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Office potlucks - please explain to an ignorant Brit

I see a fair number of posts mentioning 'office potlucks' - now I know what a potuck is (I think - eveyone brings along whaever they want to share?) - but in an office? How does that work? Are these big offices? (I work in an office of 200 people).
Does EVERYONE take part? What happens about health and safety rules? (assuming you have these in the US like we do in the UK). I see mention of 'no fridge' - where do people store the food? Is hot food provided? How? Is food just laid out somewhere at a certain time?
Sorry about all the questions - it just sounds a fun thing to do, but I can't imagine anything other than chaos, food poisoning and mess.

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  1. I used to work in an office of about 60 people and we had a holiday potluck every year. Everyone that attended participated in one way or another - if you didn't want to bring food, you could bring sodas, napkins, paper plates, etc. We did have a full kitchen with a fridge and oven so we didn't have all of the same issues you describe above. Some people brought chips and salsa or a cheese platter. Others went all out and made elaborate desserts, fancy salads, lasagne etc. There were a lot of crock pot dishes if I remember - chili, meatballs in sauce . . . that kind of thing. I'm assuming these ladies plugged their crock pots in when they got to work and the stuff cooked up until lunchtime. They needed no fridge or stove.

    All the dishes were put out on the conference room table and everybody dug in.

    Regarding cleanliness and food poisoning, I always tried to be one of the first to eat. If you waited until the end, the food was really messy and picked over. I really was never a fan of pot luck or any kind of buffet type deal for that matter. You aren't missing anything.

    1. We have fridges on every floor of our office and also microwaves, but no ovens. Hot food is usually just microwaved or sometimes people bring a hot pot or slow cooker to keep the food warm in, just plug it in and leave it. As it's usually over a pretty short period of time (lunch, for example), food safety isn't usually an issue. Not to mention, most people aren't busting out some elaborate dish. Beans and weiners in a crockpot heated up aren't really much of a food safety issue. Cold salads are kept in the fridge til served and it's not like they're sitting out in hot sunlight for 2 hours before people eat them. People tend to arrive all at once, eat right away and then the food is gone.

      I've never worked in an office where they didn't have a fridge and/or microwave and did a potluck, I can't see how that would work.

      Where I work, the office is very big and on several floors. At holidays they do potlucks by floor but most people just bring in stuff that doesn't need heat or cold, like cookies or cakes or potato chips or something.

      1. I despise office potlucks! I work in an office of only about 10-12 people and they love to throw potlucks for just about any reason. Which would be fine if any of them could cook. We have two girls who are from India and vegetarian and their food is the only food I'll eat (wonderful!). The rest of them seem to have an aversion to anything with taste. Nothing spicy, no garlic, no onions. What's left? I stopped working at that office on Fridays just to avoid the potlucks.

        1. Most of the details have been covered here by other posters, and I have to agree that while most dishes brought to office potlucks are fairly uninspired, I have gotten a few good recipes from them.

          I am curious though, are you saying there are no food related affairs in British offices? What do you do for holidays and birthdays,etc...?

          2 Replies
          1. re: dragonchowmein

            If it is somone's birthday they can bring in cakes and cookies, sometimes chocolates and fruit too. It is placed by their desk and an email sent out inviting eveyone to help themselves. (this means that on most days there is cake somewhere in the building!).
            Sometimes 'management' will lay on a catered cold buffet to celebrate a business success.
            I'm not sure what you mean by 'holidays'. Like Christmas? Nothing, is the simple answer.

            1. re: Peg

              Every once in a while, we get emails from our home office in Britain advising that there are "samosas in the kitchen" in honour of some event. Sadly, not in OUR kitchen...

              In this office and the one where I used to work, we'd do potlucks whenever someone got the energy to organize one and usually for a minor holiday like Halloween or Cinco de Mayo. Or just for the sheer heck of it, holidays are just an excuse or allow for a theme. One time we did a chili cookoff, which works well because everyone brings in their chili in slow cookers.

          2. You're not ignorant, just lucky so far.

            I hate office potlucks. I refuse to bring anything so therefore I don't attend, as I didn't contribute, with the result that I'm seen as not a "team player".

            I know some people love these contrived social events and opportunity to show off their culinary skills (or lack thereof) but I loathe and avoid them. On the rare occasion when I decide I must participate, I'll buy my contribution -- samosas or a salad deli item.

            And besides my disdain of the whole concept, I have the same concerns as you regarding cleanliness, propery food preparation, health and safety, etc.

            11 Replies
            1. re: JamieK

              I work in an office of ~100 people. Our annual Thanksgiving "pot luck" is fabulous. The turkey/ham, mashed potatoes and gravy are brought in by a catering firm, along with the plates, plasticware, etc. Others sign up to bring a dish (or not, there is no obligation). We have some really fabulous cooks and I look forward to it every year. I usually pick up at least one great new recipe. There is always WAY too much food, but there are very few "clunkers" on the table. It's almost a competition to see who can bring the dish that "wows" the crowd.

              We are blessed to have 4 fridges and many microwaves, toaster ovens, etc. We do a giant clean out/clean up the week before, to make sure everything is ready to receive the bounty of great food.

              I have to miss it this year, because I'll be away. :-(

              1. re: JamieK

                And besides my disdain of the whole concept, I have the same concerns as you regarding cleanliness, propery food preparation, health and safety, etc.
                Jamie, I can understand your disdain of the whole concept, but with your concerns regarding cleanliness, et al.... take it you don't go to family picnics, or gather with friends and grill where lots of people bring food to eat? Wouldn't you have the same concerns regarding proper food preparation, storage, health and safety? Seems to be limiting of what can be a fun time.

                Like onrushpam below, I've worked at several companies where an annual T'giving potluck would be done. The company would provide several turkeys, and other items would be brought in by employees, often in crockpots or slow cookers (baked beans, stuffing, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, etc.) Others would contribute $ to purchasing the paper goods, and others would bring various desserts - brownies, cookies, pies, etc.

                However...this was the only potluck done - I would be thoroughly sick and tired of them if they happened once a month and probably wouldn't participate myself if they were that often. Once a year? I did participate, and I enjoyed them. You got to see people in your company you didn't often socialize with, and sometimes try new foods.

                1. re: JamieK

                  You're not seen as a "team player" because your "disdain" of the concept is (correctly, IMHO) perceived as disdain for your co-workers: their food isn't good enough for you, therefore *they* aren't good enough for you. If you think their food is unsanitary, on some level you're thinking they are unsanitary.

                  If you don't want to send that message, then go to the damn potluck (unless they're unreasonably frequent). If you really can't bear the thought of sharing in their food and you're concerned about cleanliness (unwarrented, IMHO), then eat a big breakfast, bring something you like, serve yourself first and after you've eaten that, put a few dabs of the other stuff on your plate and push it around and smile and make small talk. That's how civilized people act when invited to share a meal.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Actually, I really am just not a team player.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Well said, Ruth. My wife is that way but I've always enjoyed potlucks; never worried about getting sick and never knew anybody who did get sick.

                      1. re: mucho gordo

                        Mr. Dornfelder has happily enjoyed the three potlucks he's attended, for different sites of the same business, during the last year. While he was one of the two lead event specialists at his local Sam's Club, he delved into the fare that he and his fellow ESs (event specialists) brouight from home. Nor did he have any reason by be concerned in regards to food safety practices on the part of his staff: After all, when your job in this still-difficult economy depends significantly on your knowledge of and due diligence with food safety, the notion of passing along a foodborne illness to your co-workers is pretty much unthinkable.

                        The same, happily, is also true at his office. Again, since quite a few of his new team members are former ESs who are extremely familiar with basic tenets of food safety, he's delved into the two potlucks at this site. Earlier this month, the group held a Super Bowl lunch, for which everyone brought an item (I've forgotten offhand what my better half took).

                        Guess what? A fine time was had by all at all three bashes, with more than enough fare for folks to enjoy. And did I mention that about 85% of the goodies were pretty darned tasty? :D

                        All I want to say is that it's wholly possible for a potluck to be a terrific work lunch. Just 1) keep the events infrequent so that they're happily anticipated by staffers, 2) ask participants -- tactfully, of course -- to use basic food-safety know-how in preparing their entrees, 3) keep said entrees at safe temperatures whenever they're not being eaten and 4) put any uneaten food in the fridge after two hours.

                        (A side note: Cheese cubes left out on the potluck table for seven hours look really gross -- I've seen that sight often. :p)

                        1. re: Dornfelder

                          Most people are as clean as we are and don't want to get sick either. Potlucks are a great way to gain exposure to various ethnic dishes one would not ordinarily experience.

                          1. re: mucho gordo

                            That's terrific to find that so many potlucks offer such a variety of fare. As someone who's always embraced new and distinctive since childhood -- I was a big-time fan of abalone steaks and oysters on the half shell by the time I started third grade :D -- I'm constantly excited about checking out cuisines from different cultures. On my honeymoon 25 years ago this month, I fell in love with sushi ... and that was well ahead of the curve regarding sushi's popularity in SoCal.

                            Ironically, however, the office potlucks that caused eight bouts of food poisoning -- most mild, but two relatively serious -- were events with dishes that'd make Sandra Lee's recipes seem exotic.

                            What I also made sure to point out was that the main potluck organizer used these gatherings as her way of getting rid of mildering leftovers -- some three weeks old or older -- from her refrigerator. Don't forget, mucho, that it was her month-old shrimp-pasta salad with a mayo-based dressing that caused my supervisor to get mighty sick.

                            Yes, this is an extreme example. But after getting nailed so often by foodborne illnesses in such a short time, I'll plan to make the freshest entee for my next potluck -- and, in the process, make sure to follow every food-safety measure possible, including 15 seconds of hand washing prior to eating. :-)

                            1. re: Dornfelder

                              Your example isn't so extreme. A similar point could be made for any restaurant one eats at. I guess, judging from the way most people just 'dug in', nobody gave that possibility a thought. I don't think anyone would want to learn that their dish caused sickness and be humiliated in front of their coworkers.

                              1. re: mucho gordo

                                Well,mucho -- as I'm sure you probably know already -- symnptoms of food poisoning almost never kick in for at least 12 hours after food is ingested. (In a few rare cases, they can start as little as six hours afterward.) That's likely one major reason why potluck conhtributors don't hear about their issues.

                                Too, most folks probably possess better people skills than to call out a co-worker who brought in a tainted dish; they might be likelier to talk with the contributor, privately and gently, and ask what happened and how that dish made them feel.

                                From my side of things, I'd be horrified to know if I gave anyone any health issues from a homemade entree. I'd apologize in a big way to anyone sickened, and find a way possible to do a make-right. Thankfully, because I'm pretty darned conscientious about using super-fresh ingredients I'd just purchased for a potluck dish -- and, of course, use freshly cleaned cooking tools and surfaces, avoid cross-contamination completely, wash my hands with warm-to-hot water frequently and keep cold foods colder than 40 degrees and hot foods hotter than 140 -- that's never happened.

                                Speaking of potlucks: If anyone would like my Tex-Mex corn salad entree, please don't hesitate to say so. A hit every place I take it, it's uber-easy to make, and its its array of bright colors from the corn, red and green peppers, red onion, and cilantro makes it so pretty.

                                P.S. Because a good number of folks unfortunately aren't that careful about washing their hands before eating, restaurants choosing NOT to have issues with their local environmental health departments take big measures to keep their establishments as bug-proof as possible. Indeed, that's why three-tub sinks (washing/sanitizing/rinsing)are required in California dining establishments, as is a list of other items and procedures too long to post here. Who wants to own a dining spot and get a health inspector at your door, telling you that a patron at your business phoned because he or she got sick from your food -- and possibly have your business shut down for some time as a result of that complaint? :o

                                P.P.S. This long-time fan of ethnic fare was introduced to chilaquiles at age 10. Any time I can find 'em on a menu, I'll order 'em with a big smile. Yum. :D

                                1. re: Dornfelder

                                  While I've had things that I would classify as "in and out", I don't recall ever having major food poisoning. I also believe people have more sense than to call out a coworker but I do think that the guilty person would realize what happened from overhearing others talk about it.
                                  It's through potlucks that I've acquired a taste for Philippino foods.

                  2. There are nearly 1500 people in the building that I work in for the division I work in. But, those 1500 people are divided into much smaller departments. I used to work in a department of about 20 people. They loved to throw potlucks also. In fact, that department used to be rather notorious for the frequent potlucks. I enjoyed them at first when they were held once in awhile in honor of a special occasion. But, then it seemed like there was a potluck 1-2 times per month and it just got to be too much, both energy wise and money wise. In my experience, most of the recipes seemed similar to those found in the 1955 Betty Crocker cook book. Not that they are all bad. But, they are traditional 1950's American housewife-ish recipes. Or, they are just plain gross/not executed well. Like "Dump cake" (dump all ingredients into a bowl and serve), "doctored up" canned baked beans, little meatballs simmered in grape jelly, someone's creative casserole, etc. Bleh. Would rather go out for a nice big bowl of fresh pho.

                    1. I work with a small group of 8 people on a daily basis, our parent dept has about 50 people. We have a potluck right before Thanksgiving each year - the pays for ham and turkey from a caterer and everyone else signs up to bring a side dish or dessert. Our offices are scattered across a fairly large campus, so those with easy access to fridge/microwave will usually sign up for foods that need to be kept cold and/or reheated. Those of us w/o kitchen access will sign up for room temp foods, drinks, and paper products. At Christmas we have a potluck with the other working groups in our section of cube-land, everyone pitches in $1-2 for ham, then signs us to bring a dish. The food for both events is rarely creative, but usually very good versions of classic Southern (US) dishes.

                      For the record, despite years of church and work related pot lucks, sometimes with pretty questionable food safety practices, I have only been sick from food once, and it was from tainted cantaloupe at a catered function.

                      1. Our office has one potluck per year in the week before Christmas. It is highly anticipated. There are about 75 people in the office and it is a very multicultural office. So it is an afternoon to socialize and try home made foods from other cultures.

                        We have two fridges and two microwaves. Some people bring there food in insulated carriers in case there isn't enough space. Besides it only 4 hours max for most people here between leaving the house with their cold food and serving it. There is usually a line up of crock pots and other heating appliances keeping things warm.

                        1. your imagination is spot on, chaos, potential of food poisoning, and mess are a given, add to that unispired dishes, poorly prepared dishes,microwave "cooking", dishes "cooked" in a crock pot, and unsanitary coworkers grabbing at food, and you have got what the typical potlock is.

                          I avoid them like the plague.

                          1. I agree with many here, you are not missing anything. I used to work in an office where there were too many potlucks. These women LOVED to eat! Not much good food just a bunch of chips, crap made in crock pots. It was such a pain! I would always try to make something really nice (chocolate espresso brownies from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook, cost me like $30.00 for all the damn ingredients!!) and then you see most of the food brought in was like a sad,cheap relish tray from Walmart or a generic 2 liter bottle of soda.
                            I also don't like eating food from other people's kitchens especially people I don't know. Like a coworker who keeps a filthy desk and a filthy keyboard. Makes you wonder how clean their houses are. True story.. I once found an eyelash in some food at a potluck and at another one a lady was talking about how her husband had hepatitis!! YUCK!

                            It has been my experience also that if you didn't participate you were considered to not be a team player. I would have much rather chucked in a couple of bucks and had pizza brought in or go out to a restaurant. Oddly the group I worked with always seemed against this. Also, yes the food would be laid out all day long or people would not clean up their stuff at the end of the day. I hate potlucks!!!

                            1. Food and sanitation regs don't apply, as this is basically a party by unlicensed people, not restaurants or caterers who need business licenses. I don't work at a business any more, but for years and years I was a nurse. One very large hospital where I worked, it was on a very small ward, 17 beds. We were a fairly diverse group, employee-wise, and our Christmas party was a fascinating one. One woman's poultry dressing reminded me of a crisp tamale sort of thing, cornbread, vigorously seasoned and baked in a large pan so it was lots of crust and only an inch or less in depth. That was where I learned about holiday foods from other ethnic groups, too. We never left food out that should be refrigerated for very long, but then most of it disappeared quite rapidly.

                              Some wards were quite Scrooge-like when they held their parties, using a locked room and keeping everyone but contributors out. We, on the other hand, would call our pet house officers (young physicians-in-training) who had rotated off to other areas of the hospital, and say "There's food! Come on over!" This, of course, paid off later, when they rotated back through us. Warm feelings enhance communication , and good communication always enhances patient care.

                              1. I like office potlucks, but it really depends on the group you work with. It's usually kind of a pain in the rear to figure out what to bring, find room in the fridge the day of, set up, etc. But, on the bright side, you get to try things that you might have never had before and see what other people like to eat - the first time I'd ever seen a pea salad (cold peas, small onions, mayo) was at a potluck and it was brilliant! YUM.

                                It can also be a problem if not everyone brings something or people bring less expensive, less imaginative or less effort-requiring dishes. There was a thread about how someone got really bent out of shape that a group of her co-workers always brought a take out Mexican platter to office potlucks a while back. Politics...

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: akq

                                  I like office potlucks but I guess it depends on where you work- I know and like my co-workers, don't think they are dirty, and trust that they won't poison me. We put out a list so everyone can see what others are bringing and to avoid duplicates and we use the time to talk to each other- it is the least corny team building activity I've ever participated in. We allow everyone to join and those that don't like to cook chip in with someone else to cover the cost of the ingredients or bring chips for a dip.

                                2. All I can say is that potlucks seem to be a whole lot better in the schools in the thread below than the folks in this thread.

                                  Over the years, we had some phenomenal pot-lucks at many of the places that I have worked at. people bring in what they feel comfortable bringing in and the food is put away with an hour and noone manages to get sick.

                                  Few dishes are COOKED in crock pots but crock pots are used to keep the dishes warm.

                                  No, the cuisine is not haute cuisine. However, most of it has been well prepared.

                                  My favorite pot-lucks were in Detroit with the pig feet, greens, hoppin' john, chitterlings, and some great skillet cornbread. But then, in Orange Co, CA, the "brought from home sushi and the vegetarian bean dishes were a real hit.

                                  To the OP, most offices have a small kichen with refrigeration and a microwave. Some places will provide a ham or a turkey brought in from a restaurant to supplement what other people bring, The key is to make sure that you have all the eating and serving utensils you need AND a group that will clean up the office afterwards.

                                  1. I worked at a large software company where they would have a Holiday party in one section every year. I was lucky enough to sit in that section one year and it was out-of-this-world amazing! It was pretty much my "dream" meal---nothing but appetizers and desserts. I would say about 200-300 particpated and there was so much food scatted throughout the section, you could find any kind of dip/chip/snack and also any kind of cake/cookie/pie. Not the healthiest spread, but for someone like me, with a crazy sweet tooth, it was heaven on earth. Most desserts were homemade and those that were bought, were from some of the best bakeries in Long Island, NY.

                                    Now, where I am, potlucks tend to be more of the "meat platter and rolls" and packaged cookies. Sigh, I didn't realize how GOOD potlucks could be.

                                    1. You've enough responses re: potluck.

                                      The US does not have the same Health and Safety issues as the UK. The Americans here may now dispute my claim. But, as a person who's lived in the US and the UK, I can say with some authority that I've never heard the phrase 'Health and Safety' invoked so often to deal with so much.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: Lizard

                                        Interesting - are you saying it's invoked more in the U.K.?

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          Oh yes. And it is invoked in almost any possibly context. We have Health and Safety officers for each department and they work with the broader Institution to ensure standards are met. This can go so far as to disallow us our own departmental hoover/vacuum cleaner (which we would use to clean up after receptions) on the grounds of 'Health and Safety'.

                                          Mitchell and Webb (a comedic duo) have a bit of fun with the ubiquity of Health and Safety regulations:


                                            1. re: Lizard

                                              This can go so far as to disallow us our own departmental hoover/vacuum cleaner (which we would use to clean up after receptions) on the grounds of 'Health and Safety'.
                                              Wow - and I thought some U.S. restrictions were heavy-handed! This just seems silly!

                                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                                I'm in the UK too, and a lot of things which are banned for supposed health and safety issues, such as not throwing mortarboards at graduation, are actually banned for other reasons, with 'Health and Safety' being invoked to deflect criticism. http://www.hse.gov.uk/myth/index.htm. This may be why it's invoked so often as Lizard says

                                        2. I have had horrible potlucks at work in the past, all bags of chips and box mix cakes. Now however, I work with a hugely diverse group, and our potlucks are like a trip around the world. we have kimbob, samosas, spring rolls, hummus with homemade bread. iI's wonderful. I have never seen a store bought item in the array, unless someone has brought in nice cheese and crackers.

                                          1. Very interesting thread. Allergies in children seem to be increasing dramatically. One possible reason? People today keep their home and kids too clean. They are exposed to so little that they develop all sorts of allergies when they are finally exposed to something new.

                                            Another article indicates that if you eat enough "good bacteria", the bad bacteria won't be able to reproduce and your chances for a stomach upset is greatly reduced. A good reason to eat lots of yoghurt and drink lots of buttermilk (cultured milk kind of like South American yoghurt that you drink rather than eat with a spoon) I don't know if it's true but I eat almost anything that isn't green and fuzzy or smells bad - any doubt and I just nuke it - and I haven't had a stomach upset in years and years. I also read that many restaurants in France actually hang their birds until the meat falls off the bones before cooking it. Pretty disgusting but does give one a perspective that the concept of fresh and sanitary varies with culture.

                                            I love potlucks. We've had them as simple as soup and salad and as varied as international recipes from a school faculty. I can't remember one that wasn't outstanding. And the best part about them is since you don't know what's in the dish you you don't worry about it and just enjoy it without worrying about raising your cholesterol.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: warthawgs

                                              >>Allergies in children seem to be increasing dramatically. One possible reason? People today keep their home and kids too clean. They are exposed to so little that they develop all sorts of allergies when they are finally exposed to something new.

                                              That was also given as an explanation to the large increase in the number of cases of polio in the 30s-50s. I Thank heavens for the work of Salk and Sabin.

                                              1. re: jlawrence01

                                                I think recent studies are suggesting that it's more over-use of antibiotics (primarily in infants/small children) that is a big contributing factor to an increase in allergies. I was a sick infant/toddler myself and have fairly bad environmental allergies. Now people always tell me to go get an antibiotic when I have a cold, but it's a virus so why would I want to bother?

                                                1. re: queencru

                                                  I took a lot of antibiotics when young, and now am allergic to (only) antibiotics.
                                                  No-one could accuse me of having a hygeinic kitchen!

                                                  My question about health and safety was more to do with plugging cookers in (we can't plug in non-tested equipment in case it causes a nuclear explosion, or something).

                                                  1. re: Peg

                                                    We have lots of rules about what we can plug in where at the office. But they aren't enforced day to day, and for a one-day event people would look the other way.

                                              2. They can be great when you work with people from a mix of backgrounds who appreciate food and bring in their ethnic specialties (if not homemade then from their favourite little place). Actually, I generally find the "North American" food to be of the lowest quality - grocery store baked goods and such. But yeah, the concerns you mention do apply.

                                                1. How potlucks are held and the expectations of the workers depends on what the boss wants and the culture of the office. I used to like them. At one place I worked, a holiday meal was catered. The company paid for the meat and vegetable dish. If the workers wanted to bring a desert to share they could. We weren't required to sign a paper saying what we would bring. No one was ever embarrassed for not bringing something, and still there was always plenty of food. At another place I worked, it was required we sign a paper saying what we were bringing and we had to write our name to the side. I wrote pumpkin pie and was later harrassed by my boss who said snidely, "Is that all you are bringing?" People would also make fun of others if they thought they ate too much. If they couldn't read the name next to what you were bringing, they would make a big deal and find out who didn't sign their name legibly. I hated it. People would say the nastiest things. So I started just bringing a dish and not eating, but just leave the food and leave for lunch and eat in peace at home or at a restaurant. This year, we were asked to bring homemade cookies for the public, but I don't have an oven right now. I can't wait to hear all the whining and I am sure the people who bring homemade will feel quite proud and snobby. In one of the departments I work, we were asked to bring food for birthdays, holidays, and even bring our leftovers from Thanksgiving to work!! I had no leftovers left, and I just stopped participating in those though they call me a grinch. I hated constantly going on side trips to the grocery store, and having to pack up food. The department party requirements were extremely irritating because things had to have a theme and the boss wanted cups, napkins, etc to have a cutesy theme. It would get costly. Also, we would often have lots of food, and when people from other departments would see the food they would ask for some and the boss told some people no because they weren't in that department, but she would let a few people (not in the department) she liked to have some. So I stopped participating in those because I realized she just wanted to show-off to everyone that her department was so caring of each other and stuff because we spent so much money and time on each other--buying food, preparing food, gifts, sacrificing our lunch hour to eat in the office. It was all for show and to promote feelings of jealousy from other departments. And their was no hot water in that department so I hated it and I hated having to bow to their little demands. Heat food in the microwave in another part of the office, and other departments seeing me carry food --like the time I had to cook a bunch of taco meat and heat it and carry it all over the office because there was no microwave in the department. The boss specifically requested things like taco bowl shells, not regular tacos and requested things like rolls, not regular, cheaper sliced bread. It would get really expensive and food was always wasted. It was a pain to pack food to work. It can be fun unless you have a micromanager and or you have to do it more than a couple of times a year. Pure politics really. Just remember be nice to those who don't bring in fancy homemade dishes because you don't know that they may be short on time or their food burned or they don't have an oven at home. Never had a potluck at a place that did not have a refrigerator. The first company had the best idea because the hot food and meats were catered so no one had to worry over their hot food or be distracted it would boil over while they worked. Deserts don't usually cause food poisoning unless they contain raw eggs.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: sugrz

                                                    This situation sounds terribly extreme and really bizarre. I'm sorry you have to go through it.

                                                    1. re: limoen

                                                      @ limoen: My office-potluck situation was identical to that of sugrz's -- but add eight bouts of food poisoning, four of which bordered on the serious, to the mix.

                                                      (Note: Read my posts in this thread for the background info.)

                                                  2. I'm not a huge fan of potlucks, even though the office I work in is quite friendly and sharing about the food. Several years ago on the Thursday before Memorial Day (for you Brits, last weekend in May and the first three-day weekend of the year) we had a "picnic" themed food day, with franks cooked on the George Foreman, and all the sides. Friday night I got as sick as I've ever been and was just finally able to get out bed to go to work on Tuesday. Turned out almost everyone was sick all weekend. We never did figure out what the source was, but it was clearly something at that meal. I'm still a little queasy about food other people make, which everyone I work with thinks is hilarious. How, after that terrible weekend, they can cook things they don't control, is beyond me. Sometimes I don't even want to eat in restaurants.

                                                    So sometimes we need those health and safety rules!

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Parrotgal

                                                      I have a funny story in this vein: My mother and father used to both work at the same county public health department office. Their coworkers are the people that inspect restaurants and commercial kitchens to enforce proper food handling. Something went wrong, though, with a crock-pot full of of chili, and the next day, nearly every person in the office was out sick with food poisoning, my mom included (poor thing!) I wonder if the story was ever leaked to the community...

                                                    2. Minnesota tried a few years back to require ANY organization that people brought food, to have a (food license). That means church, boy scout, school,VFW, etc. organizations had to comply.That didn't last very long.
                                                      Disregarding how people feel about other peoples kitchens and their sanitary practices, you have to ask your self if the item you're looking at can handle the distance/transportation, time of storage/reheating under dubious circumstances, HOW LONG HAS THAT BEEN SITTING THERE! I guess the bottom line is how hungry you are. You could drink a gallon of kefir a day, but that first bad bug you get will help you refine your decisions in the future

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: 3MTA3

                                                        This is really the key. The most important thing is whether or not it is supposed to be hot (or cold) and whether or not it has been kept at that temperature.

                                                      2. wow, I guess I am in the minority but I love office pot lucks. I have usually worked somewhere where people bring in some great home made Mexican food. I love getting to taste everything (even the corny stuff like meatballs in grape jelly--gulity pleasure food) and I have never gotten sick. We actually did leave out stuff & go back & nibble on it--not safe, I know but oh well.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: sparkareno

                                                          Potlucks are only as good as the people involved with them. The department where I work is full of good cooks and we'll sit around and talk recipes. As a result our potlucks are legend in the company, to the point that when we've had our fill we send word out to everyone else and the vultures descend. :) As far as safety, we have fridges and plenty of outlets, and I'll admit that sometimes the food police can get slightly ridiculous. Like Plano Rose I've had food poisoning twice in my life, both from restaurants--never from any sort of potluck or barbecue.

                                                        2. In general, the more you like good food the less you like office potluck lunches. My workaround was to bring several loaves of home baked bread. People who don't know much about cooking think making your own bread is pretty much the equivalent of building your own nuclear power plant so they're very impressed. And the cost is minimal.

                                                          Then I'd put the lunch that I brought from home just for myself on one of the Santa patterned paper plates and mix and mingle. There were always so much unidentifiable dishes that no one noticed.

                                                          1. I've been going to church potlucks for seventy plus years and have never gotten sick. I've had food poisoning twice. Both from restaurants. Never from picnics, neighborhood gatherings, etc.

                                                            1. Our office (40 people) has three potlucks a year and a catered function. If you do not wish to bring something, you are expected not to participate and seen as a scrooge. We generally have excellent food, we do one as a brunch and one as international themed. The two men in our office who always eat 4 plates bring the least, just enough to get by. Both of these men are in upper management. We have a full sized refrigerator and a microwave. Many people bring their item in a crock pot. I use my crock pot quite a bit and do not have a bad opinion of them. You can cook quite gourmet food in a crock pot. I love potlucks!

                                                              1. My son's middle school has welcome back and Winter Holiday potlucks, per classroom. There are restrictions re. sugar such as no sugared drinks and only two baked goods such as cookies or brownies. The potlucks are wonderful! Bagels, cream cheese, quiche, greek yogurt, fruits, and more make for a very enjoyable treat.

                                                                On the flip side, I've been to potlucks where buckets of KFC sit besides homemade samosas. Guess which emptied first? If you said the KFC, you win! One fellow brought this dreadful soy bean casserole from which no one partook even to be polite. The next year, he brought it again (I'm assuming he made another one although it looked so unappetizing, who knows?).

                                                                Potluck success depends on who organizes it, the rules they set up, and the people who participate.

                                                                5 Replies
                                                                1. re: three of us

                                                                  You really have to be careful with your audience at potlucks. I once worked for a defense contractor. The employees were a very conservative, middle American bunch, and the few ethnic foods present were all avoided. Nothing particularly unusual either - chicken and potato curry (mild), almond jello etc. The only "ethnic" foods that moved were spaghetti and "fried noodles" made from those Chung King deep fried noodles in a canister. And the KFC was the first item gone.

                                                                  1. re: dump123456789

                                                                    That's odd. I've worked at couple of defense contractor outfits, and as most of my colleagues had done tours of duty overseas, or had foreign-born spouses, we had a huge variety of goodies. But, then, that's not nearly as good a story, is it? I'm always amused by the knee-jerk middle-America bashing on these forums.

                                                                    1. re: Ideefixed

                                                                      And I'm equally amused by the knee-jerk defensiveness.

                                                                      If you had asked, I would have told you that by the end of my longish stint at that place, the culture had changed radically, as the massive influx of younger folks led to an increase in diversity in cuisine, as well as a greater concern with healthier foods.

                                                                      But, then, that - asking questions - is not nearly as good as shooting first.

                                                                      1. re: dump123456789

                                                                        I don't see how my reply. with my own experience, is "shooting first". Except, of course, when my story doesn't agree with yours.

                                                                2. You guys are lucky! Whether dishes are inspired or hackneyed, I love the entire experience of bonding over a tasty bite! I am a high school teacher so there is never time to enjoy with my coworkers, we're all off in our own classrooms. However, we do office breakfasts in honor of special occasions. Each teacher pays $25 at the start of the year and it funds these breakfasts- doughnuts, muffins, coffee, bagels, butter, cream cheese, pepperoni, cheese and crackers and dishes of nuts or candies. However, there are a few of us (myself included) who also bring homemade goodies to these parties to make them more special- usually fruit and fruit dip, cake, cookies, pies, things of that nature. Sometimes people will bring a hot dish, but they never "move" as fast as a homebaked cookie!
                                                                  The downside of this is that they are held 7:30-8:05 before the school day begins . . . sigh!

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: CoffeeNCookies

                                                                    CnC, I also teach, but we solved the problem of sharing by organizing a potluck once a year on a half day, when we need to stay for professional development. Lots of interesting food, and those that don't like to cook, provided set-up clean-up and paper goods. That might work for a school setting.

                                                                    1. re: breakfastfan

                                                                      In one prior worksite, we managers fed the entire staff breakfast. We schlepped in our own griddles and made pancakes or waffles cooked-to-order, with sides of bacon, sausage or hashbrowns. It was a lot of work and mess, but great fun. We even had a contest--each manager had to wear an apron and the staff voted on the best, silliest, most beautiful, etc.

                                                                  2. I realize I'm resurrecting an old thread, but I've waited for a little more than four years to reply. (Four years of 60+-hour workweeks force your hand of putting your life on hold.)

                                                                    You know the concept of "wearing out a welcome"? Well, for about a six-month stretch, a former workplace of mine mandated WEEKLY potlucks. You read that correctly, folks: weekly. If any staffers there lacked either the interest in participating in said potlucks or the time to prepare a dish -- see my aforementioned comment regarding 60+-hour workweeks -- he or she was viewed as a "poor team player."

                                                                    As with many of the CHers responding on this post, the dishes were left out on the office's main table for several hours; I recall at least six times that food that'd been first put out at 11:45 a.m. was still out by 7 p.m. I'd also seen several birthday cakes with buttercream frosting left out overnight. Dee-lish.

                                                                    And, yes, many of my co-workers regarded washing their hands after visiting the office restroom -- with no hot water, of course -- as a time-wasting thing that only hypochondriacs did.

                                                                    After working there nearly a year and a half -- and working my way through eight bouts of minor food poisoning during that time :p -- I learned that the employee who put this potluck policy in place essentially used those events as her way to dispose of entrees that she'd left in her refrigerator for what seemed (smelled?) like two or three weeks, if not longer.

                                                                    That's just on the sanitation side of the story. Said long-time employee brought in a dish she crowed about proudly, her "garden patch soup": a brownish, stewy morass with looked like hunks of week-old beef fat floating about ... and about four mushy gray peas. "Come and get it!" she beamed as she stirred her greasy Crock-Pot. I did so, to keep the peace, but took two tiny sips before pouring the rest into the toilet the minute she stepped out of the office for a break.

                                                                    Let's just say that I'm VERY glad to have these culinary misadventures behind me. And it's my hope that my fellow CHers are treated to work potlucks -- carried out every six months or so -- with tasty, well-made fare prepared with due diligence regarding the most basic of food-safety rules. Just a hunch, but I really doubt we'd want to get to know the likes of mealtime guests named E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter on a personal basis. ;-)

                                                                    8 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Dornfelder

                                                                      I think you were in an exceptional experience (notwithstanding the lack of handwashing, which is just plain rude).

                                                                      These events do work out better when more infrequent and are more pleasurable for those who enjoy cooking. It also helps to have a sense of what sorts of food last better when cooked ahead. Vegan is often a good way to go to avoid poisoning your coworkers.

                                                                      I have to say it has never once crossed my mind to feed my coworkers spoiling leftovers. I always cook fresh and most of my coworkers for our once or twice a year meal appear to be doing the same.

                                                                      1. re: Toucan67

                                                                        @ Toucan: I've always provided flavorful and colorful vegetarian or vegan entrees for potlucks -- for my work sites, as well as for my husband's. We really appreciate not having any concerns about cross-contamination during the food-prep process. Additionally, we also like giving work mates a tasty and healthful option for events such as these.

                                                                        (A side note, not intended to hijack the thread: Since 1996, about 99% of the dinners I've cooked for me and my husband have been vegetarian or vegan, primarily for health reasons. That year, a co-worker of my husband's dropped dead from a massive heart attack at age 45. Very simply, that incident scared us both into healthful eating, even though we were only in our mid-30s at the time.)

                                                                        Because a number of my co-workers were still living at home with their parents -- most were no older than 25 or so -- they probably regarded pre-meal hand washing as something Mom or Dad told them to do. ("Why do I need to do that?" they no doubt thought. "I didn't just pick my nose, or do something gross like that. All I've been doing is working on my computer." :p) I'm also guessing they weren't yet aware of the importance of food safety.

                                                                        I couldn't agree more with you about the ideal frequency of potlucks. Once or twice a year, IMHO, is perfect for these events such as these, and I even mentioned this possibility to my manager during a meeting. As was the case with fellow CHer/thread contributor sugrz, that manager gave his seal of approval for weekly potlucks. ("I think having them weekly is fun," he often said. "They're good team-building activities.") That said, he put a prompt stop to the events right after he got food poisoning from eating a shrimp-pasta salad that'd been provided by -- you guessed it -- Ms. Leftovers. ("Don't try it," he cautioned me. "I got really sick on it." Sure enough, it smelled like it was minimally three weeks old. >-< )

                                                                        Indeed, Toucan, that was a genuinely exceptional -- and scary -- series of potluck experiences. I can hope that my next one will be saner and safer, by far.

                                                                        1. re: Toucan67

                                                                          I feel the need to mention that many of the recent cases of widespread food borne illnesses have been linked to produce - lettuce, strawberries, spinach, etc. So vegan alone isn't a panacea against food problems.


                                                                          I happen to love potlucks but do avoid gross leftovers and purchased items in favor of yummy, homemade foods.

                                                                          1. re: tcamp

                                                                            @ tcamp: I'm crossing my fingers tightly -- so tightly, in fact, they're turning white -- regarding my next workplace potluck that contributors choosing to prepare their own dishes at home opt for:

                                                                            a) thorough handwashing during the process (15-second washes, please),

                                                                            b) total avoidance of cross-contamination (preparing vegetables before meat, fish or poultry goes a long way to reduce that risk),

                                                                            c) a clean-as-possible kitchen environment (hello, cutting boards, pots, pans and utensils) and

                                                                            d) understanding that food should not stay unrefrigerated for more than two hours.

                                                                            My husband, who worked as a food-event lead at a local Sam's Club, earned his California food handler certification about a year and a half ago. During his training, he shared a ton of info regarding food-safety guidelines, as well as info on a variety of foodborne illnesses. Believe me, the discussion isn't what you'd want to hear during an intimate candlelight dinner, but it's nonetheless important. And during his stint at Sam's, he was known by shoppers as the event specialist who prepared the tastiest samples -- his tilapia Veracruz was a thing of beauty, I've heard from his co-workers -- while never once giving anyone a cause for concern relative to food safety.

                                                                            Following these uber-easy guidelines is just basic common sense. And to anyone disregarding such basic ideas, I'd ask this: How would you feel getting a co-worker you like a lot sick -- really sick?

                                                                        2. re: Dornfelder

                                                                          I always enjoyed when whatever office I was working in at the time had potlucks. But ugh, you really just turned me off of them entirely now, especially the handwashing (or lack of) part of it... :-)

                                                                          1. re: Dinermite

                                                                            Well, Dinermite, I too used to love 'em without reservation A school where I'd worked for some time had terrific potlucks, with a variety of well-prepared fare that appealed to both the conservative and the adventuresome palate. But because the teachers and school nurse participating were well versed in health and sanitation -- individuals working with ill children tend to be relatively smart about that -- everyone participating knew to follow uber-basic health and food-safety guidelines. (All of the food was prompty refrigerated after it'd been out an hour, for example.)

                                                                            So, yes, these folks didn't just stop at a thorough handwashing at the meal itself. Because they didn't want to invite a bevy of foodborne germs to the event, they kept things safe by avoiding all cross-contamination during food prep and keeping temperatures where they should be (cold foods below 41 Fahrenheit and hot foods above 135 F). There's no doubt that these teachers were not only smart in the classroom, they earned straight A's in the kitchen for their due diligence.

                                                                            1. re: Dornfelder

                                                                              Finally, my fellow CHers, I'll drop a couple of links that I'm hoping will be of a bit of help when it's time for you to help organize your next potluck. Here's to super taste without the trots! :D

                                                                              9 myths about food poisoning/WebMD:

                                                                              Potlucks, picnics and food poisoning:

                                                                              1. re: Dornfelder

                                                                                the one time i had any qualms about a potluck, the way i handled it was to bring a cheese tray directly from the grocer's refrigerator as my contribution.
                                                                                i only ate the cheese that i brought.
                                                                                it helped that everyone already knew that i don't eat meat nor poultry, so they just assumed it was because of my already-established "weird" eating habits.