Foiling the workplace food thief...
March 14, 2006 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find lockable food &/or drink containers?

In an effort to deal with rampant theft from the work fridge, I'd like to find some kind of storage device that can be locked. And I know exactly what I want - remember the movie "Conspiracy Theory"? After Mel's character unlocks his fridge, he takes out containers with little combination locks on them. That's what I want, but can't find (google search, and checking specialty/gadget stores yielded nothing). Specifically, one to hold a pint of milk. Maybe one for a small food item - sandwich, small Tupperware, etc.

Please, don't say "Find the miscreant, and tell him/her to cut it out", or "Suck it up, wussboy!" This is the solution I'm going for. I know it's weird, but I could tell you some stories...
posted by ObscureReferenceMan to Shopping (30 answers total)
Just get a regular one, then put a tight locking band on it, like a smaller version of stuff you can get for suitcases? I don't know if such a thing exists, however.
posted by Orange Goblin at 11:26 AM on March 14, 2006

Ahh, but a lock isn't punishment enough-- you need a Guatemalan Insanity Pepper planted in the middle of your sandwich.

Unless you have a masochistic fridge thief, then you've got bigger problems.....
posted by GreenTentacle at 11:30 AM on March 14, 2006

When I was pregnant, I kept a supply of cheese cubes in the workplace fridge. Someone kept stealing them! I finally got out a marker and made a sign that said "Pregnant woman's food - hands off!" and that ended the cheese cube theft.

My other thought would be to go to an office supply store and get a locking cash box. They aren't much bigger than a lunch box, and you could take the tray for the cash out. I think I paid around $20 for the one that I use for my business.
posted by Ostara at 11:33 AM on March 14, 2006

If you're into ice-cream, the Tom&Jerry ice-cream lock :)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:36 AM on March 14, 2006

What about a metal lunchbox, of the sort a construction worker would use while dining on an I-beam? I see them in thrift stores all the time. They generally have a latch with a hole that you can run a padlock through.

If I were the food-stealing type, though, I would probably consider a locked lunchbox an open invitation to escalating the feud!
posted by bcwinters at 11:37 AM on March 14, 2006

Or just use zip-ties around ordinary tupperware.
posted by desuetude at 11:40 AM on March 14, 2006

Simplest solution is going to be a tupperware-type container large enough for the item and a short length of thin chain you can buy at the hardware store. I can't think of any way to avoid using two locks, however, since you'll need to band it both horizontal directions so it can't be slipped off the edge.

Or if you use the metal lunchbox kind of idea from above you can put a loop or u-hook through it to run the chain through to keep it from being slid off.
posted by phearlez at 11:42 AM on March 14, 2006

I'd go the locking cashbox route like Ostara suggested. That would definitely work.

I had a friend who had this problem in her office, and she protected her food by leaving a note saying "I sometimes spit on my food."
posted by ambrosia at 11:46 AM on March 14, 2006

I would do a combo - try locking it up somehow (maybe an actual lockbox?) and putting a note on it. I got people to stop stealing our laundry detergent by writing, "WE'RE POOR, PLEASE DON'T STEAL." on it with marker.

People are assholes.
posted by agregoli at 11:47 AM on March 14, 2006

Lockable toolbox. You can put a lock either with a key or combination code on there.
posted by fionab at 11:48 AM on March 14, 2006

A child's toy bank/safe might provide what you're looking for at a relatively low cost (and wouldn't require you to lug around a steel cashbox.) It might be difficult to find one in the appropriate size, though.

When I had this problem with ice cream and communal freezers, I put a little note on the lid telling pilferers that there was a nonzero chance there would be a dead mouse buried in the ice cream (I own snakes, so I have a supply of dead mice.) This seemed to work pretty well. Possibly not applicable to your situation, tho.
posted by fermion at 11:54 AM on March 14, 2006

My dad has a little lockable box which would work -- it's kinda like a small tool-box, or maybe fishing tackle box, has the three-rollable-digits style of locking-clasp.

So many people live together, sharing refrigerators, there's gotta be demand so somebody must make something.

I'm reminded of an office situation I was in many years ago, all of us working in a bull-pen situation, and our supervisor had a desk in there, just like the rest of us. But mostly we worked out in the computer room, so stuff would be unattended back in the office. The supervisor always brought his lunch, a classic brown-bagger, and some of his team were so chummy with this supervisor they began tampering with his lunch, just to get his goat. Naturally this situation escalated, such that eventually he stopped bringing his lunch, and we'd always go out, instead. Probably his tipping point was unwrapping his sandwich to discover that somebody'd taken a big bite out of it (then wrapped it up and put it back).
posted by Rash at 11:58 AM on March 14, 2006

The "spit in food" solution won't work. People have stolen half-eaten food, and sandwiches with bites already taken out of them. (And maybe if I left a note saying, "I spit in this", someone else would leave a note saying "Me too".)

And I doubt placing notes would work. One woman put milk in a small Tupperware container, with her name on it. When she went to get some, she caught someone in the act of taking her milk. When she said, "Excuse me, that's mine", and pointed to her name, the person said, "Oh, so it is", and continued taking the milk.

Someone once took half a bottle of antibiotics. WTF?!?!

My idea to identify the guilty party is to make Ex-Lax brownies. >:)
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 12:11 PM on March 14, 2006

This would blend in well with peanut butter and jelly. Just saying you'd know who it was..
posted by kcm at 12:15 PM on March 14, 2006

Kids' metal lunch boxes (like the ones bcwinters wrote about) all had (have?) hasps for a small padlock, and room for a small thermos that usually came with it. A luggage padlock should be enough deterrant. If it isn't, you've got an issue worth taking to management.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:15 PM on March 14, 2006

You don't say if your food is pre-prepared or not.

If I was feeling particularly devious, I'd bring in two lunches every so often. One would be the "real" lunch, something that wouldn't require refridgeration. The other would be the decoy, and would be stupidly spicy (i.e. the strongest habanero stuff you can find) or otherwise totally unpalateable. Apart from being inedible, the decoy should have no other distinguishing features.

Leave the decoy in the fridge as per normal.
Repeat the process randomly.
See what happens.

Seems to me that you'll have more success "retraining" the lunch thief than bringing a small safe into work each day.
posted by lowlife at 12:49 PM on March 14, 2006

How about a stylish SPONGE BOB TIN BANK LOCK BOX. It is small, 3" X 3.5" X 8.5" , but if you need more storage you could use several of them. Buy now for $6.95.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 12:53 PM on March 14, 2006

ObscureReferenceMan beat me to it.
posted by adamrice at 1:22 PM on March 14, 2006

A cooler bag should do the trick. I think I picked one up at Longs, but they carry them at Target and Walmart and such. You can either skip the fridge all together, or slip a luggage lock through the holes in the zipper.
posted by team lowkey at 1:37 PM on March 14, 2006

ObscureReferenceMan, please don't put adulterated food (like Ex-lax brownies) in the fridge as a trap. Two wrongs don't make a right, and it could land you in a heap of trouble, as unfair as it may seem. If you really want to identify the lowlife scumbag who steals coworkers' lunches, hide a webcam in the kitchen instead, or just put your lunch in one of these and leave it to the universe to resolve.
posted by ambrosia at 1:39 PM on March 14, 2006

No, spitting in food doesn't do it. Letting them steal a sandwich, then including a polaroid (or computer) picture of you, in the next lunchbag they steal, ahem, making love to the last sandwich, and perhaps even going the next step of leaving a "deposit" on it does.

Doesn't hurt to get a copy of someone's medical report that has an STD and leaving that in there, too.

Trust me, they'll never, ever, ever touch that lunch bag again. Ever. Period. Unless, of course, they happen to have the same STDs...
posted by shepd at 1:43 PM on March 14, 2006

One note, don't ACTUALLY do that to the sandwich you leave in the lunch. They might not take it! In which case, you want to be able to eat it. :)
posted by shepd at 1:44 PM on March 14, 2006

You could always use an ammo box with a lock on it. A little pricey, but if you paint biohazard signs on it, people won't mess with it...
posted by plinth at 2:05 PM on March 14, 2006

Well,if you're gonna do it, you ought to do it with a bit of style. Use one of those converted PO Box banks, replica or original. (Examples only, plenty of other places to buy 'em too). Complete with glass window so you can see inside to remember what you're saving or to shamelessly taunt the thief.

I have a hand-made original someone gave me a few years back as a thank-you for computer help. Checking various foodstuffs, it will hold either a baggied two-standard-slice sandwich with minor squishing or one yogurt container. Don't have a milk pint to check, but it's just wide enough and deep enough to fit a waxed carton quart of milk in, though much too short for the quart carton's height.
posted by mdevore at 2:16 PM on March 14, 2006

Think medical! Expensive, but these clear ones have the taunt-appeal (look at the delicious lunch, thief, and DESPAIR!). You could easily put a biohazard sticker on this one and it would be believable. If money is no object, here's a locking small fridge.
posted by mimi at 2:16 PM on March 14, 2006

Thanks for all the input! I know there is no real foolproof way to thwart the thief/thieves. As I said, even catching one in the act does nothing. But I really do want to find the lockable containers. Mostly for milk (I drink tea in the morning). Right now, I just wrap it up, so you can't really tell what it is (like car theft detterent - make your car less appealing to take, so they take the other guy's). As for lunch, 99% of the time when I bring, I don't even put it in the fridge, I just keep it at my desk.

ambrosia - I don't know about the brownies. I could always claim I had them for medicinal purposes.

Oh, and for setting up a camera... That's a big no-no in a DoD closed area.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 3:36 PM on March 14, 2006

That's a big no-no in a DoD closed area.
Oh then you definitely need to go with the locked ammo tin that plinth suggested.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:54 PM on March 14, 2006

If your co-workers are that callous about stealing food, to the point of doing it in front of the owner, knowing they're watching - I'd stay away from the more expensive solutions. They're liable to take the whole damn thing, just out of spite.
posted by attercoppe at 7:07 PM on March 14, 2006

It's not for sale yet, but maybe you can write the people at the kwiktop bottle lock company.

Or, you could pour your milk into a bottle and use a bottle lock.
posted by hooray at 8:41 PM on March 14, 2006

It looks like hooray wins! Thanks!!!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:46 AM on March 15, 2006

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