Over the next few months most accountants will eat at their desks several times a week, or even as much as twice a day with little thought to the health hazards that may be hiding on the desk itself. Bacteria from earlier meals may have settled, and are just waiting to attack your hands or your lunch. If you left your briefcase on the floor during a train commute, or if another worker just left some papers on your desk, more germs could have been transferred to your desk. It takes only five seconds for food to pick up surface bacteria, according to JoAnn Heslin, writing for HealthNewsDigest.com.
The office refrigerator and microwave, where you store and heat your meals, can become really frightening places as busy season goes on, although the refrigerator, because it is cold, poses a smaller threat. Heslin advises storing food on the top shelf, where someone else's spill can't reach your lunch, and wrapping the food thoroughly.
The microwave can harbor bacteria because it heats food by moving water molecules which spatter and attach to the oven walls when food isn't covered. The spatter can then fall into the next meal that is heated. The heat in a microwave doesn't sterilize food until the inner temperature reaches 160F, Heslin says, so it's important to cover all food when microwaving.
Washing your hands before eating is your best defense against foodborne illness at the office, but the second defense is to prepare your desk as if it were a dining table. Wash your desk with a disinfectant wipe. Don't eat off the bag the food came in. The food should be placed on a disposable plate, napkin, or paper towel, Heslin says.
Some companies are trying to encourage workers to clean their offices. "Office spaces are very dirty," said Michelle McCarthy, occupational health nurse in the Atlanta regional office of ADP, a worldwide human-resources and payroll-services company. "People cough and sneeze over everything, and they eat at their desks, and that gives bacteria something extra to feed on. Unless work surfaces are cleaned regularly, they become very dirty places." "We also encourage our workers to clean their work areas with antibacterial wipes at least once a week," McCarthy said in a report at AJCjobs.com.
Turning from your pizza to your e-mail is almost a reflex for many workers, so clean your keyboard or handheld with disinfectants wipes as well.