I work in an open-plan office with at least 150 other people. I only really know the people sat in my immediate vicinity; I work in a team of around 10 people, though I wouldn't say I know any of them well enough to be aware of any allergies. From experience, I've found that illnesses spread like wildfire in this sort of environment (within this office they do, anyway).

Quite often, I like to bring small portions of nuts with me to work, to snack on throughout the day. I've seen stories where people have had severe allergic reactions on planes, when people sat around them have opened packets of peanuts - could this occur in open-plan offices? Is there an "office etiquette" when it comes to eating nuts within this sort of environment?

I do know quite a few people with food allergies, and I personally wouldn't class them as uncommon. I'd bet my bottom dollar that there are a few people within this office with some sort of food allergy. If somebody were to have a severe allergy, would this sort of information be brought to workers' attention, as to avoid such a reaction taking place?

Is it acceptable to eat nuts in an open-plan office?

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about eating nuts and not about navigating the workplace.
    – Masked Man
    Nov 8 '17 at 16:26
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    If someone does have a severe allergy - severe enough that traces of nut particles in the air could set them off - they would most likely have said so by now. It's just basic human decency to make allowances for your colleagues so as not to kill them, but it's not your responsibility to guess their needs. The onus is on them to ask you not to eat nuts if there really is a problem. Nov 10 '17 at 16:44

Logically speaking, if anyone in your team has an extreme allergy to nuts (or seafood, or anything else that's relatively common), it would be in their best interests to make this known among the people they're in regular contact with.

However, if in doubt, you can open with

Does anyone mind if I chew nuts around here? I'm happy to share....

(adjust the level of innuendo as required)

However, it's normally fine and most people don't usually even think about things like this and go right ahead with the nuts without asking.

If you have any doubts, then ask HR or a first aid representative if there's anyone in the building who has declared themselves as being severely nut allergic.

They can't tell you who it is, but can tell you if there's anyone affected.

You can then work from there.

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    Would not go as far as HR about it. Wouldn´t want to be labelled as that weirdo with the nut-fetish :) Asking the people in your vicinity should suffice - normally adult allergics know very well what´s a problem for them an what isn´t.
    – Daniel
    Nov 8 '17 at 13:32
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    As a first aider myself, I was told to ask HR for details of people with allergies/diabetes/etc. I wasn't allowed to know who, but was told only the if. You can ask your team, but that doesn't include any other business users who might need to frequent this particular office/area.
    – user44108
    Nov 8 '17 at 13:35
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    @Snow: If you are first aider it is understandable, and you have a reason to know. From a random employee that inquiry would be considereds somewhat odd, at least from my pov.
    – Daniel
    Nov 8 '17 at 14:07
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    @TheSnarkKnight But they are a business resource.
    – JAB
    Nov 8 '17 at 15:30
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    @JAB oh, they'll give you the business alright, and they are quite resourceful in doing so. Nov 8 '17 at 15:46

Is it acceptable to eat nuts in an open-plan office?

I would answer this with a question. Is it acceptable to eat at your desk at all, do you see other folks doing this? If so, then yes in general it should be fine. If not, I would probably refrain from eating at my desk at all.

These "open office" plans are open to issues that come from folks that eat loud food or just eat at their desk in general. If its acceptable at your company to eat at your desk for lunch, then I think your cleared.

Update: Special consideration should be given to smelly food (fish for example) or burned pop corn. These items are typically frowned upon regardless of office environment.

  • Yes, it is acceptable to eat at your desk within this particular office; both for lunch and general snacking.
    – Skeletron
    Nov 8 '17 at 13:46
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    @Skeletron Good to go then IMHO.
    – Neo
    Nov 8 '17 at 13:47
  • @Skeletron - Does that extend to really smelly things, like fish or broccoli?
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 8 '17 at 15:28
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    @T.E.D. Sadly no.
    – Skeletron
    Nov 8 '17 at 15:50

In general terms I would say yes it's acceptable, what I would potentially do though is before you open up the packet/tub/whatever of nuts is ask the people in your immediate vicinity if any of them have a severe allergy if you want to err on the safe side.

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