Don’t Let Desk Dining Make You Sick

05/16/2011

Don’t Let Desk Dining Make You Sick

Many months ago, when it became clear that we were entering into a deep global recession, my friend Jill started eating lunch at her desk. She could work while she dined, which meant she was able to increase her productivity and thus demonstrate to her boss that she was valuable.

She didn’t realize how dirty those working meals had made her work station until someone from the IT department pointed it out. He politely refused to work on her computer, which had frozen up, until she cleaned up the remnants of lunches past.

If, like Jill, you eat lunch at your desk, you may be doing more than grossing-out your IT colleagues. You may also be making yourself sick.

In 2006, research by Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, revealed that the typical work station is swarming with unhealthy bacteria—due in part because people are turning their desks into kitchen tables. In fact, his study found that a person’s desk contains about 400 times more germs than a toilet seat. The phone is the dirtiest, followed by the desktop, the computer mouse and keyboard, the fax machine and the photocopier.

It’s a problem at home, too, where computers are typically shared by several people. If your teenage daughter is eating a ham sandwich while she updates her Facebook status, bacteria from the food can linger on the keyboard and infect the next person. Some viruses can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours.

Lots of people who work desk jobs eat lunch at their work stations. About three-quarters do so at least two times a week, according to a survey by the American Dietetic Association and the ConAgra Foods Foundation.

But not many clean their work areas, the same survey showed. More than three out of four workers only occasionally clean their desktops before eating, and 20 percent never do. Furthermore, only 5 percent of workers clean their keyboard and computer mouse daily, and 11 percent never clean them.

Here are some hygiene tips for people who dine at their desks:

  • Use antibacterial wipes. Clean your work station frequently with antibacterial wipes—and certainly before and after you eat at your desk. For keyboards and computer mice, you may need to use disinfecting wipes designed specifically for electronics.
  • Wash your hands. Frequent hand-washing can help stop the spread of germs. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after you eat. Be sure to wash both the fronts and backs of your hands, between the fingers, and under the fingernails.
  • Use hand sanitizer. A recent study found that hand sanitizers are actually more effective than hand-washing at eliminating certain germs. (Read more about the study here.) Motion-activated dispensers, such as the Germstar Touchless Hand Sanitizer Dispenser, have an added benefit because they eliminate cross-contamination. If you don’t have time to visit the rest room every time you touch something that might be germ-infested, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer at your work station.

Taking time to keep your work station clean is essential to boosting your productivity. Getting sick and missing work won’t help you impress the boss.

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