There is one place at KIRO Radio where even the boldest, bravest of heroes don’t dare go. A museum of horrors where slimy, green specimens are displayed in clear, plastic containers. A place where one must somehow find a way over a treacherous wall built from thousands of ancient yogurt cups. This place…is the shared office refrigerator.
But seriously, our work fridge is gross. If you work in an office you may have a similar situation: one fridge, 30 to 40 people using it, every last square inch packed with lunch bags and plastic containers and pizza shaped bulges of tin foil. Mysterious liquids pooling on the refrigerator floor. Containers on the verge of blowing their lids, bloated with the gasses of decaying fruit.
At our office, no one is in charge of cleaning the fridge. So no one ever does. Except me. I take a strange pleasure in cleaning it. So as the keeper of the fridge, I took the liberty of inviting a King County Health Inspector to come take a look and evaluate our fridge just like he would during an official restaurant inspection. I wanted to see if our little restaurant should be shut down.
Health and environmental investigator Mike Simpson arrived at the KIRO Radio studios and I took him straight to the fridge for an evaluation. Inside we found a plastic bag containing a liquefied cucumber, a plastic container holding a moldy, slumping peach and another container holding what is best described as a mystery meal.
“What do you think that used to be?” Simpson asked, after we pulled back the lid. “Corn? What do you think that is? Or was?”
“I think it was….quinoa.” I hesitated and took a closer look. “No…chicken! I think it’s breaded chicken!” We burst out laughing.
But even after the corn, quinoa, chicken encounter, Simpson surprised me by saying:
“This is not nearly as bad as I’ve been suspecting or fearing. It looks much like many workplace fridges where I’ve worked in the past.”
The good news just kept on coming. No one is going to eat the moldy, slimy food, so it’s not really a health hazard.
“Things that are moldy, like this former peach, probably should be tossed. Just because food is moldy doesn’t necessarily mean its going to make you sick. It could. But you’re much more likely to get sick from food that has been left out of refrigeration for too long. Things aren’t cooked all the way through, mostly raw meats.”
Simpson says the biggest concern is what happened before the food got to the office; someone not washing their hands when preparing the meal. The number one way to prevent food borne illness is by washing your hands and keeping foods cold.
“One thing I thought I would do is check the temperature of your fridge and see if it’s holding food at the proper temperature. If this was a restaurant we’d actually be testing the temperature of the food,” Simpson reached in and grabbed a small carton of milk. “Here we go! Here’s a reduced fat milk, Use By November 27th. It’s fairly liquid, doesn’t appear to be completely coagulated in one big chunk of milk so we’ll get a good temperature on here.” He inserted his official thermometer inside the carton. “Thermometer says it’s 36.5 to 37 degrees. So you’re holding a good temperature in here. So the foods that are in here should be just fine. As long as they’re not stored in there for two, three weeks.”
What about all the sticky goop on the refrigerator floor?
“You do want to keep it cleaned every once in a while. It’s more gross than it is likely to make you sick. Which is good news!”
He did have a few other concerns. Simpson says packing a fridge too tightly isn’t good; it could burn the fridge out prematurely. But it doesn’t actually violate any laws. He’s also concerned with how much food is being left behind to rot.
“Some statistics from a study on food waste says that 25% of all food that people buy gets tossed. Which is a lot. Why waste that food, especially delicious food? You brought it for a reason. Eat your lunch!”
We shut the refrigerator door and I asked Simpson to grade our fridge. An “A” would be a perfect score and an “F” would mean the fridge should be taken to the dump immediately.
“It’s messy, but if we’re using the same scale of risk violations that we do when we’re looking at restaurants, there’s really very little items in there that will make you sick beyond moldy food. So we’ll give it a ‘B.’ Definitely needs some work in cleaning. Looks like with a little more regular upkeep you’ll get an ‘A’ next time.”
So there you have it. King County Health and environmental investigator Mike Simpson has ruled. The disgusting fridge is apparently not so disgusting, at least from a health standpoint. Your eyes and nose might tell you differently. I’m afraid this will only reinforce the bad behavior of my piggish coworkers, who will continue to confidently leave their food to rot in the fridge, bolstered by Mike Simpson’s glowing evaluation.
This interview appears in Rachel’s latest Your Last Meal podcast episode, featuring filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, whose recent film “The Shape of Water” is up for seven Golden Globe awards. Listen, subscribe and leave a review!