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Apr 19, 2012 12:29 PM

Co-workers who mess with your food.


On a previous job I kept a jar of peanut butter and crackers in my desk for a quick snack. One day I was out of the office and when I returned the next day "Sarah" pulls me to the side and says, “You won’t believe what happened yesterday. "Bill" got the jar of peanut butter from your desk, stuck his finger in the jar, ate a big glob and said, ‘I just love peanut butter!’”

Disgusted and outraged I threw away the jar. I really wanted to confront "Bill" but "Sarah" was the only witness and asked me not to. Unfortunately the drawer couldn’t be locked so I never again brought peanut butter into the office.

Although I’ve since moved on from this job I’m sure this is a common problem in the workplace. Perhaps we could offer solutions to those plagued by aggravating co-workers who mess with your food.

  1. Oh, my! What a disgusting fellow! Perhap some cayenne judiciously mixed into a 'bait' jar of peanut butter?

    2 Replies
      1. re: njmarshall55

        I actually made those once when I was back in high school as a prank. Brought them to a party and of course my "cheapest friend" ate three of them....boy did he finally pay!

    1. We have a refrigerator on each floor where I work. I used to bring in my own lunch, mostly tuna sandwiches which someone would steal. They never stole any other sandwich I brought, just the tuna. This was going on for over a month. Finally, I made a "special" tuna sandwich with a drop of Ipecac syrup, a slight amount of Ex-Lax & a dash of Tabasco & left it in the fridge. Sure enough, the sandwich disappeared before noon. That was the last time any of my tuna sandwiches disappeared.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Jerzeegirl

        LOL LOL LOL!!! You killed me with that one!

          1. re: Jerzeegirl

            Maybe just me, however the thought of another persons tuna sandwich is really gross. You must make some great tuna salad:)

            1. re: Jerzeegirl

              (I want to get in on this before the Mods lock the thread.)

              I'm with you on doctoring your sandwiches with Syrup of Ipecac and/or Ex-Lax. For those who have a problem with me adulterating my own food, cry me a river. It's MY food. The thief would first have to cop to stealing my lunch, which I just don't see happening. Didn't anybody see "The Help"?

              1. re: ricepad

                Yes. I saw 'The Help'

                It is a movie. I also saw all the "Godfather' movies.
                Does that entitle us to....?

                1. re: latindancer

                  You miss my point, so I'll explain. When Hilly realizes that she's the one who ate the doctored pie, she also realizes that she can't do anything about it without admitting that she ate the doctored pie. Hence, Minny is safe. OR feel free to kill your competitors and siblings who side against your family. Take from it what you will.

                  1. re: ricepad

                    You missed my point....

                    It's a movie.

            2. "perhaps we could offer solutions to those plagues by aggravating co-workers"

              How about just coming out and saying/confronting the culprit and saying something like "I know you got into my food and I'd like for you not to do that again"?
              A co-worker was "plagued" with another drinking her quart of milk she used in her coffee, she confronted the person, and everyone applauded her. Directness is always the best solution, otherwise it turns into a gossipy, passive aggressive mess.

              16 Replies
              1. re: latindancer

                Yeah, as much as I can appreciate being tempted to teach a co worker a "lesson" would you want them to land in the hospital over a sandwich? Nah.

                I'm with lantindancer on this. If you have any hesitation to approach the coworker you KNOW for a fact is doing this, a well written note on their desk should do the trick. Outing someone in a crowd of coworkers can also back fire. Afterall, we're not perfect and we do have to work "there."

                So, try talking to the bugger, leaving a note in the lunchroom or on the frig but don't make a coworker ill.

                1. re: HillJ

                  Had we known who the culprit was,we would have, but since it was apparently company-wide & we have 10 floors at work, it was a bit tough to do. We tried the notes, didn't work. I didn't put too much in cause I didn't want the taste to be so off they'd stop eating. Just enough. What really ticked us all off is it was someone everyone knew & trusted. Turns out the guy was stealing more than food, so he was fired not long after the food stealing incidents.

                  1. re: Jerzeegirl

                    Then justice was served, Jerzeegirl. In the end a bad apple gets their own rewards without having to tip their scale. I've seen this happen at work too. But I would never intentionally doctor food for fear that person wound up in the ER. If you ever run into this again would you approach the person directly?

                    1. re: Jerzeegirl


                      So the guy was stealing everyone's food? Or just your's and the entire office knew about it?

                      1. re: latindancer

                        He was stealing everyone's food. He seemed to like tuna, though. We did report it once we realized that someone was hitting up all the fridges for food, but the company didn't want to do anything about it. If we knew it was him to begin with, we definitely would have spoken to him. If he needed the food that bad, we would have gladly given it to him. It was tough tracking down who it was when you have 10 fridges that food is being stolen from.

                        1. re: Jerzeegirl

                          I'm a bit confused by your answers but without juding you I just want to understand. If you say "if he needed the food that bad, we would have gladly given it to him"...then why did you doctor it in the hopes of stopping the behavior?

                          You could have left a note on the sandwich. Something like, listen, this is my lunch but if you really need it that badly then pls ask me first.

                          1. re: HillJ

                            We left notes on not only my sandwich but others. Didn't work. Guess he was embarrassed, but not embarrassed enough that he stopped doing it. This happened at least 15 years ago & nobody's had a problem since. Also, now people have fridges in their offices, so I put my lunch in there.

                            1. re: Jerzeegirl

                              A few years back I had been bringing in cases of bottled water; leaving them in my office. I didn't mind sharing (at first) but I mostly wanted to be able to offer a water to clients who came to see me, not my co-workers. At one point I was probably going through a case a week. And since I was out on calls and appt and not in the office that much I didn't exactly monitor the bottles.

                              But at some point instead of leaving a case in my office I left a note. "Who's bringing the next case of water to work?!" and you know what we all started to.

                              I know bottles of water are not the same thing as your lunch. But that silly example made me a firm believer in saying what's on your mind-no matter how silly. Unless you really don't care--it's usually the small stuff that bugs us most.

                              1. re: Jerzeegirl

                                This kind of regular theft of certain food has been an issue at my office too. People often deal with it by doctoring the food in a more obvious way, like filling a yogurt container with sand and a note. The point is made without the culprit eating anything doctored and it actually seems to help with the theft (unlike general notes left on the fridge door etc).
                                Another story involved someone whose cancer meds were mixed in with her food. She left a note saying hope you enjoyed my lunch, and my meds.
                                I've found that hiding my food in a plastic bag or a lunchbag seems to discourage would-be thieves. They don't want to root through everyone's lunch or actually open my pink thermal lunchbag, it seems (maybe because I work mostly with men and it's too obvious for them to be seen opening a pink lunch bag?). If you just leave yogurt, salad dressing or a tray of sushi (all items that I have had stolen) out in plain view it's more tempting.

                              2. re: HillJ

                                That never works. The thief had something of a kleptomaniac disorder, which is a behavioral health problem, and he's not going to stop because you ask him to, he'll just do it in different ways to different people.

                                1. re: EWSflash

                                  I couldn't disagree more. But I respect that has not been your belief based on your comment.

                                  When I left the note where the case of water use to be, my fellow coworkers did in fact start buying their own water.

                                  The OP began with a jar of peanut butter example asking for solutions. The only solutions offered here that didn't require doctoring your own food so the culprit would stop touching it were notes and reporting it. That was met with disbelief that it would work.

                                  Well, I offer no other solutions other than to be direct. But I can assure you that I would never doctor food to make my point. Ever.

                              3. re: Jerzeegirl

                                I love stories that keep getting better and better.

                            2. re: Jerzeegirl

                              If the person was stealing more than co workers food and was eventually fired then it was a company issue and for the company to deal with. Reporting theft is your right as an employee but you also took the matter into your own hands by doctoring food. You could have lost your job if the that person had wound up in the hospital and your behavior was discovered and reported.

                              I understand being frustrated but again I just can't see taking what I consider a risky move to deal with it.

                            3. re: HillJ

                              You're right...

                              To humiliate the 'thief' isn't cool, at all. As you say 'outing someone in a crowd of coworkers can also backfire'. The scenario I was talking about in my post is a bunch of coworkers, who happen to be pretty close outside the work environment, and I think the person helping themselves to another's milk thought it would be no big deal to borrow a little. Therefore, confronting is easier.
                              Contaminating the food, with the intention of getting the person to stop by making them a little ill, is pretty risky imo.

                              1. re: latindancer

                                Consider it tough love, then. It's ridiculous to think that a person could lose their job by doctoring food at a company that size that refused to do anything about a reported theft problem. You can be sure that if the thief was stealing computers or furniture, they would have done something about it. Tough love, karma, and just desserts. I have NO sympathy for people who would steal from their coworkers, period. A handful of almonds out of a big bag left on top of a desk, no problem. Fingers in the peanut butter or stealing their lunch? You're acting like a pig and you deserve anything you get. Especially if the lunch you stole had somebody's medication in it.

                                1. re: EWSflash

                                  Did I say I had 'sympathy for people who would steal from their coworkers?

                                  I never said it and I don't.
                                  Given that....anyone who doctors, in retaliation, their own food with the intent of potentially harming another human being?
                                  It's juvenile, mean and cowardly and I don't jump on those bandwagons....ever.

                          2. If you steal food, and yes, it is considered stealing, you know you didn't bring it... Then karma, or a doctored tuna sandwich will get you.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: sunangelmb

                              Scenarios such as that sunagelmb can backfire and works both ways. Karma? Hardly.

                              1. re: sunangelmb

                                Well, that's another way of looking at it....

                                Kharma goes both ways, doesn't it? I wouldn't want to risk it 'doctoring' something someone's ingesting.

                                1. re: latindancer

                                  I never said that would be my plan of action, to doctors ones food, just what goes around comes around ...

                              2. I've had several approaches work for this - I've done a lot of communal living as I've worked at summer camps and similar programs, and this can be a problem.

                                The most overall successful and easily repeatable was that I pretty much just guilt tripped people. Someone on staff had eaten my lunch - and I have a ton of food allergies, so eating the camp food was not really an option for me. At our next staff meeting, I made an announcement about how if they didn't like what the kitchen mamas made for a meal, come find me, and I would help them to come up with an alternative, because I don't want any of my staff out and running around with kids without eating. However, eating my food isn't acceptable, since it's often the only thing that I can have in the kitchen, and I didn't appreciate having to piece together two meals of cottage cheese, croutons, and cinnamon toast crunch. Didn't happen again.

                                The other two most successful ones were health related too - I got mono, and said hey - if you want to eat my food, you can, but know that sometimes I'm lazy and eat/drink out of the jar, and mono has an incubation period of several weeks, so that should give you something to think about for a while.

                                Similarly I take a prescription enzyme that I sometimes mix into my food before eating, or when I prep it, if my stomach is particularly unhappy. I feel fairly certain that if someone was to eat that and didn't need it, they would be pretty uncomfortable.