Disgusting Office Fridge Filter
August 19, 2008 8:18 PM   Subscribe

What is the best system for keeping an office fridge in a break room free of funky, old food and food theft? What does your office do?

So, I just started an internship at a federal agency in DC. There are two small office fridges that people shove their food into...and forget it. Seriously, when I opened the fridge I was confronted with some strange ice-mold being that might have attacked me had I not closed the door.

I want to implement a system so that people are more responsible for their food. I know I'm an intern, so I plan on pitching it to my supervisor and having her be the voice of my reason.

posted by roundrock to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We throw everything out every Friday. Tough love: If you value it, take it home Friday night.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:23 PM on August 19, 2008

Everything gets thrown out on Fridays unless there is a note saying it should be kept over the weekend.

OR, everything gets thrown out on Fridays.
posted by infinityjinx at 8:24 PM on August 19, 2008

Same as above. Friday, it gets tossed. Except cans of pop, etc.

One person takes on the responsibility to do it.

As far as theft... you can put your name on your stuff, but anyone who takes something that isn't theirs knows they are doing it, so it may not matter.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:30 PM on August 19, 2008

Everything. Friday. Gone. See above.
posted by iguanapolitico at 8:31 PM on August 19, 2008

Yep. Every Friday without fail toss whatever is in there, this also makes it easy to defrost as need be because you can just unplug it over the weekend. You can just have a policy that items are subject to being tossed every Friday, however if it's not followed through you are likely to run into people complaining about their food being tossed when person X's sat in there for three weeks four months ago and was never touched.

Since there are two to work with Fridge A might be emptied every week, and Fridge B on the last Friday of every month. That way people have the option of longer term storage. But remember, this is your idea and I'll bet you get saddled with this task, so wait until 5:01 every Friday afternoon just to be safe and be consistent.
posted by Science! at 8:31 PM on August 19, 2008

About every two months, one of our two secretaries calls for everything out, or to send her an e-mail with why it should make it through the purge. Then the next day she's in, everything out. Bye bye to everything not nailed down.
posted by deezil at 8:33 PM on August 19, 2008

Every Friday without fail toss whatever is in the

By toss, that means a dumpster outside the building. Do not just throw it in a trashcan in the office, 'cause you'll be greeted with interesting smells come Monday morning.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:34 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Passive-aggressive notes with clip art taped to the outside of the fridge.
posted by TheManChild2000 at 8:34 PM on August 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Friday at 2 PM, all tossed that does not have a date and name. Nice Tupperware included. You can imagine the bad blood that comes from this process.

I wish that I had kept one of the most passive aggressive memos I have ever received regarding keeping the office fridge clean. A new exec had tried to squeeze some lunch onto an already over packed shelf and in doing, toppled a container of 4 month old orange juice (without a top, natch). The rancid OJ covered everything on the shelves under it with brown goop and green moldy bits. The new exec was pretty furious. Unplugged the fridge, left the mess and penned a crazy memo (that I wish I still had).
posted by zerobyproxy at 8:45 PM on August 19, 2008

Everything in our giant industrial fridge and freezer gets tossed at 7:30 on Monday morning unless it has a name and date on it.

Our dishwasher is also run every day at 4:30 and emptied in the morning. If anyone has a dish after 4:30 they either keep it at their desk until the next day or wash it by hand.

Both of these things require a person whose job it is to bottom line the process, if you aren't willing to be that person, I suggest you find someone who is before attempting to implement.
posted by nerdcore at 8:55 PM on August 19, 2008

Just to be different...my office dumps everything every month. That allows people to plan ahead a little more - you can stock up on sandwich fixings, juice cartons, cereal, milk, etc.

But we do toss everything on the last Friday of the month (the weekend cleaning crew tosses everything & cleans the fridge). The freezer is left untouched though, so it's a good hold-over location for the weekend if your items can survive being frozen. We have a freezer purge about once a year.
posted by jpeacock at 9:32 PM on August 19, 2008

Purge every friday, although unofficially there's an exception for items with names and "please don't throw away before..." notes on them, where the date on the note isn't in the past or more than a week or two in the future. (Officially, everything goes.)

There was some resistance to this at first, especially with people wanting to keep bottles of condiments and stuff in there (which IMO were some of the most disgusting, science-projecty things going on in there, and made cleaning a pain), but eventually everyone fell in line. There was a lot of "well, if you get to keep your ketchup in there, then I should get to keep my [whatever] there semi-permanently, too!" It's better just to take a hard line and tell people to use ketchup packets.

Good luck!
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:51 PM on August 19, 2008

Slightly different, and a little bit more labor intesive is this solution: every Friday, all items are given that week's sticker of a certain color. The next week, another color sticker is used. Repeat one more week with a different color. Once three weeks have passed with the first weeks' stickered food in the fridge, all food items w/ that color of sticker of the first week are thrown out.
posted by sleslie at 10:57 PM on August 19, 2008

In case it's not clear from most people's advice, you should give fair warning before doing this, whether by posted note or email (or both). Even if people ignore the note, you can point to it and tell them they were warned.
posted by O9scar at 11:06 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Regarding theft, I used to work in an office where we bought our own milk - my supervisor and I shared the cost of this between us, and found our milk dissappearing quite rapidly. We bought two and stuck a note to them saying "One of the milk cartons has rat poison in it, and the other doesn't - good luck". Seemed to do the trick.
posted by Admira at 11:40 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Every night, your lunches and such will be tossed. Tupperware will not be saved. It's a little harsh, but it is posted on the door. Milk is bought by the company. Stuff like salad dressing can stick around.
posted by EastCoastBias at 6:38 AM on August 20, 2008

Our office recently tried the throw everything out every Friday at 4:30 pm model because we had two full size refrigerators that were overflowing all the time and generally gross. (The previous model had just been to clean them out when they got really bad, with an email sent out as a warning before hand.) But there was an uproar over the new system because there's no reason someone shouldn't be able to keep a bottle of salad dressing or tub of margarine longer than 5 days. So recently, those that wanted a longer term fridge lobbied for it, and got it - along with the responsibility of keeping it clean. If this social experiment fails, it will go back to everything out, every Friday. (So far, so good.) It helped that our office is trying to be more "green" (recycling, providing real plates and silverware instead of plastic, etc.) and we were able to argue that one bottle of salad dressing or ketchup is way better than lots of single serve packets. Also, an empty fridge uses a lot more energy than a full one.

So now:

One fridge is the long term fridge. Everything in this fridge must be labeled with name and date (labels and pens are located next to the fridge and I think this is key.) Users of the long term fridge are responsible for keeping it clean. Anything not labeled will be tossed. Anything old or suspect will be tossed.

Second fridge is the short term fridge. Everything gets tossed, every Friday at 4:30 pm, no matter what.

So far this new system is working well, but oh my god the drama involved in getting there.
posted by misskaz at 7:12 AM on August 20, 2008

I was a temp for a couple years, and worked in a lot of offices with fridge issues. The best system I ever ran into was where everything -- everything, including your ketchup packets if you feel the need to keep them in the fridge -- had to have your name on it. Anything without a name was fair game to be eaten, tossed in the trash, or whatever by anyone who felt like it whenever they felt like it. Anything with a name was pretty much inviolable. This seemed like an extremely fair system, since very little effort was required to keep your item from being thrown out, and the onus to clear the fridge wasn't on any one person.

Having to have their name on it generally keeps people from taking up an unfair amount of space or leaving half a pastrami sandwich to rot for a few months. In the event that they can't self-police, taunts and public shaming usually do the trick. Sort of a water-cooler MetaTalk.
posted by fidelity at 7:14 AM on August 20, 2008

We do the Friday thing too. Exceptions are made for sealed food (i.e. yogurt/jello and not someone's gross leftover sandwich/tupperware). If it's past the date it gets tossed.

I would place good money on the fact that you'll probably be the one cleaning out that fridge the first time and each week thereafter. Keep that in mind before you go to your supervisor.
posted by ml98tu at 7:39 AM on August 20, 2008

A lot of us solved the problem by putting mini fridges in our cubicles. It annoys the building management people, but they're the ones that stuck us with one fridge for 400 people.
posted by krisak at 7:40 AM on August 20, 2008

I agree with fidelity. Also a temp.
posted by sondrialiac at 8:35 AM on August 20, 2008

The thing about throwing away everything in the fridge is that people might have just put the food in there to have for lunch later that day (if you clean at 10am) or might have been planning to take their leftovers home that night (if you clean at 4:30). There is no better way to piss people off than to throw away their perfectly-good food that they were looking forward to eating. The best way to avoid this issue is to warn people a couple days in advance, and then again right before you clean, and preferably to do it before or after everyone is in the office for the day.

In our office the person who took responsibility would send out an email on Thursday, saying that Monday morning the fridge was getting cleaned. Anyone who had something special that had to stay in the fridge over the weekend would label the heck out of it ("Joe S's - PLEASE DO NOT THROW AWAY ON MONDAY MM/DD/YYYY!!!"), and she would purge whatever remained before anyone got to the office on Monday morning. It's not fool-proof, but nobody could say they weren't warned.
posted by vytae at 12:00 PM on August 20, 2008

We do the everything goes on Friday night when the cleaning crew come in. In addition everything that does not have a name and date label thing goes every morning. It works beautifully although it probably helps that we have facilities management enforcing it.

We also have two fridges - one for people to store their stuff and one for milk and only milk which our employer pays for.

As I recall the process was announced by an email a few days before it was implemented. There is a note by the fridge reminding people of the process together with labels and pen but no further warnings are given. The key is to make sure the throwing out happens at the exact same time every week so that people have no excuse not to be aware.

I would not recommend sending several warning emails...it gives people the option to not comply or not fully anyway.

Make it non negotiable. There are tiny containers available for all those who want their condiments - they can bring in a week's worth.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:35 PM on August 20, 2008

For our office fridge, our secretary uses the "toss everything on Friday" policy. And everyone is aware of it. Seems to work.

Regarding theft... good luck. In my experience, you can't do anything about it.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 1:46 PM on August 20, 2008

Same stuff for fridges. Two out of three are gutted every Friday, and the one "safe" fridge rotates each week, so food can be saved over the weekend.

Regarding the freezers, when they get too full, I send out a company-wide e-mail saying that there will be a purge and everyone's stuff must be initialed within the week. Then we pull everything out, throw away anything expired, clean the freezers, and put back everything initialed. Then I set out markers and send an e-mail saying that the frozen dinners on the tables are free for all. Everyone rushes in, picks one or two, initials it, and now it's theirs. And because people suddenly have food they can actually find, they usually eat it that day or the next. No food goes to waste, and everyone is happy with the "re-gifting."
posted by chaplinesque at 5:20 PM on August 20, 2008

We have a clean freak in our section so she takes care of it. When she can't stand it any more she sends out an email saying everything is going by a certain time and day and out it goes...now if I can only get her to clean out my fridge and freezer at home.
posted by govtdrone at 7:26 PM on August 20, 2008

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