they can also be dangerous business if perishable foods are not properly refrigerated.

According to the ADA/ConAgra Foods survey, foods are left around the office to share at least once a week in nearly 70 percent of offices. In most of these cases (68 percent), shared foods sit out for more than two hours or until they're finished -- with more than three out five Americans saying they feel comfortable eating it.

"Our hectic work schedules may have changed the way we eat, but the basic rules of food safety are still the same," says O'Neil. "As kitchens continue to extend beyond the home and into the office, Americans need to re-think their desktop dining habits and make sure proper office eating etiquette is on their daily to-do list."

Give bacteria the pink slip by following proper food safety tips from ADA and ConAgra Foods:

-- Wash hands before and after digging into your desktop dish. If you

can't get to a restroom to wash hands with soap and water, keep moist

towelettes or an anti-bacterial hand cleaner at your desk.

-- From the time you make your lunch at home -- assuming it contains

perishable food items, as many brown bags do -- don't let more than two

hours pass before you put it in the refrigerator. Also, don't let

lunchtime leftovers remain unrefrigerated for more than two hours.

-- Keep perishable foods properly refrigerated below 40 degrees

Fahrenheit. Not sure what the temperature in the office fridge is? Do

yourself and your co-workers a favor by bringing in a refrigerator

thermometer from home to keep track.

-- Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the

countertop.

-- If you bring leftovers for lunch, re-heat them to the proper

temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

-- Don't forget that the same food safety tips apply to carry-out and fast

food, which also can be susceptible to bacteria if not handled

properly.

The ADA/ConAgra Foods Home Food Safety ... It's in Your Hands program educates consumers that home food safety is a serious issue and provides solutions so Americans can easily and safely handle food in their own kitchens. This program complements government-sponsored food safety initiatives that speak to the leading critical food-handling violations by emphasizing the following four key messages: 1) Wash hands often; 2) Keep raw meats and ready-to-eat foods separate; 3) Cook to proper temperatures; 4) Refrigerate promptly below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

For more information, visit www.homefoodsafety.org.

*Impulse Research Corporation conducted the home food safety survey in August 2003 for the American Dietetic Association and the ConAgra Foods Foundation through an online survey of a random sample of 1,024 full-time employees, both men and women, who work at a desk. The sample was chosen to closely match U.S. population demographics.

Source: American Dietetic Association/ConAgra Foods

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