Tales from the Office Fridge
By Susan Shinn
Whoa! What’s that smell!?!
Likely something in the office fridge.
Ask folks about their worst tales from the office fridge, and the stories come in droves.
I offered anonymity in exchange for some juicy stories, but most folks were happy to share either way.
The key, it seems, to a clean office fridge is, well, frequent cleanings.
At the City of Salisbury, some fridges are cleaned out weekly.
Those people are serious.
“That’s just the way we’ve always done it,” said Jody Vail, who works in the mayor’s office. “If you don’t have someone in charge, then you are really talking about a mess ó with green monsters.”
Oooooh. Jody’s right.
If I really wanted the scoop on a clean fridge, Jody told me, call Diana Moghrabi, the senior office assistant in the city’s land management department.
Diana is the fridge police chief in her office ó and proud of it.
“I’m strict,” she said. “I keep it cleaned out every week. You gotta have it cleaned out by Friday or everything is thrown away Monday.”
Tupperware and all, evidently.
Diana has a good reason for her emphasis on cleanliness.
“We do events for the city,” Diana explained. “So we use the space in the break room mostly for that.”
She did make one exception ó for leftovers from an ice cream social.
“We couldn’t bear to throw it away,” said Diana, who hosted daily ice cream breaks after that til the cool stuff was gone.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our own fridge in the third-floor breakroom. To say the least, it sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.
My co-worker Deirdre Parker Smith told me this, er, not-so-tasty tidbit.
“I had leftover Chinese food in the refrigerator,” she said. “When I went to reheat it the next day, I opened it up and noticed someone had eaten all the chicken out of it. Needless to say, it went in the garbage.
“At the moment, there are two pieces of pizza in a plastic bag that have been in there at least three weeks. Not turning blue. I think they have petrified.”
Nope, Deirdre, I took care of the pizza.
Another co-worker chimed in.
“I know I saw a box of Bojangles in there once that had to be in there AT LEAST two or three months,” he said “The stench was awful. And just the other week ó it might still be in there ó I saw a ziplock bag with two pieces of pizza that sat in there a few weeks or so. It didn’t even look like pizza from a pizza place either; looked like some frozen stuff from the store.”
Boy, people were really concerned about that pizza, let me tell you.
And another anonymous co-worker reported, “Best story I remember hearing is someone had a takeout box of salad with chicken on top and the food thief picked out the bites of chicken and left the lettuce.”
Must be the same person who ate the chicken in Deirdre’s Chinese food.
Good thing that person never worked with my friend Elizabeth Kimberlin.
Here’s what she told me:
“Years ago, when I worked at Hitachi Metals, I took my lunch almost every day. My lunch started to disappear. For some odd reason, it did not matter what kind of sandwich I brought, it would be taken, along with yogurt, fruit, whatever I took. (I was pregnant, so I tried to eat well.)
“After this happened three or four times, I decided I would just be plain ugly. I spiked my tuna salad sandwich with Ex-Lax. A few weeks went by and my lunches were safe ó then it started again. So, I took TWO lunches ó one that was hidden for me, and the other that was spiked ó for the thief. This time, I only put a touch in the food, and built up to a whole pack. Needless to say, I found out who the culprit was, and HE did not take my lunches again!”
My friend Lisa Pinion is a fourth-grade teacher at Landis Elementary School. Here’s her story:
“The really icky thing that I remember in the refrigerator at work is when one year I cut pumpkins with my class. I usually took the seeds home and baked them for the kids to eat. Well, I forgot the container and left it at school in the refrigerator over the weekend.
“Monday morning I went to the refrigerator to get the seeds thinking that they would still be good. Oh my! They had a good two inches of what looked like thick wolf hair on top of them. Of course, it was mold. I guess putting wet seeds into a cold environment proved to be an unintentional science experiment. Yuck!”
Then there are a few tales in the the non-food arena ó which can get really scary.
Leave it to my friend Rebecca Morton, a nurse practitioner, to bring it up.
“Of course everyone has found grossed up food items in the fridge … but how ’bout the 24-hour urine collection in the brown plastic can’t-see-through-it-jug that nobody else in the office knows is really urine?
“I think this one may be a winner, but I’m not convinced people want to read about it in their hometown paper.”
I think you’re right, Rebecca, but we’ll give it to ’em anyway.
Also heard from the fabulous Kaye Brown Hirst at Rowan Museum.
Here’s what she had to say:
“I store turkey wing feather sections in the fridge ó the old fridge in old little kitchen upstairs here. I get hunters to save me feathers and most bring them to me intact ó still in the flesh ó and I have to freeze them until I get a volunteer to take the feathers out of the flesh, a really gross job! We use the feathers with the campers in the summer. We cut the tips so they’ll draw ink and our campers have feather pens.
“I have had folks look in those bags, I guess just being nosy, and they get grossed out!”
Even after hearing about all of these transgressions ó and witnessing many of them first-hand ó I still wondered exactly why this happens at work.
I called Tonia Black-Gold at Catawba College to find someoneó perhaps in the psychology department ó who could address the issue of a messy fridge.
Tonia immediately opened up her office fridge to see what was inside.
“The freezer part is fantastic,” she said. “There are two old pizza slices and one unknown item in Tupperware, which both probably need to go. You’re gonna be the impetus for me cleaning out the fridge.”
Next, Tonia pulled out Hidden Valley Ranch dressing with an expiration date of Aug. 10, along with some ketchup that was “not the bright red color it should be” with an expiration date of Oct. 12, 2007.
Those two bottles got pitched.
Tonia found not one, not two, but three boxes of baking soda, along with a cheesecake that’d been sitting in there a week or too and was highly perishable.
“That does not look good,” she admitted.
She also found two bottles of Gatorade and two cans of Diet Cheerwine ó all good.
“You know, it doesn’t look bad at all now,” she said.
After all that, Tonia got me in touch with Dr. Sheila Brownlow, a professor of psychology.
Here’s what Sheila had to say:
“A messy communal fridge is explained by a diffusion of responsibility ó an actual term used by social psychologists. When there are more people, the responsibility pie ó as well as the blame pie ó is cut into smaller and smaller pieces, so even if it’s a mess, it isn’t anyone’s fault in particular. It’s a small enough slice of responsibility/blame that pretty much anyone is willing to take on.
“And because the fridge isn’t at home where one could be embarrassed or disgusted by it ó or where one could earn the criticism of family members ó then it isn’t really bothersome to most people.
“I suspect there will be people who get so disgusted that they refuse to use it (by the way, that would be me) ó or just bite the bullet and clean it (that would also be me). ”
OK, Sheila, sounds good to me. But now I must go and make my rounds and check on the fridge.
And somebody please go get Tonia another box of baking soda.
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