5 Offensive Foods to Avoid at Work

During a recent hotel stay, I was startled out of bed by a fire alarm blaring above my head. The hotel was evacuated and fire department was there within minutes. All because an employee burned popcorn in the staff break room. That got the other guests and I talking: what are some foods you just shouldn’t eat at work?

Last Friday’s Food Finances Feature was about healthy, inexpensive foods that don’t require cooking. Many of those ideas are greatest for the office or on the go. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the foods you should actually not eat at work.

The Wall Street Journal touched on this topic a few years back in A Field Guide to Obnoxious Eating. WSJ cited an olfactory researcher. My list may be somewhat different from theirs, but I think many would agree with me.

5 Foods to Avoid

1. Popcorn

Years ago when I worked for a law firm, I would have a bag of popcorn every day for lunch. It was quick, easy, and inexpensive. Then my co-workers complained about the smell.

Best case scenario, you stop the microwave in time and the office smells like artificial butter. Worst case scenario, you burn it so badly it sets off fire alarms, causing the midnight evacuation of hundreds of people into the cold night. Now, if it wasn’t for this event I wouldn’t have realized that my shirt was on backwards, but I would have preferred to not have the opportunity to see my colleagues in their pajamas.

2. Durian

Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash

Okay, Durian isn’t likely to be seen in any office in the USA. I’ve never had this fruit, but hear that despite it’s pungent smell, it’s quite delicious. Durian’s smell is so offensive that it’s been banned in public in Singapore, and on some airplanes.

Re-heated broccoli and cauliflower can also be offensive to many people. Any bad-smelling fruit or vegetable should be kept at home.

3. Fermented Anything

Sauerkraut (and it’s meat-mash pair liverwurst*), kimchi, stinky tofu, natto, iru, doenjang, and anything fermented does not belong in the office. Alcohol is also fermented. After work during happy hour with colleagues? Sure! But please don’t bring any of these into the office.

*I had to find a way to mention liverwurst because I’ve recently discovered that a certain family member loves it.

4. Aged Cheese

Most Americans are not used to real cheeses. I said it. When we think about the cheese we eat with lunch, we usually don’t think about the smell. But in many cultures, aged cheeses are enjoyed regularly. If you are a connoisseur, please know that the office may not be the place to share your hobby with your co-workers.

5. Fish

Even the biggest fish lover has to admit that the smell of fish reheated in a microwave of a closed-in building where others work is not a good idea.

One day a co-worker brought the leftovers from her fancy restaurant meal. As she reheated it for lunch, everyone in the office immediately knew what it was. There was no mistaking the smell of fish. It was putrid.

Lunch Meetings

Do you have mandatory meetings over lunch?

I noticed that most people do not eat during lunch meetings. Recently, I realized why. Here are 3 examples:

1. A colleague was eating a salad when the speaker turned to her and made a comment about how loud her bowl was on the table.

2. One day I was starving and spent half the meeting staring at someone’s salad.

3.Another day, the entire audience was distracted by the crunch of someone’s apple.

Photo by Jasmin Schreiber on Unsplash

Even really boring food such as salads and fruit attract attention when eaten during meetings. We all have to eat, but it can be so awkward to do it in front of an audience.

I’m not suggesting we skip lunch. In fact, I am adamantly against meetings over lunch. I do not ask others to meet during that time and have removed myself from any voluntary positions that meet over lunch. For my wellbeing, personal and professional, I need that time for self-care. I did recently sign up for a 12 week health program over lunch, but I hope this is consistent with my value of self-care.

If your office does require meetings over lunch, you could use this information to your advantage. Start bringing tuna for lunch and see if your leadership becomes open to allowing time for lunch. I of course would never do this. But I’m really curious to know if this would work, so let me know!


What foods do you think should not be at work?


2 thoughts on “5 Offensive Foods to Avoid at Work”

  1. I’ve never had durian, but in Singapore, they actually have signs on the subway that says No Durian (along with the usual No Smoking, No Littering, No Loud Music Playing).

    I totally agree on the avoidance of fish at work. We usually cook fish once a week and I make sure to never bring any leftovers with me to work.

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