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We have a fridge for employees at every floor that gets completely emptied and cleaned once a year (between Christmas and the new year). The rest of the year, it is the employees' job to keep the fridge clean and usable - that is, up to the individual.

While I would never touch a coworkers' food to eat it, I wondered if it is acceptable to throw away food from those shared fridges that has obviously gone bad (e.g. moldy). As food theft (luckily) isn't an issue, none of the things are labeled, so asking a specific person to throw out their food themselves is not an option. And personally I am also not a big fan of passive-aggressive notes on the fridge door addressing the general public to please keep the fridge cleaner and to get rid of spoilt stuff.

With a lot of people working from home much more than before and people being in quarantine for weeks at a time, having food that has gone bad in the fridge is happening more often (because I guess people are bad planners or simply forgot that they still have food and on return a couple of days later it already has gone bad).

So the question is: is it OK to throw out spoilt food or do I just have to live with the moldy stuff and wait until the owners do it themselves? If the food is in a reusable container I would put it in the dishwasher and the cleaning people emptying out the dishwasher would put them on the counter where the remain until someone takes them home. If they are in single use container (e.g. yoghurt cup) I would dispose of both container and contents.

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    Seems perfectly reasonable to throw it out to me.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 1 at 10:04
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    Throwing the food out is ok, however will you need to wash and keep the containers?
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 1 at 10:11
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    @Sursula-they- What dishwasher? Not mentioned in the post, so what other assumptions? Permanent washer upper?
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 1 at 11:46
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    Many companies have a regular cleanout period where food that is undated/unclaimed/uncollected from the fridge is thrown out and sometimes the containers with it. Jun 2 at 20:29
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    Relevant AAM: askamanager.org/2018/06/… Jun 7 at 2:04

5 Answers 5

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Unfortunately their are a surprising amount of idiots who cannot behave like adults and keep track of their own food.

Setting rules and posting guideline doesn't help. The idiots will simply ignore them.

it OK to throw out spoilt food

Yes.

or do I just have to live with the moldy stuff and wait until the owners do it themselves?

No. The best way is to engage facilities or HR on this.

In my experience, the only way to prevent a shared company fridge from becoming a gross mess is to set clear rules and STRICTLY enforce them.

Here is one that actually worked:

All items in a fridge must be labelled clearly with a name and an expiration date. Facilities will check fridges every Friday starting at 3pm. All items that are not labelled properly or past their expiration date will be discarded.

There may be some grumblings for the first few weeks, but after seeing it in action almost all people will appreciate it. As soon as the idiots are forced to behave, the fridges will stay nice and clean and the actual incremental work for facilities is minimal, maybe 5min per fridge.

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    My office does something similar: staff throw out all food over the weekend. It works, and it saves the cleaning staff the burden of investigating two dozen food items every time. Jun 1 at 14:53
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    Upvoted did sign on the fridge about Friday afternoon sweep.
    – Damila
    Jun 1 at 15:52
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    I don't know. My cottage cheese is usually good few days after expiration date. And you can't tell whether is gone bad without opening it. Jun 2 at 17:48
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    @ThiefMaster If you see a spelling mistake in somebody's answer, a friendlier way to address it is by submitting a quiet edit rather than calling it out in comments. If you do feel the need to do it more visibly, I'd strongly recommend double-checking your own comment. It would be embarrassing to leave out an entire word that should go between two other words, while nitpicking somebody else's English ;-) Jun 7 at 6:15
  • @GeoffreyBrent Too short for an edit suggestion, and it was tongue-in-cheek based on the first sentence of the original post :) Jun 7 at 20:56
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It is better to put a note on the fridge few days before cleaning it to warn that the spoilt food will be thrown a way at a certain date. Then leave the note for a couple of weeks after the clean up. In this way people will understand what happened.

Leaving the mouldy food in there is not a good idea because the mould will produce a lot of spores that might attack all the other food.

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  • This works for us. I also write that if your eat-by-date has passed and you still want to keep it (e.g. for a reused but not relabeeled container) write "Do not throw away" on it. And it will still get tossed if it's green and furry.
    – RedSonja
    Jun 7 at 13:04
  • A note is nice, but I don't think notification is required if the food is obviously bad.
    – sleske
    Jun 13 at 8:51
  • @sleske people sometimes simply forget that they have left some food in the fridge. Especially employees that one day are at the company offices the next day are at the client's site and then work from home. The note might remind them to keep track of their food next time.
    – FluidCode
    Jun 13 at 11:40
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Throwing out bad food is Ok, but that won’t stop people from complaining, and that is the real problem.

If this happens, take photos of the food that can serve as evidence. “Why did you throw out my delicious and very expensive food?” “Because it was mouldy”. “Can’t have been mouldy, it was only one day old”. You show the photo.

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The people responsible for the moldy food either don't care, don't work there anymore or have legitimately forgotten about it. Because of that, there is no point in trying to play a game of "who's to blame" for this situation. At the end of the day, openly molding food is a health hazard and someone has to step up to take care of it. A company isn't likely to introduce rules for refigerator usage out of nowhere nor would anyone like to make the first step and clean up a nasty refigerator. But someone has to do it.

If the one stepping up is going to be you, you should try to make a photo of what you are going to discard. That way, if a person comes forward to start a argument with you, you can simply show pictures of the moldy things they apparently planned to eat. No sane person would pursue further conflict in such a situation.

However, I would suggest that you avoid throwing things away that are past their expiration date. It would invite a lot of pointless arguing and if it isn't openly molding, it isn't posing a health risk to anyone anyway.

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    “Sell by date” - when it should be sold. Should be edible after that. “Best before date” - quality will be reduced. May be tough, or taste less good, but edible. There is long life milk which is fine for a long time and turns bad (absolutely rotten) within a very short time.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 2 at 12:26
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This seems like a very reasonable thing to do, if you're unsure about how people would react, you could write a message the other people on your office asking if it's okay, but I hardly think anyone would object to this.

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