With office parties, snack-sharing, the office candy bowl, or any form of shared food, there comes benefits and health risks. This is especially true in the fall season where the flu is more prevalent, and the holiday parties start to appear in full swing. With this comes a lot of finger foods, shared snacks, and homemade foods.

We all know who has the candy at their desk when we want a quick snack. Or the office baker who is constantly blessing the office with homemade goodies like cookies, brownies or cup-cakes.

While these can be very helpful in bringing a workplace together to celebrate, they can also become a dangerous pool for germs and sickness.

Everyone wants a happy and healthy office, and because of this, it is important to take the proper precautions to avoid unhealthy communal food habits.

Pros and Cons of Food Sharing

As stated, there are benefits and downfalls to having office food in a communal place, so it is important to weigh out the options. Below are the most prominent pros and cons concerning sharing food in the workplace.

Pros of Communal Food

  • It Can Bring the Office Together

By providing free food, whether it be at parties or as snacks for the workers in the office, this can bring the whole office together to bond more. This is true at office parties during the holidays because everyone comes together to have a good time while eating without the distraction of common work duties.

  • Everyone is Able to Eat

With food being provided, everyone, even those who weren’t able to bring their own dish, are able to eat and be involved with the rest of the office without feeling left out.

  • More Variety of Foods to Enjoy

When the whole office brings in food to share, there are a lot of options to choose from and no one feels as if they are isolated based off of what they are eating. Everyone is put on an equal playing field with food.

Cons of Communal Food

The primary cause for concern with communal food sharing is the risk of spreading illnesses or diseases. If the food is not handled properly or people are not sanitary when getting the food, this can be a health risk. There are countless illness and diseases that are spread by touch or cross-contamination in your kitchen.

This is a major concern primarily in the fall and winter seasons when the flu tends to spread at a much higher rate. For this, is it important to be careful and take proper precautions when handling and enjoying food at the office.

What is Lurking in Your Food

As stated above, the primary cause for concern when sharing food in a workplace is the potential to spread diseases or illnesses. Since everyone is going to be in close proximity to the food, it is important to bring the proper food types and take safety precautions prior to sharing food.

There are various ways to do this, and each one is equally as important to the others. Here are some of the potential health risks of communal food sharing:

  • The Flu Virus

With flu season in full swing, improper handling of food can cause the flu to be spread much easier. The flu spreads by those being sick not washing their hands often and not being careful when preparing or purchasing food to bring to the office.

  • Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a common disease of the liver that can be spread through the sharing of food disgustingly through the fecal-oral route. YUCK!

If someone touches the food when they didn’t wash their hands first, they can spread this disease to everyone else that eats that food after them.

  • Norovirus

It is the most common type of virus that causes gastroenteritis; those with it experience diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting.

The number one cause?, not washing your hands after using the bathroom or before preparing food or coming into contact with food.

Norovirus can spread very quickly within large groups of people in close quarters. This is why when one person gets ill, entire households or offices often catch it too.

  • Food Poisoning

Was there any cross-contamination at their home when they were preparing the food? Was it kept at proper temperature?

If someone brings homemade food, you are not able to monitor whether it was handled properly. As a result, you can have a lot of workers down for the count due to food poisoning.

6 Steps to Safely Share Food

Below is a list of some of the precautions your workplace can take to prevent sicknesses from being spread through the sharing of food and have a healthy office environment throughout the year.

1. Buy Individually Wrapped Food

By bringing handmade food, there is a higher risk of spreading diseases and sicknesses because you cannot monitor how the food was made and if sanitary steps were taken when making the food.

Because of this, you can emphasize the importance of bringing only store-bought and individually wrapped food.

Individually wrapped foods not only allow you to avoid homemade dishes, but they also prevent the spreading of germs by touching the same foods.

2. Provide Toothpicks or Tongs When Sharing Food

If you do have food in the office that is not wrapped, the best way to prevent the spreading of germs is through using toothpicks or tongs.

Never let people grab the food with their hands because you cannot guarantee that their hands are clean prior to them contaminating the rest of the food.

By using tongs and toothpicks, you avoid the risk of too many hands touching the food since they grab the food with the tools provided instead.

3. Have Servers Stationed Along the Food Line

If you are very scared of too many germs being spread through people touching the food with unclean hands, you can have someone serve the food that is wearing gloves or has washed their hands.

While this is an extra step to take when planning an office party, it is one that can significantly decrease the health risks that come with office parties or food sharing.

4. Create a "Sanitation Station"

Before the entire office all share the same serving spoons with each other, they can prepare their hands first. At the front of the food line, consider having bottles of hand sanitizer for those who forget to wash their hands.

If you are sick or not feeling well, then ask an office buddy to dish out your food for you and avoid contaminating everyone.

5. Provide Cups or Bowls for Snacks

If you do have that bowl of M&M's, can of nuts or that large tub of cheese balls in your cubicle or office, let people know not to put their hands inside and just take what they want.

Provide them small Dixie cups or a small paper bowl and ask them to pour out the item and not use their hands.

6. Watch Out for Double-Dipping

It's not just a joke from the Seinfeld TV Show. Studies found that every time someone double dipped in a food bowl or dip, thousands of germs and bacteria were spread.

This is a very dangerous method of food sharing and is one of the most common ways in which bacteria are spread at parties.

To prevent this, you can emphasize the importance of not double-dipping prior to the party starting, or encourage everyone to dish out their own dip to a small plate or bowl and not congregate around the appetizer area.

Overall, there are a lot of benefits that come with sharing food in the office, especially at office parties, but there are also some major risks, those being the risk of sharing sicknesses and diseases.

If you are planning to share food in the workplace, it is first important to be knowledgeable about the different risks that partake in communal food as well as the different preventative measures that can be taken so that you ensure no one gets sick or worse.

These tips can help you to enjoy the bonding and camaraderie that comes from sharing food together and also help promote a healthy office.