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Food Odors at Work

We cook a lot. And we cook fragrant ethnic foods a lot. The Hub brings leftovers in to work to reheat in the lunchroom. Most ethnic spices *smell* considerably more than the Healthy Choice frozen dinners or deli-ham-and-cheese-prewrapped-sandwiches brought in by many (*ahem* most) of his coworkers. Some coworkers complain to Hub about the lingering odors of saffron or piri-piri or kaffir lime or the like. Hub does get a little paranoid because microwavable chicken noodle soup or a Big Mac could satisfy him, but he doesn't want to give up his homecooked meals.

So. What to do? Do any CHs have the problem of workplace lunchtime "odors" being an issue? I have worked in offices that have outlawed microwave popcorn, simply because of the smell that wafts over the cubicles. Are food odors a problem in the workplace? And what do you do about it if they are? So curious.

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  1. I used to work in a place where I would get this amazing vegetarian gyro and lentil soup from the local Greek place each day for lunch. I loved it. It was all garlicky, full of lettuce, pepperoncini, feta cheese, green peppers, onions and tomatoes. I hated the job and the only bright spot of the day was the lunch. The lentil soup was full of spinich and served in a great chicken broth. One day I was pulled aside by the Human Resources person and told someone was complaining about my "body odor." I was amazed because I've nver been accused of that. But one day she was at my desk around lunch time and smelled my thrown-out wrappers from lunch, which were quite pungent. I told her what it was and the issue of "body odor" was never raised again. I was, however, moved into a room by myself. So there you go.
    P.S. I've never been able to find this version of a vegetarian gyros again, but then again I've never been accused of having "body odor" again.

    1. Microwaves seem to be really powerful smell diffusers, and I can understand people being put off by strong food smells in an office (just like on a plane, or any situation in which people don't have the option to move elsewhere). Just like I can't stand the strong perfume worn by my coworker, I don't want to overwhelm others with my food smells.

      To cut down on the smell, what I do is avoid using the microwave (I actually don't mind eating my leftovers cold) and eat away from other people if they have a problem with it. They usually don't but I ask anyhow.

      Oh- and one really good tip is not to throw wrappers and used food containers in the trash bin under your desk, where the smell will continue to linger and intensify. Especially if you share the workspace. Use the common bin in the lunchroom or kitchen or wherever if possible.

      1. Try using a room freshener like Meyers's lemon verbina natural spray to cut down on lingering odors. I recommend this one because it is pleasant as opposed to using another strong scent to camouflage a food odor. Wiping down the microwave immediately after its used seems to be a pet peeve in most work environments....don't hold onto any wrappers around a work space (can attract pests, not just odors).

        2 Replies
        1. re: HillJ

          I work in a big government office and there are many different ethnic groups represented. We have started playing a game, guess what is being heated up. Everyone just decided to have a sense of humor about it than complain. Once you figure out what something is, the odor doesn't bother you as much. We do require that all wrappers be thrown away in the garbage, not in the trash cans in the office. But every day from about 11:30 to 1:30, you can smell different things being warmed up by the folks who work here. Sometimes Indian, sometimes Chinese, sometimes Thai, and sometimes Italian. You never know.

          1. re: dinwiddie

            big office maybe its fun...small one its a bit overwhelming ie: "someone open a window"...and guess what...you can't open a window!

            Unless you plan to share your delicious eats with fellow colleagues...food games are a matter of personal space. LOL!

        2. I'm unfortunate enough to work with people that have absolutely no manners when it comes to food in the workplace. People burn fish in the microwaves, steal others' lunches from the fridge, slurp & slop at their desks, leave sticky trash lying around, etc. Nothing against those who like greasy fried things for lunch, but the smell permeating the cube farm makes me ill.

          Luckily, I bring my coolie pack of homemade yummies and have my lunch out in my car or on the bench outside.

          1 Reply
          1. re: hypertomatoes

            Gosh, hypertomatoes, do we work at the same place?

            Sad that grown people still act like children when it comes to food in the workplace. During my second week on the job, my lunch was stolen from the fridge. I have to wrap up anything I bring in several plastic grocery bags, knotted tightly, and hide it. The fish smell permeates our hallways. Co-workers chew with their mouths full and open in the cubicles next to me, smacking their lips as they go.

            I can't stand the job (and I've only been here for six months) but I can't stand the manners of my co-workers even more.

            Sorry -- just had to vent!

          2. I say he should just not worry about it. Putting up with a few smells you might not care for, is a small price to pay for your own freedom to eat what you want. Just like living in a free country ;-) I personnally think that many frozen dinners give off a freaky intense chicken-boullion smell that is gross...and you're right, microwave popcorn is foul, especially if someone burns it, but I happily put up with it so nobody better comment if I eat smoked salmon or reheat a pulled pork pianono.