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Office fridge etiquette

Need some advice fellow hounds. Our office has several fridges and quite a few people end up depositing something in the fridge. Unfortunately, there are a few culprits that tend to forget that they've left something there and lo and behold, the fridge starts to smell unholy. I usually just take it upon myself to start pitching things into the bin (tupper ware and all since I refuse to open the lid on a cream soup that's turning pink on top) but I am getting rather irritated with always having to do it. I will say that I have sent out e-mails before but it doesn't seem to getting through.

Does any one have any suggestions on how to remedy this situation? I''ve thought that asking the cleaners to pitch everything every Friday seems a bit extreme and I really don't want to send another e-mail.

Thanks for the help!

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  1. My former employers had a sign on the fridge that notified everyone that everything would be thrown away at a certain time on a certain day. It was a 24 hour business, the the day was randomly chosen (I think it was Thursdays?). The time was 2 hours after the shift on duty got off work. They had time to gather their stuff and the oncoming shift just brought lunch bags with ice packs, if needed, to account for the 2 hour gap. That way, if they weren't in the office when the tossing began, their stuff didn't get trashed. Long story short... if you get your stuff thrown out a time or two, you get more conscientious!

    1. My office tosses everything on Friday at 5pm (except for condiments in the door). I've lost some tupperwear that way, but that's my own fault. It may be extreme, but so is leaving food in the fridge that starts to mold and cause odor.

      5 Replies
      1. re: LeoLioness

        Ditto. We have someone who is sort of responsible for this, and they have an auto email that goes out every 2 weeks notifying you that things will be taken out of the fridge at 3pm and placed on the counter to claim. Anything not claimed is then thrown away at 5. You can re-place an item in the fridge after 3, like if you want to keep salad dressing in there, but everything is taken out every 2 weeks. Everything.

        I leave it to you to work out who the most appropriate person is to do it at your place, if it's not you.

        1. re: rockandroller1

          "We have someone who is sort of responsible for this, and they have an auto email that goes out every 2 weeks notifying you that things will be taken out of the fridge at 3pm and placed on the counter to claim. Anything not claimed is then thrown away at 5."

          That is how it worked at one of my former places of employment. People did not seem to have an issue with it as long as they knew it was coming and some of the single guys were happy to be there at 5:00 PM sharp to take home anything that would be thrown away.

          1. re: Fowler

            Wow. Even in my single days I was never that desperate for food. I suppose it's because my mother taught me how to cook in my youth.

            1. re: John E.

              My guess is that it was not about their Mother failing to teach them how to cook but more likely their economic situation and a bit of laziness.

        2. re: LeoLioness

          Same for mine. End of business Friday.

        3. We have that same situation in my office. Everything that goes into the fridge is supposed to be labeled with your name (unless it is for everyone's use.) We used to have fridge clean out day when everything old that wasn't labeled would be tossed out. Now we have the building cleaning crew cleaning the fridge once a month, but it has to be emptied first.

          Good luck! It's not easy to get folks to pitch in.

          1. Send an email, Ask the cleaner to throw everything in the bin on Fridays.

            (with the same exceptions that Leo wrote).

            1. Tossing someone's Tupperware, or other containers intended for reuse, is over the line. That never happened where I worked. Just throw out the old food periodically, and put the dishes in the sink. It's not a difficult problem.

              19 Replies
              1. re: GH1618

                ...and then the sink is full of gross dishes that the owners may or may not deal with. In my office it was more like tough love. People just didn't. get. it. and at some point, the admins revolted against having to deal with people's rotting food. I can't say I blame them.

                1. re: LeoLioness

                  I've worked places where people were adversarial and places where people cooperated and got along. The latter is better.

                  1. re: GH1618

                    Cooperation implies meeting somewhere in the middle, though. Cleaning up after adults, who have been reminded countless times to do it themselves, isn't cooperation.

                    I've worked in small offices where we could hash out such things on a smaller-scale basis, but am currently in a much larger place (with some people seriously lacking in etiquette/social cues) where there is a need to draw the line somewhere. It's not like they aren't given ample opportunity/warning to come claim their stuff, there is an email on Monday, Thursday and Friday....

                    1. re: LeoLioness

                      I'm with you LeoLioness.....Heck, it's hard enough to get people to make coffee when the pot's empty.....you expect people to clean up after themselves? I'm all for tossing containers if the owner doesn't take responsibility. Sometimes the stuff in those containers can be toxic and opening it up could result in a bio-hazard. Tough love indeed....don't bring the good containers to work!!!

                      I'll never forget the yogurt container we tracked for 12 months. Yes....12 months.

                      1. re: Dee S

                        A few months ago I was in the kitchen with a new guy when he used the last paper towel. He started to walk away and I told him "oh, the paper towels are kept in that cabinet" and he actually asked "who puts in the new ones?" Uh, YOU, person who used the last one?

                        1. re: LeoLioness

                          In my first office job (as a lowly temp) I came in one morning and found no coffee reay - uh-oh! Crazy me, I made a pot. Maybe because as a teen I worked at a coffee shop. People were dismayed. That was the office manager's job. Never mind all of us standing around at 9am NEEDING OUR COFFEE, we were supposed to wait angrily until he came around.

                          1. re: LeoLioness

                            I hope you actually responded with that.

                    2. re: LeoLioness

                      Did you see the reply about taking old stuff out and putting it on the counter at 3pm? Then anything still there at 5pm is tossed. I think that's the best idea. Of course the people responsible for putting stuff back into the refrigerator have to deal with it if their container is actually a science experiment gone bad.

                    3. re: GH1618

                      If they wanted to reuse then they wouldn't leave their leftovers in the fridge long enough that they would be an issue.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        Not if there's been an email sent, AND a notice stuck on the refrigerator door (on fluorescent pink paper, no less) saying that at 3pm on Friday anything left in the fridge goes out.

                        We rotated the job, so nobody got stuck with the nasty job every week -- and we threw stuff out that I wouldn't have opened for any sum of money -- when you can SEE it's black and moldy, I'm not going to open it -- for a long list of reasons.

                        it's kind of like seeing a speed limit sign and choosing to ignore it -- ignore the hot-pink sign and kiss your Tupperware goodbye.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          I agree, and I've lost (unspoiled) food and tupperware to this method before. I think people genuinely forget it's their stuff in there and eventually, you just have to start from scratch. Or end up with with a fridge that can't be closed because of overflowing contents (and their odours) - which happened to a friend with messy college roommates.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            if you are rotating this job once a week, how is that enough time for food to get black with mold?

                          2. re: GH1618

                            Too bad. If it doesn't mean enough to you to come get, you obviously don't care if it gets thrown out. Our admins aren't cleaning staff, and they don't need to be doing your dishes so you can go in for coffee one day and go, "Oh hey, look, there's that Tupperware I brought three weeks ago, ha ha ha."

                            Put a reminder in your calendar program to take your stuff home once a week if it means so much to you.

                            1. re: GH1618

                              "Just throw out the old food periodically, and put the dishes in the sink. "
                              Which means *NO ONE* washes the dishes or Tupperware either. Because if after so many notices to go get their belongings, the employees won't remove their food from the fridge, they most certainly won't clean up after themselves either. Why should it be the fridge cleaner's responsibility to remove all that crap in the Tupperware and clean it out?

                              it's a communal fridge. Which means *everyone* is supposed to help keep it clean and remove their own belongings. If they don't, tough luck. Admins and office managers aren't there to babysit and spoon-feed the rest of the company. These are adults we're talking about. If you want to be treated like an adult, act like one. If you get a notice that you should go check to see if the fridge has any of your food items, or it will be thrown away.....then GO CHECK THE FRIDGE.

                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                I'd feel free to help myself to any unclaimed Tupperware or dishes I liked. My kids are always throwing perfectly reusable food containers away, so I could stand to have some replacements.

                                1. re: ricepad

                                  OK, you're hired to clean out the OP's fridge, ricepad. ;-)

                                  1. re: ricepad

                                    You'd have to fight the penicillin colonies for them....

                                2. re: GH1618

                                  Absolutely throw out the entire container! Whether it be a tupperware, plastic bag or lunch box. If everyone knows the deadline, then it should never get to the point of infestation! We had a rule at an office where I worked and it was Friday at 5pm. I never knew if I was going to be in the office that day and I made sure to check the frig on Thursday when I left.

                                3. My office has a system whereby anything that does not have a named label on it is tossed at 2pm on Friday, which I think is a little early, but I'm happy they do it.

                                  1. The old sign on the fridge door that everything needs to out by Friday @ X o'clock or it gets tossed. If it's in good tupperware, tough stuff.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. From a photo-shoot, some years ago, I ended up with many red "haz-mat bags," and use them to wrap my food. No one touches it.


                                      1. our office fridge is a horror. when I started working there 4 years ago I took it upon myself to clean it one day, I thought they were growing Penicillin for patients' use there were things so full of mold. Most Mondays I just have a general throw out, too bad if somebody's food was left in it over the weekend, out it goes. Nobody else seems to clean it ever.

                                        1. Thanks everyone for the suggestions. There's me and a couple of other ladies that end up doing it regularly and I'm kind of tired of doing it as it's just gross. I'll have a chat with the office manager about getting the cleaners to do it on a regular schedule.

                                          1. Here's how we cured the dilemma. The refrigerators were NOT available for use for a month. No one could use the office refrig. OUT FOR REPAIR signs were stuck to the front of all three appliances. A month later a sign in sheet replaced the repair sign. If your name/dept. wasn't on the sheet you couldn't use the frig. By signing the sheet you agreed that you would police and clean up after yourself or the frig would no longer be avail to you. Each month the contents were disposed of, no exceptions. It was a freakin police state...and it worked beautifully.

                                            What we tend to forget is that the frig is a luxury, a convenience. It's not a promise or a guarantee. Appliances cost money and sometimes need repair....well, the message was heard loud & clear. Some people need a brick to fall on their heads.

                                            1. I just hate it when people decide to go grocery shopping to completely stock the office fridge full of their food for the next couple weeks, leaving no space for anyone else.

                                              2 gallons of milk? really? and 4 grocery bags full of crap stuffed into the fridge, wedged into the crisper drawers?

                                              Funny enough, there's a big sign on the fridge that tells them that whatever is not removed by Friday will be disposed of first thing Monday morning...I can't even recall the last time that was enforced and there's a tub of cottage cheese in there 5 weeks past its exp date!

                                              Really makes me wonder what kind of home these people keep and what their fridge looks like! When I see all this neglegance, then see the same people trying to push their pot-luck crap on me, I run for the hills!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Novelli

                                                yup, we have someone like that in my office. Takes up an entire drawer and half a shelf. It's not a real issue right now because our office is smaller than it used to be, but if we grow again, she's going to find people encroaching on 'her' space.

                                              2. In our office, the fridge is cleaned out Friday at 4:30 p.m. Everything has to be labelled with (A) a legible name, (B) a legible date it was brought to the office, (C) has to be in good shape without close inspection.

                                                On Fridays, anything older than a week is thrown out, Tupperware, glass, metal and all; anything that smells rank (and it's a fairly forgiving thing, nobody's having their curry thrown out by an admin who doesn't like curry) gets pitched regardless of date.

                                                The rest is moved out of the fridge while the fridge is cleaned out with a squeegee, and then put back in. Takes about half an hour all told.

                                                1. If this is a representative sample, most workplaces are hostile environments. I've been fortunate, I think.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: GH1618

                                                    I agree. It is kind of hostile to let your food rot in a communal fridge, despite being told to remove it.

                                                    1. re: GH1618

                                                      Must be nice to have your own maid at your workplace to clean up after everyone else's mess.

                                                      1. re: GH1618

                                                        GH, I do believe you have it a bit flipped. A work environment becomes awful as a result of the selfishness of some. Bad habits are shared just as easily as good ones. My place years back had to become a near-police state to make the point that office fridge etiquette involves everyone working there. Even the blokes who went out for lunch, brought leftovers or groceries in and used the frig. Things escalated and drastic measures enforced. I no longer work there, but I'd like to think the message of communal frig use lasted.

                                                      2. Yeah, I got in trouble, when I worked in a small retail establishment. In our tiny communal fridge, there were bottles of salad dressing that had expired nearly ten years ago, and strange tupperware containers of scary fuzz. I cleaned the fridge, and defrosted it, since the ice on the walls was four inches thick. Oh my! You would have thought that I had slaughtered baby kittens in there!

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: RosePearl

                                                          that's what kills me -- nobody can be bothered to throw away or take home their own rotting food, everybody bitches about the smell, but hooboy -- just wait til somebody gets mad and posts the warning that everything is going to be dumped and then follows through on it!

                                                          Dude, whatever that science experiment you're growing there has been in the fridge for 6 months. If you'd wanted the food or the Tupperware, why didn't you take it home, oh, I dunno - five months ago?!

                                                        2. In my past life working in an office, I learned that a combination of shame and humor were rather effective. In one office, they had let the fridge situation deteriorate for WAY too long. Some horrific things were found that defy description. So we sent the office designer/webmaster to take some pictures off the clean up horror and this was emailed to everyone in the office:

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: bonefreakchef

                                                            I was just reading not too long ago about a hospital that did something similar -- they were having compliance issues with the rule that hands get washed before and after seeing a patient, with no exceptions. ( I know - I can't think too hard about this)

                                                            So at a staff meeting one day, they had each doctor and head nurse rub their fingers on a petri dish. They carefully labeled the petri dishes, and incubated them (in the communicable diseases lab, with all the proper precautions).

                                                            They then took photos of each petri dish, with callouts labeling what was found living on whose hands (yes, they labeled the photo with the name of the person who inoculated that petri dish).

                                                            The IT manager made a non-changeable screen save for all the hospital's computers, so everybody had to see what the medical professionals were smearing around the hospital.

                                                            Nothing like a little name-and-shame, combined with some hardcore grossout, to boost compliance to above 98%.

                                                            1. re: bonefreakchef

                                                              Ick...yeah, I'm sure photos are a sure fire way to make people think twice but I don't think I could stomach taking the pictures! :o)

                                                              1. re: bonefreakchef

                                                                Yikes, that photo of the brown slurry oozing down the back of the fridge, made me throw up in my mouth a little...

                                                              2. We try and do a clean out monthly. Email goes around several times with plenty of notice. Anything not labelled (excluding condiments that still are okay) is tossed, container and all. There are actually very few things that get tossed. Those who bring lunches are good at self-policing. It's the arses who leave their coffee cups in the sink that really annoy me. We have 2! dishwashers in the office. Surely they could manage to get their mug in one of them.

                                                                For a while a couple of years ago, during the fridge clean-out, we would always have many versions of the same lunch piling up in the fridge...cold cut sandwich on Texas toast bread, yogurt or fruit cup, juice box. And all tossed. It was after these lunches stopped showing up, that we were able to put together who it was by who had recently left. Reminded me of a kid letting the rejected lunches made by mom pile up in their locker, while eating cafeteria fries every day.

                                                                1. Office fridges can get pretty gross. I think that in this situation, you did the right thing. If that person wants their Tupperware so badly, they probably shouldn't have left it with rotting food in it.

                                                                  We have a girl who has been working from home for over a year, and she still has frozen food with her name marked on it in the freezer! Fortunately it doesn't smell, but it bugs me anyway. The fridge in our other kitchen always smells due to old food, so I never use that one.