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Potluck & Hygiene

We have potlucks in our office every couple of weeks. I seriously question the personal hygiene of some of the people bringing in food. How best to be 'polite' and not touch their food? It's always obvious who has cooked what...

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  1. Maybe allude to some kind of allergy/sensitivity, I mean either you agree to potluck or not as hard to single out some dishes and not others as people will try to get you to try their contributions. Some people are not comfortable with potluck, bazaars but I have eaten from these sources, streetfood and resto fare (who knows how well cups, cutlery are cleaned) and never gotten sick except when travelling to certain parts of the world. But nowadays I do buy less from bazaars as you never know! I dont think it is just a hygiene question, sometimes you can buy fish or meat from grocery stores and the whole problem starts with that especially if not the freshest. How can one really know about hygiene, lots of people surprisingly do not bother to wash hands when they should and I dont think you can predict which ones. So potluck can be dicey from any participant but probably very few people actually get sick from potluck dinners.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mangoannie

      Actually, if asked, just say no, thank you very much. Never offer an explanation or justification or excuse: it's a pretext for a problem. The impulse to a simple polite decline is a dangerous one....

    2. After years of this conundrum, I now trust that my Magic House protection extends to potlucks, too.

      8 Replies
      1. re: pine time

        'Magic House protection extends to potlucks'...love that!
        I'm a Potluck distruster...and proud of it.
        ; )

        1. re: pine time

          For us the magic house protection extends to tailgaiting. When you tailgate, many of the food safety rules get broken and there's no feasible ways of continually washing hands, etc. No one has ever gotten sick. Tailgaiting is not for germaphobes :-)

          1. re: Janet from Richmond

            Tailgating freaks my husband out. I carry loads of wet naps, and hand sanitizer for everyone, and he can manage.

          2. re: pine time

            Nope, not applicable when the one bringing in the main course is the same one who has been bitterly complaining about a mouse infestation, and has told you that she's pulled 3 mice out of the dog food in the past few days PLUS how she has to sweep the mouse poo out of the kitchen twice a day. I passed her dish...

            1. re: freia

              Ewww - just ewww. I couldn't eat it, either!

                1. re: freia

                  I would pass and give her the exterminators' number!!!

                  1. re: freia

                    Ummm... under those circumstances I think I'd pass too! But I'm not overly-fussy about food hygiene until it officially becomes 'leftovers'. Many's the time we've had leftovers foisted on us, and when we got home I've quietly disposed of them because I don't trust them after they've been sitting out at room temperature for 5 or 6 hours while we socialised.

                2. I always take a little bit- push it around and then toss it. No one's feelings are hurt that way taking home a dish that no one touched. Very important to to tell everyone that everything you ate was wonderful. It's all in how you say it.

                  1. I've eaten at potlucks my whole life and have never gotten sick. Our immune systems are pretty remarkable and can usually deal with a little bit of bad hygiene (unless you've babied it your whole life, then it may not be very strong.)

                    If you look a particular dish though and don't like the look of it, skip it. I think it would be in horrible taste and manners for someone to call you out for not eating their stuff. I would never ever do that. There are so many reasons why someone might not eat a dish, like allergies, personal taste, etc... It would be rude to try to prod someone to try your stuff. If someone asked me why I wasn't eating their food, I would just say my plate got full and I am good--have plenty to eat.

                    I do think you should be careful about lying and saying/alluding that you are allergic or sensitive to something you aren't. So many people do that now that people are starting to not take food allergies seriously. There are people who really do have horrible allergies to things (I have milk and peanut) and all of the people who just use it as an excuse make people numb to it, which adds to the risk for those of us who actually do have an allergy.

                    21 Replies
                    1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                      For me the fake allergy thing is bad because you have to remember which allergies you've said you have (these pot lucks are every few weeks) and you'll have to not eat something great from someone you trust because it has the same ingredient you're supposedly allergic to.

                      Are people really watching who eats what? I would think it's people milling about, taking a little of this, a little of that. You don't have to have a reason not to eat something. Just don't take it. And if the person in question pushes it on you, take a bit... and just mush it into something else on your plate and toss it.

                      I'm doubting this is a fear of getting sick, but rather an ick factor on your part... yes?

                      1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                        I have eaten at potlucks my whole life, and I have been sick exactly once. But I was the only one as far as I know, so I'm not totally sure if it was bad food or not.

                        I think that sisterfunkhaus has the right idea. If you can't bear the thought of eating it, take some, push it around, and when everyone is occupied, toss your remains. I've done this before. And she is right, tell everyone that everything you ate was wonderful. If you really liked something, email whoever brought it the next day to ask for the recipe. Don't make a big deal at the do in front of others.

                        I have found that I have had the most trouble eating stuff made by people I liked the least.

                        And it is best not to dissemble about food allergies, IMHO.

                        1. re: sueatmo

                          "take some, push it around, and when everyone is occupied, toss your remains"

                          I think just politely saying "no thank you" is far better option than throwing out food.

                          1. re: ttoommyy

                            If you are in a group of people you work with every day, and they have all brought their treasured recipes, one or some will notice if you don't sample. Trust me. I'd treat the feelings of my coworkers with a certain amount of care and tact. If it meant I threw out a little food, doing that would be worth it to me. If you politely say "no thank you" to your coworker, you are still going to have to deal with him or her every day, and you have refused to eat his or her special party food.

                            1. re: sueatmo

                              Are coworkers really this uptight about who eats what? At our potlucks, many, many folks don't try everything, and no one cares. I happen to love my quinoa-spinach-curried sweet potato dish, but I'm really okay if it's not your thing. I'll often hear, "Hey did you try so and so's ____?" followed by, "No, I didn't have any of that..." And it's just never a problem. When faced with a direct offer ("Here, try my quinoa"), a polite no thank you should be just fine. (Of course, there shouldn't be direct offers like that at a potluck--just let people take what they want).

                              1. re: debbiel

                                It probably depends on the age of the coworkers, and gender. I had to supervise women and I just never wanted any issues. It is such a simple thing to preserve feelings. These threads are for people to express opinions, and I've noticed that we tend to respond to issues from our own experience. It is entirely possible that my experience doesn't jibe with yours.

                                1. re: sueatmo

                                  The worst I ever supervised was man who had gone to culinary school. He thought everything he did was wonderful and we all should try it. Actually most of his food sucked big time. But he was a little light in the loafers and always got in a snit and pouted worse than any woman if someone didn't try his food.

                                  1. re: vafarmwife

                                    That's the worst. Unfortunately, not everyone who has gone to culinary school can actually cook, but somehow, the ones who can't are always the ones who throw it around and act like they are a better cook than anyone in the room b/c they went to school. People at a gathering were raving about my food and the jealous young, wet nosed culinary school douche who is my grandfather's roommate was so jealous he tried so hard to steal the thunder and make me feel like I wasn't as good, assumed I didn't know about technique, etc... I told him that when he's been cooking AND studying proper culinary technique for 20+ years ( I have and would put my skills up against any general chef), then he could talk to me about cooking. He shut up quickly.

                                2. re: debbiel

                                  That's what I was thinking, too. I've never noticed what people take and have never heard anyone offended that someone didn't eat their dish. Iv'e passed around a platter of bread and people politely decline. No biggie. If someone took a piece and took a bite and threw it out, fine--they probably didn't care for it. If they took it and tossed it in the trash and I noticed--that would.

                                  To make someone feel good once when they asked if he wanted some cake to bring home, he said sure, I'll take a huge piece. Once we got home, he never touched it. When I asked, he said he didn't want to hurt her feelings and it went in the trash. That bothered me. What's wrong with, "That was delicious but I'm stuffed!"

                                  1. re: debbiel

                                    Oh lord yes. The biggest fights I have ever seen in my worklife (25 years) have been over food. I agree with sueatmo, I always take a sample of everything. That way no one is slighted. It's worth it to me to avoid hurt feelings and passive aggression later on.

                                    1. re: vafarmwife

                                      Wow. I guess I've been very fortunate with the places I've worked over the years.

                                      1. re: debbiel

                                        You have not lived until you have had an employee who was a Wiccan Warlock put a curse on you because you dared to tell him he could not have the Summer Solstice off with pay so he could dance naked around a bonfire with his other witches.. True story.....

                                        1. re: vafarmwife

                                          Oh, trust, me I have some amazing coworker stories. Stories of pompous coworkers, completely socially inept coworkers, trashy coworkers, narcissists, shirkers, self-absorbed, calling people out in meetings, back stabbing...blah blah blah. But never have I seen the kind of potluck behavior that y'all have brought up. In all my work places, folks could be spiteful about many things but not when breaking bread together.

                                          1. re: debbiel

                                            Maybe we've been fortunate enough not to work with people whose egos are dependent on their potluck dishes! Must be very fragile egos.

                                            1. re: chileheadmike

                                              I don't know. I don't what spell he cast.

                                            2. re: vafarmwife

                                              Sounds like religious discrimination to me. Would you say the same for Yom Kippour?

                                              1. re: melpy

                                                Oh please...tone down the polictical correctness squad. He was told he could take a vacation day if he wanted it paid. He was also told he could he could it off without pay. He wanted it as a paid holiday just for him. He was given more than enough consideration believe me. He could sit in the office and chant spells and put curses on people, but if anyone else dared to talk about their religion, he complained.

                                              2. re: vafarmwife

                                                "Wiccan Warlock" is an oxymoron, and actual Wiccans don't curse people. Dancing naked is optional. Sounds like a yo-yo who just wanted a day off and watched alot of Buffy.

                                                Not a wiccan, but have friends who are.

                                          2. re: debbiel

                                            When I bring something to a potluck, I like to look over at the table after we've finished and see that at least half of my contribution has been consumed. That means that I can count it a success because people liked the look of it enough to eat it. But I'm certainly not foisting it on people or taking names to see who walked past without eating some! People at church are starting to ask which dish I made for the potlucks because they know I can cook - it's flattering to my ego, but if the reverse happened I wouldn't blame THEM, just myself.

                                            1. re: Kajikit

                                              It's definitely flattering when people enjoy your cooking and potlucks are nice for that. Your approach is much more appropriate than seeking out victims, so to speak; plus if people approach you, it's much more genuine. I'd seek our your contributions, too!

                                              I brought a BLT panzanella salad to a potluck recently--big pieces of bacon, pieces of crusty bread that had been coated in bacon and baked, tomatoes, cheese and some lettuce. Most people passed by it because they had no idea what it was. A few people started digging in and telling others that it was good and it started disappearing. A couple of people asked around to find out who made it to thank me so that coddled my ego because at first I thought I had made a dish that no one even wanted to try!

                                  2. how many of your colleagues have fallen ill because of one of these potlucks?

                                    Please don't say you have an allergy -- this is, IMO, exactly like the person who parks in a handicapped spot because they're really, really in a hurry today. As the signs on European handicapped spaces say, "If you're going to take my parking place, make sure you take my handicap, too"

                                    If you're going to demur from eating something because you say you have an allergy -- please make sure you actually have the allergy in question.

                                    Not liking something, or trying to cut something out of your diet for whatever the diet-of-the-week is is fine. Just cut to the chase and say you don't like it or you're trying to avoid it because of your diet-of-the-week.

                                    Claiming that it's because of an allergy devalues the problem that those who have real, genuine, life-threatening food allergies.

                                    Getting the squicks is child's play aside of anaphylactic shock.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      Yes, exactly. I hate it when we go out with my MIL, who gives a long list of fake allergies that change monthly, and then my son has to explain his very real life-threatening nut allergies. I'm always afraid the waitstaff and cooks will just assume we're high maintenance and let things slide.

                                      WRT to the potluck dilemma, I never take certain dishes due to preference. Everyone has preferences and no one is hurt if you don't take from their offering. Who cares why you're not eating Typhoid Mary's mac and cheese? You don't have to say a word.