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multitaskers beware: germs abound on office desks and keyboards

by Sandy Todd Webster on Oct 17, 2011

Food for Thought

A recent survey shows that 83% of Americans typically eat in their office or cubicle in an attempt to be more efficient. Are your clients among them? Unfortunately, unless they practice vigilant hygiene with regular soapy handwashing and frequent desk and keyboard cleaning, they could be incubating an environment ripe for food-borne illnesses.

According to a new survey by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and ConAgra Foods’ Home Food Safety program, a majority of Americans eat lunch (62%) and snack throughout the day (50%) at their desks, while 27% typically find breakfast the first thing on their desktop to-do list. Late nights at the office even leave a small percentage (4%) at their desktop for dinner.

“For many people, multitasking through lunch is part of the average workday,” says ADA spokesperson Toby Smithson, RD. “While shorter lunch hours may result in getting more accomplished, they could also be causing workers to log additional sick days, as desktops hide bacteria that can lead to foodborne illness.”

Only half of all Americans say they always wash their hands before eating lunch. To reduce the risk of food-borne illness, Smithson advises workers to wash their hands with soap and warm water before and after handling food and to keep their desks stocked with hand sanitizer for times when they can’t get to the sink. “A clean desktop and hands are your best defense to avoid foodborne illnesses at the office,” she says.

According to the Home Food Safety survey, only 36% of respondents clean their work areas—desktop, keyboard, mouse—weekly, and 64% do so only once a month or less. A study updated in 2007 by the University of Arizona found that the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat. “Treat your desktop like you would your kitchen table and counters at home,” says Smithson. “Clean all surfaces, whether at home or work, before you prepare or eat food on them.”

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.