HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


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.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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.

            1. Peer pressure takes care of food odors at my work.

              1. I worked in an office that not only banned microwave popcorn, but also the tasty dumplings from the shop a couple doors down. We all loved those dumplings, but the smell permeated everything. And when a client would come in after lunch, it was embarrassing to see their noses crinkle in disgust.

                The best idea would be for Hub to eat his homemade goodies outside the office, even if it means sitting on a bench outside. There are great insulated carriers that can keep food hot for a few hours. He can heat the food up before he leaves the house and open it once he is safely in a more open space.

                8 Replies
                1. re: mojoeater

                  My $0.02: popcorn @ work = unprofessional. Popcorn is for movie & home theaters; not the office.

                  1. re: OCAnn

                    Our office has a movie house style popcorn machine and we make popcorn for the whole office several times each week.

                    1. re: bonmann

                      I guess it just depends on the office.

                      1. re: OCAnn

                        Agreed. Popcorn is NG in the office. At least half the time it gets burned anayway becuase the person making it is not paying attention to the time.

                        1. re: fsd1116

                          Ah, but this is not microwave popcorn but movie house style popcorn machine popcorn. No burning smell just lovely popcorn smell and everyone gets to partake.

                  2. re: mojoeater

                    Yep, banned at my old office too. Plus, people would rat out others who wore perfumes or body sprays they considered "too strong". Then, to add insult to injury, after a night of drinking, I was hauled into the HR office because "I smelled of alcohol". The odour police are out in full force.

                    1. re: mojoeater

                      I could not agree more about the microwave popcorn. Once I had the misfortune of being located next to one of the two kitchen stations in a big office. One of the assistants nuked popcorn almost everyday. That stench hung in the air all the time. My coat hung behind my door and I had to hang it outside at night to get rid of the odour.

                      The funny thing was that her boss had complained about the smell, so she would come all the way down to the other end of the floor, nuke the stuff outside my office and take it outside on her smoke break. Yum.

                      1. re: pengcast

                        So she smoked and ate popcorn at the same time? I have smoked off and on for most of my (teenage and) adult life. Eating while smoking is so gross! I wouldn't wanna see that...

                    2. I think it is pretty unprofessional to bring foods that have an overpowering,or offensive smell into an office environment. Especially if your office frequently has clients, or customers visiting alot. I also think it is unprofessional to eat meals at your desk, especially when there is a lunchroom provided.

                      I leave meals with strong odors at home to enjoy, or I enjoy them when I go out for lunch.

                      I just think it comes down to respecting your coworkers, and realizing your diet choices may not be theirs.

                      Just my 2 cents, and humble opinion, no offense.

                      1. I'm an office landlord and all of our leases prohibit cooking in any of the offices. While we "overlook" microwaves, I can tell you that if there were unpleasant food smells coming from any office suite we would shut down their use of a microwave.

                        1. I worked at a law firm that regularly had clients and potential clients visiting. One day, one of the senior partners blew a fuse when the odor of reheated fish permeated the entire office area and wafted into the reception area prompting a client to make a sly remark about the smell. From that day on, human resources circulated a memo stating that the microwave was no longer to be used to heat fish or foods with strong condiments. Nobody seemed to mind other than the offender, who was embarrassed.

                          1. Soem people have a great sense of smell. My supervisor can tell when I have had an orange at lunch ... at 4:00 pm. Ditto for salmon, garlic and the like.

                            1. I once worked across the aisle from a guy who brought the same kind of fishy smelling lunch from home every day (no clue what it was). The daily grind of this eventually drove me nuts and I had to start going out of the office rather than eat a sandwich at my desk. If you know your lunch is going to smell up the office, it doesn't matter that it's homemade, better than lean-cuisine, or whatever. Unless you work in a private office of your own and can close the door, it's still potentially annoying to co-workers, who in this case have already decided to say something.

                              1. Wow! I had no idea this was going to be so provocative! But really interesting. At the risk of sounding defensive (but to say we are not completely insenstive), a few additional points to add to my OP:

                                Hub has an office. With a door. And a window that opens. Walks 30 feet from lunchroom to office. Closes door, eats, and then washes his dishes.

                                "Lunchroom" in this case is a full pro kitchen (Hub works for a publishing company that among other ventures, publishes cookbooks). Kitchen in a large, well-ventilated area. Gets a lot of use prepping and cooking for photo shoots. Lots of food smells around consequently.

                                Re: clients - his are pretty cool about food. He can almost never leave the office for lunch, but has many authors and art directors come in for lunch meetings. One in particular likes my saffron chicken hash and Hub passes on the request to me when author is coming in. I supply the smelly stuff..

                                I think the complaints come from the people in the cubicles on the walk from lunchroom to office. I think this odd since there are frequently food odors in the building (see above). Maybe raspberry pie baking=good, chicken hash reheating=bad. Not sure.

                                I never realized this was such a stressful thing for so many people out there. Believe me, I understand - I hate the diesel from trucks on my street and would love to eliminate that odor source. But I have never minded any food smell. But that's just me.

                                Because of the nature of the Hub's office, there's really no way to outlaw any food. But do a lot of offices really do this (food banning)? I think about people who cannot afford to go out everyday, or who cannot leave their desks for very long (I worked margins for a security firm - barely could go to the bathroom, but the company catered our meals in high margin call times), or who have no decent outdoor place to go to eat their home lunch.

                                I'm even more curious now: how is this resolved? Who in an office decides what an acceptable food aroma is? Do employees revolt? Or negotiate food treaties? Or shrug it off as payback for the person down the aisle with a bowl of pot-pouri? Are allergies involved (like in the case of, say, peanuts, where even the scent can cause reactions)?

                                I am fascinated by this.

                                BTW, I work out of my home now, so I am perhaps inured to food smells.

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: cayjohan

                                  The smell of home-cooked food never bothers me. It's all that greasy fast food that makes me ill to catch even a whiff of. Boy am I happy to work at home now!

                                  1. re: cayjohan

                                    Ok, now you MUST post the chicken hash recipe!

                                    And I wanna work where your Hus works! One small idea for him, since he is lucky to have a closed office with a window is a small inexpenisve microwave. So not even the walk can be offensive to anyone's sense of what smells good.

                                    1. re: Quine

                                      We had one bozo who tried to cook a raw hamburger from scratch in the toaster oven. The grease made a mighty nice fire so they had to ban "cooking from scratch." We have catered dinner every week and after the caterer brought some kind of strong smelling fish once or twice, we are now unfortunately banned from ever having fish again for catered dinner. As far as heating up other stuff, cooking fish for a long time is frowned on but we have to put up with everything else. And as for it being unprofessional to eat at your desk, that would come as a big surprise to all of our bosses who prefer that we never leave our desks!

                                    2. re: cayjohan

                                      In that case, I'd say he should do one of two things out of respect for the complainers:

                                      A) Eat in the kitchen so the food smell is minimalized
                                      B) Get a microwave for his personal office and keep the window open

                                      1. re: mojoeater

                                        There you go. B is the perfect solution.

                                        1. re: mojoeater

                                          third possible solution is to heat food in kitchen, then tightly recover food (say in sealed tupperware, then a plastic grocery bag with handles tied on the way back to his office. Open window while he eats. A fan with the blower pointing out of the window may be of further help as well as an open dish of baking soda.

                                          There is also a air neutralizer for removing strong odors & smoke made by (Glade or REnuzit or one of those companies). It is not scented per se, tho it does smell slightly. It really works & while I used the spray, I believe it also comes in a solid. Haven't used that in a long time, I work from home now too!

                                          Wish I could taste some of your food that you cook for your husband!

                                          1. re: Isabella

                                            Smells B Gone is sold at Bed Bath & Beyond, both scented and unscented varieties, and works very well.

                                        2. re: cayjohan

                                          When you are stuck at a desk, maybe working through what should be your lunch time, and you are bombarded by strange (in your mind) smells, it can be really annoying. I used to sit right outside the lunchroom at one office, and even the smell of things i loved (popcorn, banana bread, dim sum, pizza) could get overwheming - and did no good for my diet either.

                                          From what you describe of the lunchroom, it does sound like some of the people could be more open minded, but we aren't dealing with what ought to be. Perhaps he could bring some extra to share? Or one day volunteer to provide lunch for the whole section one friday. Once people know how good those strange smells taste, they might be more acommodating.

                                          Microwaves are still (relatively) new in the workplace - lots of people do not have them - and the vast majority of people who bring food from home bring a cold lunch, and its rarely sardine sandwiches. And yes, most workplaces have rules about what can be prepared and the smells. Depending on what part of the country you are in, people can have varied reactions as well.

                                          I think whoever suggested your Hub get his own microwave - if the office will allow that - is probably on the right track for now.

                                          1. re: cayjohan

                                            Despite all you describe, I think that if more than one coworker is complaining it is clearly a problem, and your husband needs to take some sort of action. I think eating in the lunchroom, eating outside, and just not bringing in strongly smelling foods are all potential solutions. But I disagree with those who say that he shouldn't worry about it. It is important to have positive relationships with coworkers, and if it's problematic enough that multiple people have actually complained, it needs to be addressed. I am not a sensitive smeller myself, but I know that food odors drive a lot of people crazy. It doesn't matter if it wouldn't bother some people, because it clearly IS bothering some others.

                                            1. re: cayjohan

                                              I think cayjohan, that people are jealous of the smells your husband's food creates. their food is so bland and boring in comparison. if you have clients asking for your food, it must be good. the only reason a good food's smell would be offensive (to me at least) is if I couldn't have any.

                                            2. I think if its on the planet and edible people should be able to eat it how can you tell some one what not to eat.After saying that if co-workers don't like it,take a rotten salmon and 4 bulbs of garlic,put the mic on 60 minutes and run back to work.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: widehomehi

                                                What you wrote made me burst out laughing here at my desk, widehomehi! Reminds me of when I heated up leftovers of a monkfish, clams, and chorizo stew at the office--got a complaint from the office manager that she doesn't like fish. Felt bad. Now I have my own fridge and microwave.

                                              2. Food smells may also be cultural. What smells good to you may not smell good to me or vice versa. It doesn't sound really fair for your husband, especially since he works for a place that published cookbooks and they have a full pro kitchen. But people love to complain and can be selfish. Yes, if someone makes a mistake, many can be upset by the lingering scent. As someone suggested, make sure to have some kind of air deodorant. There are some that are just a neutrilizer, I think there is one calle o-zone.

                                                1. My wife and I are lucky. We work in a large research institute on a huge campus surrounded by experimental fields. Our offices are on opposite sides of a patio of grass and trees. A simple kitchen is at the end of the U-shaped double-winged "motel". It opens out to the open space. I keep a small kitchen's worth of equipment in one of my file cabinets. We cook, sometimes prepping before work; and then eat in my office--where we can close the door and open the window. Most people eat at the cafeteria or in the small restaraunt--so wouldn't be offended by immediate odors anyway. The replies have made me appreciate our setup even more.

                                                  12 Replies
                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                    I'm feeling the same way right now (incredibly thankful) about my lovely, open, tolerant university office space. And I'm truly amazed at the visceral anti-smell reactions posted by so many. Wonder what they would think if they arrived at my office and saw us all having ice cream at the front desk at 3:00 every summer afternoon, or our annual springtime boiled crawfish lunch? Now THAT'S a powerful smell.

                                                    1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                                      Hungry C...when it becomes more of a group dynamic chances are much better that less people are offended. It's the one guy/gal who has no consideration for others, or the garbage bin left for others to deal with, or the messy common kitchen space denied a sponge down every once and again that ruins the idea of fragrant meals for all.

                                                      1. re: HillJ

                                                        You're right...perhaps the OP needs to share his lunches with others, who will be persuaded by the "goodness" to overlook the odor!

                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                          I'm not sure how a messy garbage bin or unwashed dishes reflects on the odor of your food as you are sitting eating lunch at your desk.
                                                          Personally, I think people are way too easily offended these days. We all need to relax a little bit more and be a little bit more tolerant of those around us.

                                                          1. re: QueenB

                                                            It's no big deal to relax for an odd smelling lunch here and there. But, if you are ever in a situation like I was a few years ago where it comes to dawn on you that, yes, your office mate in the cube next door is going to bring the same fishy thing to work, each day, every day, without fail, and have it go on for a year, you'll come to dread the lunch hour. The choices were: learn to mouth breath for 45 minutes a day, or get up and leave when he was coming with the tupperware. I wouldn't wish it on anybody. Office life can be hell.

                                                            1. re: wontonton

                                                              wontonton (and this kind of pertains to HillJ too), I have been in that situation. My last job had a kitchen where we would all sit and eat. I had a coworker, from a foreign country, who would bring the most horrid smelling food, I have no idea what it was, for lunch every single day. She and I ate lunch at the same time for three years together. I sucked it up and dealt with the smell because she had just as much of a right to eat what she wanted as I did to not smell it. So, if I felt exceptionally "sensitive" that day, I'd get up and eat somewhere else. But 99% of the time, I sat there and ate my lunch with her and after a while, well I guess I just got used to it.
                                                              Along with this community kitchen/eating area came the dishes, dirt etc. Of course, we would all hang signs about please clean up after yourself, but I spent a few afternoons washing dishes or putting them away, or cleaning off the table. Maybe I'm too tolerant, but it really wasn't any skin off my back, unless I had a project that I needed to run back to.
                                                              Some employees are like children and will never change. No offense but I found men to be the worst. Us girls were usually doing the clean-ups.

                                                              1. re: QueenB

                                                                QB, in both cases the office had over 200 employees. Multiple that x's a more tolerant attitude and more x's than not you've got a problem that is completely avoidable from the start. I'm afraid that tolerant I'm not! Sure, have a great meal..enjoy whatever you like but be aware that your lunch wrapper, dish or garbage will reek soon after, leaving the rest of us more than a little offended. Thanks for sharing QB.

                                                            2. re: QueenB

                                                              QB, fair enough. I was thinking back to the days when my office had a community lunch space we were not permitted to eat at our desks. Now that I am the boss we have a dining room and anyone who has a problem with keeping the dining room clean (and we all appreciate great food) hears about it from every co-worker. Community space should be respected. So dishes, garbage, leftovers, microwaves, refrigerator, etc. is kept clean at all times.

                                                              I am offended when employees don't clean up after themselves.

                                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                                HillJ, cleaning up after 200 is a lot different from cleaning up after 20, for sure.

                                                            3. re: HillJ

                                                              I agree with the "group dynamic" thing.

                                                              Where I work, it's me, my mom, my uncle, with a few installers and other employees who are like family (or family) stopping in. None of the political formalities, standard procedure, levels of management, or other nonsense found in larger, (necessarily) more structured environments. There's no "offensive smell" issues, though I used to like to whine about some horrible tuna salad my uncle used to bring in. But we learn to tolerate one another, and few of the things I like are really offensive-smelling.

                                                              1. re: tvdxer

                                                                tvd, summertime is my fav time of year at work...employees are eating alot more produce, light salads and outside. We install a backoffice grill 3 years ago and use it once a month when weather permits. Come fall and especially winter...it's typically soups, sauces and those lunches that affect the air vents :)

                                                                WE, live & learn!

                                                            4. re: Hungry Celeste

                                                              Had to laugh at that one HC! With everything we eat here (New Orleans), the smell permeating . . . . LoL!

                                                          2. Depends on what he values most: peaceful coexistence with his coworkers, or his left over lunch.

                                                            Durians are banned in many Silicon Valley offices. Microwave popcorns are also on the banned list. I can't imagine what it would smell like if I reheat leftover salted fish fried rice at work.

                                                            1. The only reason I don't like food odors at work is because it smells better than my lunch, so it's purely selfish. I work in a large administrative building at a large university, so we have stranger rules sometimes. The building is kind of old and the smoke detectors have a mind of their own, so they get set off easily. After a few cold weather building wide evacuations due to burning popcorn, it is banned in the building. The city fire marshall has gone so far as to issue a statement saying that any office that sets off the alarm due to popcorn will get a $1000 fine!

                                                              1. I don't get it. It appears from the replies that many people eat or used to eat microwaved popcorn at work. Isn't popcorn for the movies?

                                                                7 Replies
                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                  I worked at an office that sold packets of microwave popcorn in the vending machine. 50/50 chance the person would leave it in for too long and pollute the office with an acrid, burning smell.

                                                                  1. re: wontonton

                                                                    That's right - a lot of office vending machines now have microwave popcorn, it seems to be a popular "snack" for people as they work. And yes, it is VERY easy to burn the packet of popcorn in the microwave -it's ugly!!!
                                                                    And, I have to add, I am one of those people that have a very sensitive sniffer, not only with food, but with perfumes, chemicals, etc. I think I inherited it from my mother - she can just briefly smell someone who has eaten kimchee, and she'll get the dry heaves.

                                                                    1. re: aurora50

                                                                      It is amazing isn't it how much of the microwave popcorn cooked at work gets burned and I really don't understand it. I don't supervise the breakroom so I couldn't say what happens but it is nasty. I wonder if people wander away to use the bathroom or something and come back to find it burned?

                                                                      1. re: Velma

                                                                        Thanks for the replies, all. But if the popcorn comes from vending machines, management could just ask the vending company to remove the popcorn. If the problem persisted, it would mean people actually bought the stuff and brought it to work. A bizzare thing to me.

                                                                        Can you bear with me for another question? What other foods are sold in office vending machines that are intended to be microwaved?

                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                          We actually have 2 vending machines at my work. One with the typical candy & chips, and the other has juices, bagels, yogurts...and microwavable burritos, sandwiches and hamburgers. It's all nasty processed crap and smells pretty bad when nuked.

                                                                        2. re: Velma

                                                                          I think microwave popcorn burns so frequently because the instructions usually say to cook it by listening for the slowing popping rate rather than by time. Most office mindsets are hardwired to timed microwave cooking. Or if they try to concentrate on listening, they'll get distracted by someone in the kitchen who wants to see the Pensky file pronto, and it burns while they run back to their desk to get it.

                                                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                      It's a snack food that is served hot and therefore provides more comfort as you take in your salt and fat sustenance. *grin* If you think about what is provided in vending machines it seems like a great bang for your buck.

                                                                    3. I'd also like to share another food oder at work story that happened to a friend. She used to make homemade seafood gumbo. Her recipe was handed down through the generations and she was very proud of it (I had some one day and it WAS good). One day she brought some in and heated it in the microwave. The smell, she said, permeated the office and she thought it was great. Everyone could share here wonderful gumbo, if only by nose. The next day she came to work and there was a memo issued to the whole office banning the microwaving of "fish." My friend thought it was hilarious.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Fuser

                                                                        I have a giant "cajun power" sticker I'd love to send to her....along with some "fear of a cajun planet" t-shirts. If I were her, I would have eaten fish every Friday and waited for HR to call me on the carpet, just to invoke a "religious exemption" to the ban! So can you see why I've never had a corporate job in my entire life? ;)

                                                                      2. so then, what are the hordes of office workers supposed to eat then, identical baloney sandwiches? without onions, to keep the smell minimal? no pickle, because that might be "ethnic"? i thought it was the colorless cubicles that made them all hate life, but for once, i may have overlooked the food factor! i can see the burned-trans-fat odor of overcooked microwave popcorn being gross to inescapably smell for hours, but the odor of someone else's lunch really being that traumatic to people-- that seems just wack to me. everyone i know has had to live in an apartment building or (at one time) a dorm where you smell other people's cooking-- it is a part of life! when i go to work i smell food all day, and i'm happy that i don't smell cigarettes for my whole shift anymore, i'm happy that the people who work at extremely close quarters to me bathe regularly, since i've got my face inches from their armpits and crotch on several occasions during a normal working shift! what are you guys complaining about, i just don't get it!?!

                                                                        6 Replies
                                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                                          I knew this post was coming. Yeah, there should be a federal mandate you have to bring a boloney sandwich, and make it with mayo on wonderbread. That's not the issue. Some food smells offend in close quarters. Co-workers aren't necessarily best friends either. If you're unlucky enough to work next to a person who brings the same smelly lunch everyday, eventually, you'll go crazy.

                                                                          1. re: wontonton

                                                                            it sounds like ethnocentrism to me. i'm sure 50 years ago, anything w/ a little garlic or onion would've offended people in the office.

                                                                            1. re: fara

                                                                              Ethnocentrism???? Not with me!!! My family is of Mexican descent, and my mother (the one with the kimchee problem) is 100% Mexican. We just have sensitive smellers!! It also may have something to do with the kinds of smells you were brought up with.

                                                                              1. re: aurora50

                                                                                you can be ethnocentric and mexican. below is a reminder of the definition.

                                                                                ethnocentric:"centered on a specific ethnic group, usually one's own."

                                                                                in my line of work we have LOTS of different smelly foods being heated up in the microwave. there are many indian and chinese students who bring in their own lunch. my reaction: too bad i can't ask for any of that.

                                                                                1. re: fara

                                                                                  Well, in the first 2-3 definitions that come up Googled on the Web, it describes ethnocentrics as "believing that one's culture is superior to others". And that is definitely not me. If you knew me, you'd never say that.
                                                                                  And, I'm sorry, but I'm glad I don't work in your workplace. I would probably lodge a complaint. I do believe in doing whatever you wish, as long as it doesn't bother others. Then it goes into being aggressive.

                                                                              2. re: fara

                                                                                If you'd like working in a cube next to someone eating a lunch that smells like a can of warm cat food, go for it.

                                                                          2. Love the topic, I'm new and had to respond. I remember having jobs where you could actually smoke at your desk! I once started a fire involving some solvent in a wastebasket. Times have changed, I quit ages ago and the thought of lighting a cigarette at work is akin to taking off all my clothes. Anyway, some of us hourly slaves do eat at our desks, some persnickity types sniff and act superior, but it is one perk we enjoy in an increasingly more tightly controlled workplace. The in-house lunch bunch run quick errands on our 30 minute lunch break or take a walk and then clock back in and eat while we pretend to work (desktop publishing combined with liberal surfing). Sometimes the dept. smells like a school cafeteria, but it's usually just Lean Cuisine or Linda McCartney's frozen stuff...we too have a small microwave and a closed large trash bin for fragrant bits...cheers to all!

                                                                            1. I think what bothers me most is not the cooking smells but that most office microwaves are absolutely gross and disgusting. I worked in an office with (mostly) guys who brought in their lunch from home, and not a single one of them would consider wiping down the splatter inside the microwave after using it. The office ended up getting and second one because of the lunch log jam, and the insides looked like a science experiment after only a few weeks. I was afraid of what that aspirated goo would do to my good food if I tried to heat it up in there. Has no one else has has this experience?

                                                                              1. I once worked in an office where the microwave was in the reception area and due to air currents in the office, the smells permeated every room in that office, though the worst area was in reception.

                                                                                Several co-workers complained, but nothing was done. Then one of the receptionists became pregnant and had horrible pregnancy-related nausea - she eventually went on sick-leave because of the nausea - she'd literally be sitting at the desk retching because of the scents. Still, nothing was done about the microwave.

                                                                                Now, there was also a mid-level manager had the same thing for lunch, every day: two hot dogs cooked in the microwave until scorched, followed by microwave popcorn. More than once this person was approached about the "smells" of their food and how they were negatively affecting the staff, but this person's response was to tell people to stop being so sensitive.

                                                                                Then, one day, a bigwig came to visit - if all went well, then we'd be getting a very large amount of money. This person left their very expensive (and lovely) coat hanging in the reception area during the meeting. It being lunch-time, mid-level manager came out and made his usual lunch and the stench proceeded to fill the offices. Within 10-minutes, the bigwig came walking hurriedly out of the meeting room, literally waving their hand in front of their face - grabbed their coat and went out the door.

                                                                                A pointed phone call, along with a bill first for dry cleaning and then replacement of the coat (apparently the dry cleaning was not enough to remove the smells that permeated the fabric), and losing the account, was enough to institute a "no smelly foods in the office" policy. Soon after, the mid-level manager was fired and one of the reasons cited was how he'd lost us the account thanks to his lunch choices.

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: ElsieDee

                                                                                  What a story!!
                                                                                  Just a note re: the microwaves: If you're getting absolutely desperate, you can always boil a cup of water in there (about 3-4 minutes should do it) and it will make the microwave (mostly) easy to wipe down, unless there is nuclear damage in there. (That is not to say that you should have to clean up someone else's mess...)

                                                                                  1. re: aurora50

                                                                                    Another note on the microwaves - if you burn food in them, like popcorn, the smell will remain in the internal part - and the smell expelled again when it is reused. I had to ditch a microwave that I ruined at work (popcorn = 2 minutes, not 20 minutes of cooking!) - and replace it over the weekend with one I brought in. Fortunately for me, I was the only one in the office when it happened, and my boss never noticed the change in equipment.

                                                                                  2. re: ElsieDee

                                                                                    What in the world could he have been cooking to ruin a coat I wonder? Do tell...
                                                                                    Our housekeeping keep us in line and toss food from the fridge every Friday if it hasn't been initialed and there are "cover your food or clean the microwave" signs in place and pretty much everybody complies. Our boss is fanatic about kitchen messes and it is the first thing he brings up in the company meetings...like "folks, who cares about the profit margin, keep the sinks free of food in the drain baskets". Everybody respects him so we keep it neat.

                                                                                  3. Well, I love garlic and fragrant ethnic foods, but I generally dislike it when I can smell other people's lunches being heated up in the microwave. My solution would be to buy the Hub a good sized insulated food jar, and heat up the leftovers at home. There may still be some scent, but not nearly as much as there would be from reheating.

                                                                                    1. Tell them to suck it up. If I have to smell their gross burnt microwave popcorn, they'll just have to deal with my "lunchtime odors."

                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: chigirl71

                                                                                        good one. as others have mentioned, garlic and spice may be nauseating to some, but lean cuisine is nauseating to me. does that mean i should tell someone their fake food smells bad?

                                                                                        1. re: fara

                                                                                          Yes, if it bothers you that much. Or avoid it, as I mentioned above.

                                                                                      2. Everyone in my office has incredibly diverse tastes, and one person's treasure is another's retch trigger. We all just tolerate it for the sake of being tolerated ourselves. My former coworker used to heat up a can of tuna fish for his lunch every day. Another eats a bagel with cream cheese every mid-morning, which makes me so, so happy I don't share his office. Yet another brings a certain kind of homemade salad for lunch in summertime which another coworker has nicknamed 'armpit salad.'

                                                                                        My advice is tell the offended coworkers to bring in noseplugs.

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: marmite

                                                                                          in past centuries, people used to wear small fragrant bouquets of flowers and herbs-- nosegays--which they sniffed at when in the presence of offensive odors-- then came the perfumed hankie. maybe odor-blockers like these will make a comeback due to co-worker-lunch-smell-trauma!

                                                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                            That and Elizabethan pomanders!!! LOL!! Maybe the modern take is to carry a bit of fresh herbs nicely tied with a ribbon (e.g. rosemary, lavender...) and have a whiff when it gets too offensive.

                                                                                        2. Does jfood like to smell others food in the middle of the day? Not really. But the cost of eating out every day is not within everyone's budget. In the old days the company cafeteria fed everyone and now some have subsidized eateries, but the food ain;t that good (no surprise to everyone here). So many people bring from home..

                                                                                          Going for a cup of coffee is quite a nasal-adventure at llunchtime as many bring from the cafeteria and others make in the MV. It's just part of the workplace. Does jfood like listening to other conversations? Same answer, but given te hours we all spend in the office that's a needed talent as well.

                                                                                          So we should all be a little more accepting of people needing to eat during the day and deciding to place their disposable income elswhere versus the company cafeteria or some deli across the street. The smell will come and go.

                                                                                          What would be helpful is if people who eat at the desk do not put the trash in the bucket in the cube. Walk to the caffee room or central place and throw it out there. Smelling the food during lunchtime is understandable, smelling the remnants all afternoon is something we can lessen.

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                                                            ...and a few well placed air filters can work wonders at the office.

                                                                                          2. If a behavior offends co-workers (sounds like this is plural, not just one oversensitive neurotic with a victim fixation), maybe it's best to stop doing it. Or figure out some way to avoid impacting others. Closing the office door, getting a personal microwave, and keeping a window open seem like a reasonable compromise to me. (I am trying to see the point of view of the offended parties.)

                                                                                            Just because the person heating the food loves the smell, that doesn't mean he has the right to inflict the odor on people who actively dislike it. Unappetizing food smells can be really nauseating. Imagine if it was a flatulence issue. "I think mine smell great -- what is everyone's problem?"

                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: misterbrucie

                                                                                              On the other hand, actively disliking an odor does not give one the right to insist their environments be free from that odor.

                                                                                              Much of this entire conversation just amazes me (i.e., this is not directed at you misterbrucie). I have workers who eat lunch that smells disgusting to me--tuna, other fish, lean cuisine. I'm guessing some of my food smells gross to them. And there we are, in our extremely cramped break room/supply room combo, having lovely conversations. I would never think of asking them to eat something else.

                                                                                              1. re: debbiel

                                                                                                Good point. I was thinking in terms of one oblivious co-worker saturating the entire workplace with a lingering odor that no one else can stand; but I agree that both sides need to stay reasonable.

                                                                                                1. re: misterbrucie

                                                                                                  I too agree debbiel has a point. I wouldn't dream of suggesting what any of my coworkers bring for lunch. But, we all need to be aware of our personal space and to clean up after ourselves. Unfortunately, I've worked with a few 'professionals' who thought the rest of us wouldn't mind cleaning out a microwave or kitchen counter while disposing of our own mess. This laziness over time does cause offensive odors.

                                                                                                  However I also firmly believe that it is the business owner/company that has the final word on what is acceptable for everyone eating a meal at the office. The infestation of critters, garbage service, kitchen setups/expenses and carpet care fall to owners at the "workplace."

                                                                                                  This was an eye opening thread.

                                                                                            2. OP here. Checking in on a wonderful discussion. Was away for awhile, and was amazed at the considered and cogent responses. Loooong post, FYI.

                                                                                              An aside: I was out-of-town cooking for my 80-year-old father. He loves food, but cannot tolerate cooking odors. Had to arrange for outside activities for him so I could cook my socks off for three days. Left him with a freezer full of roast chicken, soups, braised beef, au gratin potatoes, stewed rutabagas,herring casserole et. al. I learned a thing or two re: this post dealing with him.

                                                                                              Before my sabbatical, I mentioned the post to the Hub. First, he laughed at me (not the first time) and let me know that the people who complained about the food odors were 2 out of 60, that the two were short-term freelancers, and that they were food-stylists working on a game/fish cookbook. (Read: lots of fried smelt odors just outside Hub’s office door - I mean, working with smelt and grilled trout and elk curry under camera for 10 hours a day.) Upon hearing about the post and reading the responses, Hub (a very Alan Alda-type, not oblivious at all), decided to poll the office about food odors, to make sure everyone was comfortable. (i.e., Is it okay to walk from micro to office with food? And is anyone else off-put by food smells? Is it okay to eat at your desk)

                                                                                              Consensus (the freelancers, later): food odors: fine about the odors, as they all agreed they worked for a company that is prepping, cooking and shooting food. Odor concern? The occasional waft of solvent glue from the DIY photo studio adjacent (same company) was the only odor maligned. The copious free food available after photo shoots (that which is not styled up with glycerin and the like) makes everyone happy. Except those freelancers in the 30 ft. walk from kitchen to office door for Hub. (BTW, because it is a pro kitchen used for photo, EVERYONE must clean up EVERY TIME. No exceptions. And no microwaves or coffee makers allowed in offices or cubicles because of fire risk with regard to archived books.)

                                                                                              So. Freelancers. One left after her stated three-week contract was up (prearranged - had another shoot); new assignment. The other (longer contract) talked frankly when Hub (Mr. Alda) asked her about her feelings regarding food odors. She explained that she complained about the “lingering odors” because it “made her hungry” and she couldn’t indulge because of 10 hours under camera with fried smelt and trout. (Anyone out there ever do this under camera? It’s grueling.) Hub offered to share a venison curry (one of the offending odors) and she readily agreed. I’ve got it on the menu this week. Yep - I will soon be cooking for both freelancers and authors, as well as my college kid. This will drive me to the poor house! :-) ( And lest anyone think I am complaining out of turn, my Editor Hub makes $65,000 - Hmmm, publishing is a gold-mine...not! - per year ; hard to treat the office once a week.)

                                                                                              So - that’s the start, middle and (for us) end to our food odor story. The interesting thing is that so many of you out there work in situations where you don’t have the advantage of cavernous space and industrial ventilation and private offices and so on, as Hub has. I sympathize with those dealing with the cubicle culture that corporate America has devised. I have forwarded this thread to a number of people who work in cubicle situations. Some are ethnic and bring ethnic food to work, some are “non” ethnic (whatever that means) and object. I am no less fascinated by this thread now than when I first posed the question.

                                                                                              Oh! My Dad! I finally had to sit him down and ask: what food smells can you tolerate? He told me “None.” (Odd for a man who likes fermented fish...) Some people can’t tolerate any food smells. Let’s all try to get along - respecting when we can, hoping for return respect when we cannot. We all need to eat. AND get along, especially in the workplace where we spend so much of the day. Let’s communicate about our food choices - see venison curry, above.

                                                                                              I hope I have not offended too many of you CHs, and I thank you for one of the most interesting and engaging conversations I have seen in a long time.

                                                                                              Talk to your coworkers.

                                                                                              1. What a great thread... I'm someone with a very sensitive nose, so my opinion is very biased. I think what's hard about small spaces and pungent smells is that it's very difficult for the scents to disperse. Good smell or bad smell, too much of any smell can be oppressive. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and you're left feeling agitated and aggravated, or at least that's me. I can't stand the smell of microwave popcorn, and the worst is McDonald's or any other fast food meal. It makes me nauseous and heave-y.

                                                                                                Offices could take anonymous polls and let the majority vote decide the banned/forbidden/avoided foods.

                                                                                                Or, eat outside the office.

                                                                                                Or, try lighting matches to destroy the smell. I know state regulations may forbid it, but damn, matches work so well in bathrooms!

                                                                                                1. I love to smell popcorn microwaved at work (sometimes co-workers share it with the office, so that makes it even better), but I can't take it when fishy things are in the microwave. It just smells awful.

                                                                                                  1. This is similar, yet may be OT because the majority of this thread dealt with what to do about workplace odors caused by reheating food in the microwave...yet, overall the theme is permeating food odors in the workplace.

                                                                                                    My husband's business/office is/was next door to the original Scharffenberger Chocolate company (before they went to Emeryville, and certainly before they got bought by Hershey's). Talk about Food Odors wafting into an office space? When they were roasting the cocoa beans, the OVERPOWERING scent of chocolate wafted into hubby's office...IT WAS CRIMINAL.....AS IN CRIMINAL TORTURE!! Thank God Scharffenberger loved to give out free samples if you went over and asked nicely because most of the time, your pavlovian response to inhaling that intense rich chocolate smell pretty much overloaded your senses and you were absolutely dying for a piece of chocolate!! LOL!!

                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                    1. re: Cat Chow

                                                                                                      yeah there is a coffee roaster right by me. . .

                                                                                                      the entire town of northfield mn smells of malt-o-meal at all times. . . i doubt i could live there.

                                                                                                    2. I would say that at least eight out of ten times this is brought up, it is a racial issue. Mexicans complaining about the Laotian food smelling up thr place or Anglos complaining that the Mexican food smells terrible, etc. And of course, no one liked the Swede bringing in canned sardines or the German guy with his braunschweiger and onion on rye.

                                                                                                      To which I say, get over it. You all have to get along.

                                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: OCAnn

                                                                                                        Ditto on the burned popcorn thing. It's disgusting because it takes forever to go away. I am lucky by choice... live 10 minutes from the office so I get to go home at lunch. But there are those who don't. I happen to sit on the other side of a cube from someone who eats the stinkiest food at her cube sometimes right after I get back from my home cooked leftovers. I don't see how people eat those frozen microwaveable entres on a regular basis. I was in the kitchen today when I smelled a foul odor coming from the microwave. It was a Marie Callendars chicken Parmesan, I think. Not only did it smell putrid, it was over 600 calories. I had to look at the label out of morbid curiosity.

                                                                                                        1. re: Texchef

                                                                                                          Since when is 600 calories too many for lunch? Give me a break...2,000 divided by 600 is slightly more than three. Sounds like a perfectly fine meal-sized caloric intake to me.

                                                                                                          1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                                                                                            I agree about the need for tolerance, guys, but --
                                                                                                            -- If I come across someone who has eaten something that just happens to turn my stomach -
                                                                                                            -- What am I to do - stuff a paper towel on my face and go running for the bathroom, hoping I make it there before I throw up in the office???
                                                                                                            (This has happened only once or twice, by the way. Where I've wanted to retch.)

                                                                                                            1. re: aurora50

                                                                                                              Yep, that's exactly what you do.
                                                                                                              You know why? Because different people react that way to different things. What makes you retch may be fine for one person, while what is fine for you may make someone else retch.
                                                                                                              Unless we all want to work in individual bubbles with our own air filtration systems, or require people to come to work strictly with foods that are "pleasantly unodorus - under 50ppm please", then we'd better just suck it up and deal.

                                                                                                      2. This is an interesting post to me, becuase I am now experiencing a problem with this at my new workplace. I eat a very healthy diet and bring leftovers for lunch which include fish. I have now been told twice that the executive administrative assistant wishes me to stop bringing fish and heating in the microwave. The second time I used the kitchen on the other side of the building away from her.
                                                                                                        Here is the problem with this as I see it, it is a diversity and workplace sensitivity issue.
                                                                                                        Workplaces are becoming more diverse everyday, and we must all be toleranmt of everyone around us. Imagine if Muslim coworkers begin to complain about workers who eat pork products, or vegan coworkers complain about the smelly hamburgers.
                                                                                                        If you are going to place a kitchen in the workplace for your employees to eat, you must be willing to accept the cuisine choices of employees who choose to utilize it.

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: Pauls

                                                                                                          With all due respect, sometimes life is not very fair. In principle, there is no doubt that you are correct. However, in application, this may be a battle not worth undertaking. Apply a simple balancing test to the situation. Do you like the job? Do you like your co-workers? Are there alternative healthy meals that you could could eat that are not as strong smelling as fish? Does the EAA wield more political clout than you? If you answered "yes" to the majority of these questions, you may want to change up your lunch menu. IMHO, workplace kitchens are not a cuisine free-for-all. They are a convenience for employees. and not substitutes for a person' home kitchen. Sometimes workplace tolerance means compromise. The workplace is really only a popularity contest. Those with the most allies tend to have the best work experiences.

                                                                                                        2. too funny-

                                                                                                          I once worked in a 30 person office of a family run business...one of the bosses was a freakishly anal woman who nitpicked everything (she wanted your dead pen before you could get a new one- watched the clock when you took a bathroom break)

                                                                                                          I DESPISED her...

                                                                                                          my hero was her brother in law- when she got too outta control he would nuke a box of birdseye frozen brussel sprouts and stink her office out...

                                                                                                          by the way- that was my last cubicle job

                                                                                                          1. This is tough. It's hard to not let someone eat their own food and leftovers, but it's also hard to work in an environment that smells. I often feel bad when I eat at my desk in case I'm disturbing other. At my old job, one of my coworkers would reheat this fish dish that smelled so TERRIBLE that the whole office would complain. When it gets that bad, it's hard to justify continuing to bring that in...

                                                                                                            1. I am afraid my workplace is going to ban bringing in any sort of food soon. We are renovating our kitchen to be more open concept so clients can mix their own coffee, grab a complimentary sandwich, etc. There have already been major complaints about popcorn (I had no idea this was such a universal workplace snack!) and other smells. I'm sure it'll be the end of employee lunches once the reno is done.

                                                                                                              We have a couple at work who are vegan and find it difficult to find anything decent to eat around the workplace, so they practically turn the kitchen into their own private food prep area during lunch hours. As someone who loves to cook, I find it amusing, but everyone else in the office gets cranky when there is no room in the fridge because of their cache of condiments ;)

                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: NovoCuisine

                                                                                                                There is a vegetarian in my office who does the same thing as your vegans. From my observation, he eats three meals a day at work. For the workplace, his prep is pretty involved: salads with multiple ingredients, baked and sweet potatoes, sandwich making, etc. He also takes up much space in the fridge. He's been there for 28 years, so I guess people cut him some slack. I won't even get into the fact that he washes his vegetables in the nasty bathroom sink, but that's at his own peril...

                                                                                                                1. re: fsd1116

                                                                                                                  Too much! At least the vegans have a kitchen sink... for now.

                                                                                                                  I was a vegetarian for 2 years and a vegan for half a year, so I sympathize. (Worst time of my life, but that's another thread)

                                                                                                              2. I come to this from a different place. I have no problem with what people eat as long as it does not threaten anyone's health. And, yes, that is relevant. I wish I had seen this when it first came out. You see, I'm allergic to popcorn, as in, the fumes can literally kill me. In my case it is the actual popcorn and not diacetyl. The problem of aerosolized food causing allergic reactions is most common with those with fish/shellfish allergies, but the medical literature has several other case studies of patients dying from inhaling food allergens - not just peanuts, either.

                                                                                                                This is not a cut and dried thing. There are actual health ramifications that you may not be privy to in all cases. I'm rather open about my allergy, but I try not to bring too much attention to it either. This can literally be an Americans with Disabilities Act issue. Please remember that the the next time you get angry. I don't think most people want to inadvertantly cause someone to die.



                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: mloknitting

                                                                                                                  mloknitting, are you allergic to the smell of all corn?

                                                                                                                2. Wow, such interesting replies to this post. After reading them all, I feel extremely lucky that my small office of about 20 people is so tolerant. Our employer generously stocks free breakfast food and snacks: english muffins, packets of oatmeal, granola bars, cans of soda, and yes, microwave popcorn (butter AND kettle corn!). Also we are provided with a catered lunch once a week. Our office does not have any windows that we can open. We do not see clients here. I agree with the suggestions about only throwing food/wrappers away in the kitchen's garbage. Due to the nature of our jobs (we work four 10 hour days with a 30 minute lunch) it is not always possible to eat in the kitchen. I usually don't have time to go out and get something, so I bring leftovers. Because there is enough complaining in our office (re: work stuff) I don't bring food that I think might cause more complaining. I feel sorry for one of my co-workers that reheated some sauteed salmon in the microwave. A few people were bothered about the smell and told him politely. Being Filipino, I've smelled much worse (fishy & other) food smells. We have a new co-worker who eats many of her lunches with fish sauce (nuoc mam) that people are starting to remark on. I personally don't have a problem with that particular smell (just like patis) but it is all a matter of perspective. I hate the smell of microwaved Lean Cuisine and anything burned (popcorn or toast). If someone is eating something in the communal kitchen that bothers me, I'll either eat my lunch later or eat at my desk. In our office, I've found that even the most stinky smells dissipate within a relatively short amount of time. I do think that communication is the key.

                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                  1. re: SanJoseHound

                                                                                                                    Used to work in an office building where our office was next to a title company. They had one of those Otis Spunkmeyer ovens and baked fresh cookies twice a day. Even the good smell of fresh baked cookies gets sickening after a while...actually after my first day it was too much. I'd much prefer fried onions:)

                                                                                                                  2. There's a cafe in the building where I work and about once a week the whole building smells like fish. Yuck! I'm vegan.

                                                                                                                    1. Send all the popcorn violators my way !! I love the smell of any kind of popcorn.

                                                                                                                      My office is close to the kitchen so i get the brunt of it all. Doesn't bother me too much, however someone once brought in their slow cooker one day and cooked cabbage rolls. My office smelled like burned cabbage all day. Microwaved fish, also not so fun, ditto to sardines. However, i also got the stinkeye for cooking eggs with parmesan once. I am the resident "odd-food" eater in my office, but usually the smells don't get anyone, in fact usually the opposite. My lunch tends to draw questions every day. I work with a meat and potatoes crowd who for the most part, aren't used to the ethnic items i bring in. I'm still educating them, hehe.

                                                                                                                      I think food smells are part and parcel of working (or living) together. Hubby's co-workers are a little oversensitive methinks.

                                                                                                                      I think people though can do their part to make people happy, however, by:
                                                                                                                      -watching your micro popcorn, toast or other items, so that they don't burn and really stink the place up;
                                                                                                                      -rinsing sardine and tuna fish cans before they go into the bin;
                                                                                                                      -not cooking lovely fragrant delicacies when i'm on a diet ;)

                                                                                                                      I'm sure there must be something written on office kitchen etiquette somewhere !

                                                                                                                      1. yep there is !


                                                                                                                        (although i disagree with the tossing things from the fridge religiously.......we have an anal fridge watcher at work who I swear has an internal radar to anything two seconds past it's sell-by date........don't get me started on how many perfectly good items i've seen go down the drain or in the bin....never mind things belonging to me going into the bin, that i will normally eat tomorrow if it expires today (or was purchased on the day and frozen) thanks.......)

                                                                                                                        1. Those of us who don't like the smell of coffee (the minority, I'm sure) have it rough.

                                                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: lgss

                                                                                                                            lgss, I just interviewed a job condidate who asked if coffee was permitted in the office because the smell gave him migraines...that's an official first for me.

                                                                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                                              and you can't hold that against him, but you kinda have to think about it.....

                                                                                                                              1. re: jeanmarieok

                                                                                                                                nope, but I did take him on a tour of the office; including kitchen and let him decide if the interview was going to progress.,,

                                                                                                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                                                  HillJ - you might think twice about hiring this individual. If the coffee bothers him enough to induce a migraine, an office situation may not be the best place for him. The fact that HE brought it up first is another clue.

                                                                                                                            2. re: lgss

                                                                                                                              I hate coffee, and the smell of it. Luckily the folks at my work typically are done after one or two pots.

                                                                                                                            3. I just skimmed the posts, since I don't have time to read all 111 posts, and I think someone mentioned this, but I can't stand the smell of lean cuisine/frozen dinners or whatever your husband's coworkers call "less offensive". Ditto artificial butter-saturated microwave popcorn.

                                                                                                                              I do bring fish/seafood sometimes, but I usually microwave it just enough that it is lukewarm, and therefore minimal odors. (Or so I hope.) I try to be sensitive to people's dislikes, especially if I bring something in like fish, but we work with all different ethnicities and all different foods.

                                                                                                                              I don't know where you live, but your hubby's coworkers should just deal, especially if they are microwaving that lean cuisine stuff, which I find just as foul or more so than any kaffir lime odor. It sounds like a grown-up's variation of the "your lunch looks disgusting because it is foreign-looking" game that I was subjected to in grade school while growing up. To this day, I hate bringing in sandwiches, perhaps as backlash to this "Ew. Your food is gross" game. In the 5 years that I've worked here, I've brought in sandwiches fewer than 5 times.

                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                              1. re: anzu

                                                                                                                                hear hear, anzu. i agree completely. (and btw, i love kaffir lime.)

                                                                                                                              2. The worst food odors I've ever experienced in 15 years of working in an office have to be eggs. Why someone would cook eggs in the microwave and make an office smell all day like a mineral springs I don't know. I did notice that person had been there many years, and it was a family-run business, so perhaps noone had the cajones to talk to her about it. The best thing was when I got my walking papers shortly after getting hired - I really didn't fit in there, and it wouldn't have been long til I made a stink about that co-worker's stink!

                                                                                                                                1. Not that i'm suggesting anyone do this....but i'm surprised that no one has made plenty of complaints of their own, if they are in the position of the OP's hubby.

                                                                                                                                  various foods seem to get banned from workplaces lots of times it seems....not just for health reasons, but because people find them smelly and "icky" . An organization may be very quick to "ban" something in relation to a few complaints.

                                                                                                                                  on the flipside, how does it feel to the person who brings their lunch to work each day, only to have to put up with "ewww what's THAT", screwed up faces as they eat, or "what is that STINK?" sort of comments endlessly? If one individual in a work place is subject to that every single day, is that not a (perhaps minor) form of harassment? I'm surprised no one out there has took that issue and ran with it, to be truthful.

                                                                                                                                  I'm kind of one of these people in amongst many frozen dinner and meat and potatoes types, although most days i take it with a grain of salt or humour, and some people are being genuinely curious so i tell them what i am eating. We all razz each other quite a bit, for the most part it's harmless. But i can't recall the last time i sat in the company of others and did not get my lunch looked over or some comment made. And alot of times it's because it LOOKS weird/unfamiliar to someone, not smells weird.

                                                                                                                                  Some days though, when i'm just not in the mood for whatever reason, i really have to bite my tongue. I happen to be a damn fine cook, and sometimes it smarts a little to have my lunch critiqued.

                                                                                                                                  If you added a few other stressors in some such person's life...cripes, it's the adult equivalent of the bullies at school who taunted the sardine sandwich kid within an inch of their life.

                                                                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                                                                    im, I see this in my work place alot. Frankly the lunch in and the lunch out crowd tend to socialize as separate groups. I'm not sure what it says about us humans, but I'm the boss and I work both crowds; some days I spend lunch with my in group; sometimes I hit the road with the out group. Enjoy your lunch!

                                                                                                                                    1. re: im_nomad


                                                                                                                                      I read a book sometime in the 70's, and I honestly can't remember who wrote it (I think it was Lawrence Peters of "The Peter Principle" fame, but I could be wrong), who said that the dominant dictum of the late 20th century would be "What everybody doesn't want, nobody gets". Some kid is allergic to peanuts? No one can have peanut butter sandwiches at school. Some one doesn't like the smell of perfume? No one can wear perfume. Some one doesn't like the smell of nuked popcorn? No one can have popcorn.

                                                                                                                                      This has been referred to as the "tyranny of the minority". I can understand people saying that's it not fair for the majority to enforce their views on minorities - that's the whole history of the civil rights war, for instance - but geez - because there's one kid in a school with a peanut allergy, why shouldn't he be required to carry an Epi-pen with him at all times along with a Medic-alert bracelet, rather than telling everyone else they can't have peanut butter sandwich, cookie, or Snickers bar?

                                                                                                                                      1. re: KevinB

                                                                                                                                        It's a slippery slope, and I see both sides. But I'd bet you've never been in the presence of an anaphylactic child who shared a bite of their friend's lunch.. or yourself succumbed to extreme nausea and headaches while in the presence of someone who decided to douse themselves in cologne.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: NovoCuisine

                                                                                                                                          If I had a child who could be liable to anaphylactic shock, you can bet your (and her life) that she would carry an Epi-pen with her at all times, and know how to use it, along with a Medic-alert bracelet. I would request a meeting with the principal and all her teachers - regular, gym, music, French, whatever - to let them know about her problem, and how they should react if she starts showing symptoms. I would make it MY responsibility and my child's to protect her, not start telling everyone else to how to run their lives to suit me.

                                                                                                                                          But that's just me.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: KevinB

                                                                                                                                            Fine, but the two obviously aren't mutually exclusive (carrying an Epi-pen and minimizing possible exposure to peanuts by asking classmates not to bring pb sandwiches). IF your child really could have a severe allergic reaction to even the presence of a peanut butter sandwich in the same room as her, I'd be willing to bet you'd try to both ban peanut butter sandwiches from her classroom AND have her carry an Epi-pen. (I don't know how sensitive some folks are, so recognize the conditional "if".)

                                                                                                                                        2. re: KevinB

                                                                                                                                          KevinB, this is rather a bastardization of the phrase "tyranny of the minority". Many of the examples you give are not about mutable viewpoints, they are about immutable and potentially very dangerous physical reactions.

                                                                                                                                          Weigh on one side of the equation the severity of an allergic reaction and likelihood of that reaction resulting from the presence of an allergin (i.e. peanuts) against, on the other side, the amount of 'pain' experienced by co-workers as a result of not being able to have this allergin (i.e. a peanut butter sandwich) at work. Even if you add up the collective 'pain' of all co-workers who like peanut butter sandwiches, I don't think it would be greater than the potential adverse consequences of peanut exposure.

                                                                                                                                          I'd understand what you were saying if you were strictly talking about food smells, which can't kill you.

                                                                                                                                      2. I brought in Indian food today and wondered if any of my coworkers would comment on the smell, since there was a meeting going on in the next room. The only comment I got was when I had returned to my desk with my plate, and a coworker came in and said 'Did someone bring in Indian food? It smells FANTASTIC.'

                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: marmite

                                                                                                                                          Yes, more often than not I get positive comments about the way my food smells! Although, I guess if it was negative, they'd probably keep it to themselves! I work shift work, and there is always someone in the building 24/7. Most of us also can't leave the building to get lunch/dinner, so we're forced to bring things to be heaten up (or eaten cold). Right now I am alone at work, so when I'm on the night shifts, I'm not shy about what I bring for dinner. I do throw it out in the kitchen instead of in the room where most of us work, if it's pungent. When I'm working mornings, I leave right around lunchtime, and you can smell all sorts of different things being heated up. We have 3 microwaves...1 in the room where I work, 1 in the other department, and 1 in the kitchen. None of them work really well, but people use all 3 and generally, people don't really complain. We all bring in pungent food at one time or another! Sometimes someone will say, "Oh, is someone eating tuna?" or "that smells like cupcakes", but nobody ever seems to complain!

                                                                                                                                          1. re: marmite

                                                                                                                                            :) I like your workplace. I'm happy to report that mine is similar: few ignorant people who think all non-lean cuisine meals smell awful. the real danger is when too many co-workers want a sample.

                                                                                                                                          2. Next time anyone screws up their noses over "ethnic" or spicy foods.....refer them to this which i happened upon today:


                                                                                                                                            the naysayers are more than welcome to their bland sandwiches and "healthy choice" dinners............

                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                            1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                                                                              ok, im a little late but...pophangover.com/cubicle/
                                                                                                                                              just made a really funny post about cubicle cooking rants. I love these girls.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: jennarock

                                                                                                                                                lol thanks for posting that jennarock...what a lovely passive aggressive way to bi*** about the co-workers from the privacy of one's own home :)
                                                                                                                                                What i've read so far is hilarious.

                                                                                                                                              2. re: im_nomad

                                                                                                                                                Well, the article doesn't include cumin on the list, so I feel a little better...
                                                                                                                                                I used to eat lunch in the company lunch room, usually with 3 other coworkers. Two of them are Indian, and one of them usually brought his home-cooked meals. Sometimes his lunch had a really overpowering smell, almost reeking of armpits.
                                                                                                                                                At first I thought there was something wrong with me, since nobody else complained. After a while it really affected my appetite, so I started eating lunch at my cube. It was not until I read the "Most disgusting Taste" thread here that I realized I'm not the only one who equates cumin to the armpit smell.
                                                                                                                                                I've eaten Indian food throughout my life, but I've never encountered such a strong odor from its food.

                                                                                                                                              3. Fish in the microwave. Not a week goes by.... It's revolting.

                                                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: deborah24

                                                                                                                                                  We have a guy who cooks a package of frozen fish sticks in the toaster oven. At 8am every morning!

                                                                                                                                                  I don't really mind it, though it bothers a few people. It is a bit strong considering it overpowers the smell of coffee in the morning!

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: aburitoro

                                                                                                                                                    Yuck. Fish sticks are one thing (although maybe not at 8am!). What sets me over the edge is when people heat up the leftover salmon from dinner the previous night.

                                                                                                                                                    In all honesty.... they wouldn't do that at home, but it's OK in the office?? Of course that is a whole other discussion.... the mircowave is only the tip of the iceberg as far as home/office behavior goes.

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: deborah24

                                                                                                                                                    omg....we had a coworker who would heat frozen fish in the microwave....it smelled spoiled! we kept waiting to see if we'd have to call the medics for food poisoning!

                                                                                                                                                    re: perfumes....some of us are allergic to strong scents and it leaves us gasping for air....it can come from perfume, cologne, hair spray, after shave...a light scent i can usually adjust to, might take a week or so, but it might work out....the overly-applied strong scents can leave me just about asthmatic, though....there are a few people that i can tell when they're in the vicinity of my cube farm just by scent alone.....

                                                                                                                                                  3. Durian. Try bringing that into the workplace :-)

                                                                                                                                                    I work in an office with an incredibly diverse workplace. One of my colleagues is from the rural midwest, and he has a surprisingly open mind about food, and will try anything once. In fact, there are few things he doesn't enjoy eating. So one day, a bunch of us are talking about durian. The midwesterner is curious about it, so my Burmese colleague brings some in the next day. He is careful to triple wrap it in plastic, followed by newspaper, followed by even more plastic, and finally, in a ziplock bag. The midwester was instructed NOT to even think about opening it at work.

                                                                                                                                                    The midwester, a very smart guy, but sometimes a bit 'duh' (think Sean Penn in Fast Times), and also a bit rebellious, decides to open up this package at his desk and discard all of the packaging in his waste bin under his desk.

                                                                                                                                                    15 minutes later, someone on the other end of our large office tried to evacuate everyone. He thought there was a gas leak. Our midwestern friend loved durian by the way and gobbled up a half pound of the delicious goodness right away.

                                                                                                                                                    For the most part, nobody really complains about odors at work, unless they burn popcorn. We had one woman complain about the Indian food my colleague heated up and asked him why he couldn't eat 'normal' food, but then he called her a cultural imperialist, and then went on to suggest that he might object to the smell of her coffee. That was the end of that.

                                                                                                                                                    Bagoong (filipino fermented fish sauce), natto (japanese fermented soy beans), livers and onions, Spam fried rice, pate, super-ripe soft-ripening cheeses.... nothing is off-limits in my workplace. I actually prefer it that way, as the majority of us pretty much love to share and explore new foods.

                                                                                                                                                    Here's one that actually does annoy me, though it's not odor-related...
                                                                                                                                                    We had a guy in our office who used to bring in raw chicken breast so he could cook it on the George Foreman grill (intended for sandwiches), leaving behind raw chicken drippings everywhere. And he never cleaned up after himself either. One of my colleagues had enough of this, so he took it upon himself to throw the grill away.

                                                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: aburitoro

                                                                                                                                                      haha -- great story about the durian. i have to wonder what your indian-food-smell-hating colleague had to say about THAT. :)

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: aburitoro

                                                                                                                                                        I'd much prefer the "nothing off limits workplace" myself....well, food wise. I'll even put up with a bit of micro'd fish for that.

                                                                                                                                                        And a big WELL DONE to the colleague who stood up to the "normal food" comment....as i said in an earlier post...i'm surprised someone hasn't cried "harassment already!!" on this type of stuff.

                                                                                                                                                        And methinks any such individual wouldn't take too kindly if, for no reason...we leaned over for a look at THIER lunch...and quickly followed through with a "my my...you really ARE an unadventurous, small minded child now aren't you?"... lol

                                                                                                                                                      2. We have a pretty diverse workplace. This means that approximately 1/5 of the time, someone is heating up something that smells like dirty socks to me. My cubicle is right next to the kitchen area, so escaped smells are inevitable. Sure, I could complain. It would get me nowhere, though. Instead, I found that the orange air freshener that Trader Joe's sells (the one made from real orange peels) is a FABULOUS deodorizer. A couple of spritzes, and all is well. I think that the orange oil just drags the scent components in the air right down to the ground. Anyway, I am able to make my workplace tolerable because of it.

                                                                                                                                                        We have one person (I have not figured out which one) who regularly eats a soup made with mealworms. I know this because that person will leave the plastic container out on a side table for the rest of the day. Weird, but fortunately not smelly.

                                                                                                                                                        Much more smelly, we had a guy program the microwave for 40 minutes instead of 4 and walk away from his popcorn. Of course fire ensued. That was a lovely afternoon. At least we got a fire drill out of it.

                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: bluecatbeads

                                                                                                                                                          A comment and then a question...
                                                                                                                                                          Comment: I used to love the smell of oranges until we had to start using it to mask nasty office odors. Now whenever I smell it I am transported right to my stinky office and a co-worker who eats three week old sandwiches.
                                                                                                                                                          Question: Mealworms. Please explain.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: southernitalian

                                                                                                                                                            ditto southern....this is one of the reasons why i can't stand the smell of fake coconut and fake apple-cinnamon type things......because they remind me of air fresheners used to mask nasty things. No thanks.

                                                                                                                                                            and bluecat....i'm glad to know that my lunches are no longer the strangest out there !! mealworms !!!! wow.

                                                                                                                                                        2. So, if others can complain about food odors, does that mean that I can complain about loud eaters - especially when they eat things like apples with the loud cruch and juicy chewing?

                                                                                                                                                          Also, does peanut butter and jelly make the banned list, or am I ok?

                                                                                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                          1. re: nbs2

                                                                                                                                                            My kids were picky eaters when they were small, and would only eat pb&j's. All the years they were in elementary school, I kept hearing about a ban on peanut butter, but the school board never approved it. Thanks heavens both of my kids are in high school and have moved out of the 8 year pb&j phase.

                                                                                                                                                            Now, on topic - I am a consultant, and work in a lot of conference rooms, and it drives me crazy when everyone puts their lunch plates into the tiny wastebasket in the conference room. Since I often work really late, the trash reeks 8 or 10 hours later.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: nbs2

                                                                                                                                                              I have a coworker that cannot bear any loud eating sounds. She wears headphones while her officemates are eating, and sometimes has to leave the room until they're done.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: nbs2

                                                                                                                                                                nbs2, P/B and jelly have all the special dispensation the universe allows.

                                                                                                                                                                LaruCar, your fruit story is hilarious.

                                                                                                                                                                Is it possible that personalities enter into it? I worked in an office converted into a twelve cubicle rat maze, and an Indian gentleman brought food from home that he microwaved that stank up the office.

                                                                                                                                                                However, he also regaled us with stories about how pretty he was and how strange ladies came up to him to tell him so, so perhaps it wasn't the food that smelled.

                                                                                                                                                              2. I work in an office full of chinese and indian immigrants. People reheating food that DOESN'T have odor are in the minority.

                                                                                                                                                                1. not quite an order problem - but a food at work problem none the less -

                                                                                                                                                                  This guy I work with goes to the grocery store on Mondays during is lunch break and buys fruit (a lot of what ever looks good) to have at his desk all week for snacking. By Thursdays a.m. when we get into work we have fruit flys. The flys die over the weekend, and come back the following week when he buys more fruit! It's so annoying!

                                                                                                                                                                  We mentioned it to him, he laughs about it... and he has been cutting back on the fruit hanging around. Now it's one or two pieces at a time, instead of 1/2 a bushel.

                                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: LaurCar

                                                                                                                                                                    Hi, I'm coming back into this thread at a late date, but I just re-read it, and must make some comments:
                                                                                                                                                                    For some reason, my posts (and replies) turned into some kind of ethnic discussion, and I never meant that. As I originally posted, I simply have a sensitive nose, and many odors bother me: perfume, smoke, certain foods.
                                                                                                                                                                    I now believe there is no one way to handle the food issue at a workplace, since every one is different. I DO believe in tolerance, and working with each other. There have been some very good ideas shown here.
                                                                                                                                                                    Good luck to everyone, and enjoy your lunch!

                                                                                                                                                                  2. mmmm, send him to my work!

                                                                                                                                                                    I must say, I wish more people would eat more fragrant food. I have a small appetite, but I do LOOOOOVE the smell of great food wafting about. It's like being a food voyeur I guess lol.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. I thought about this old thread today when I encountered some workplace "lunch etiquette" that I thought was kind of crazy, so I thought I'd share!

                                                                                                                                                                      I'm an accountant who also does a lot of auditing work, so I spend about half of my time in the office, and half at different clients' offices.

                                                                                                                                                                      My office is about 2 mi. from my house, so I go home most of the time. But, during this busy time of year, I often eat at my desk and maybe dash home just to let my dogs out. Sometimes I bring a sandwich or a salad, sometimes I grab a Cuban or some mediocre sushi from the Publix next to the office - but usually avoid the microwave unless it's a Stouffer's or something. Personally, the usual microwave "smells" don't bother me - fish, leftover tikka masala, microwave popcorn (unless someone burns it!), the garlicky pasta leftovers from last night... But, a lot of people feel differently, so I definitely avoid making microwave smells. No big deal though.

                                                                                                                                                                      But, When I'm out of the office, it's quite different. Obviously, if it's a new client, I definitely can't bring my lunch because I have no idea about their office "lunch culture".

                                                                                                                                                                      The other day I was at a client's office and I was getting some coffee in the employee breakroom while a couple of employees eating their salads for lunch. We started talking (about lunch mostly), and they told me how their boss frowned upon their lunches. They avoided the toaster and microwave completely because he would complain about the smells of anything heated... Toast stunk. An employee's "smelly" chicken salad sandwich was "unprofessional." Even a Greek salad was too much for this guy one time! I thought it was pretty ridiculous, but I've seen some ridiculous things in clients' workplaces! However, later on, as part of the audit, I saw how little some of these employees were making - they can't afford to go out to lunch. Their boss, however, can afford to go out to lunch everyday - besides his significantly higher earnings, many of his lunches are business lunches so he gets reimbursed for them so they're essentially free! I thought that was a bit ridiculous, so thought I'd share.

                                                                                                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: deibu

                                                                                                                                                                        That is ridiculous, especially since I'm sure he ends up eating food at his business lunches that he would frown upon his employees eating!

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Solstice444

                                                                                                                                                                          If he's not the one eating it, he doesn't wanna smell it....

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Solstice444

                                                                                                                                                                            No it isn't ridiculous. My sense of smell has dulled considerably over the years, but it used to be razor-sharp, and it's just too much of a horrible sensory overload to have to smell offensive odors. That goes for a lot of food (you may have no idea how bad it smells when you're not the one eating it), colognes, those gross plug- in things that are supposed to be air fresheners, and my current scourge, those disgusting oil jars with the skewers in them that constantly waft some sickening smell all over the place. It's just as bad as intestinal gas, IMO.

                                                                                                                                                                            And what the boss eats at his business lunches are his business.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                                                                                              I once had a boss who would try to dictate where we went out to eat even when she wasn't going with us and would punish us with passive aggressive behavior when we dared to go to the restaurant of our choosing.

                                                                                                                                                                              Now I have 25 employees. Could I lord it over them and demand that they dance to my tune? Yes I could. But it would be wrong. I want my employees to take pleasure in their lunches. If the aroma is a stink to me, that's my problem and I'll deal with it. I have some hypersensitivities, not about smell, but nonetheless those are my problems and I don't expect my co-workers or my employees to cater to my issues or eccentricities.

                                                                                                                                                                              No one said that the boss shouldn't eat what he wants. TSolstice seemed to wonder why he cared what the employees were eating in his absence. It's a control issue.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                                                                                                My point was along the lines of if a Greek salad/toast/chicken salad bothered him when an employee ate it, I find it hard to believe that he never eats those things himself. I could be wrong and maybe he eats the most odorless foods that exist.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. Back in the late 80s I worked for a small (about 35 employees) start-up company. We were all expected to work long hours and we had a small lunchroom with a frig and a microwave. The lunchroom was directly across the hall from the owners' offices, which is where they held meetings with clients. One day a good friend of mine microwaved her leftovers from dinner the night before - haddock - while they were talking to a prospective client, and the next day an edict went out - no fish in the microwave. I thought that was reasonable.

                                                                                                                                                                              The owners were young - early 30s - and they often ordered a case of beer for us to close down the work week. One Friday I grabbed one and went back to my desk to finish up. The following Monday I found the half-finished bottle on my desk, walked out of my office - right by the front door - to get rid of it in the lunchroom - when I bumped into my boss escorting a new client in. WAY to leave a bad first impression! I wasn't surprised when they stopped ordering the beer on Fridays shortly after, although I was never reprimanded.