So at my office, everyone had been using the refrigerator responsibly and considerately for as long as I have been there. All of a sudden this year, at least one person has started storing raw meat in the fridge, sometimes in opened containers and sometimes, on the rack with no container at all, and sometimes even letting it go bad. The refrigerator now smells all of the time.

How can I institute rules for the workplace refrigerator, given that I am only a lowly employee (although everyone is, there is one owner/CEO about 50 or so employees with no middle management, so I want to keep this as democratic as possible)? Note there are two companies on the floor that share this fridge, so it would be difficult to form a meeting between both sets of employees.

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    If there is one CEO, 100 employees and no middle management, you likely have worse problems than your fridge... Jul 24 '14 at 6:12
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    our company works very well without middle management. and yet here you are asking for help with managing the fridge. Sorry for the snark but I do kinda feel that any place that has a problem with defining how to use a shared fridge has lost the right to claim it is being well managed.
    – Rob Moir
    Jul 24 '14 at 6:54
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    ummm, how about a simply sticky note on the fridge saying "Please make sure to store raw meat in sealed containers, otherwise the fridge gets smelly"? The "offender" might not have realized it or didn't care, because no one complained. I mean, seriously, a management policy about the fridge?! Is it just me or do other people also think this is ridiculously when you are working with adults?
    – dirkk
    Jul 24 '14 at 14:30
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    I'm surprised that nobody at the company has lodged a complaint regarding food safety. Letting raw meat sit on the rack with no container can lead to contamination. Also, if there is no "rules" or organization, one wonders when the fridge was last actually cleaned?
    – JohnP
    Jul 24 '14 at 20:34
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    @dirkk it may be a cultural thing. Jul 25 '14 at 14:07

It's simple, if it is unsafe or left too long, it's going to get thrown out immediately. Leave a note indicating they can find their meat in the trash. I don't see it as being any different as finding a fire, put it out now and don't wait to ask your boss.

I know this sounds too brutal, but someone could get killed by this stuff or get very sick. If they want to complain about their food being tossed, it will be a great opportunity to give them a health lesson.

  • This and @dirkk 's comment, is the best answer. I should put a sign on the fridge door with a note explaining what happened, with a warning that a sealed container is required for all raw meat in the future, and just throw any raw meat out that isn't in a sealed container in the future (and consider any sealed device including ziplock bags, despite me not liking that option, as a sealed container for throwing out purposes). Jul 24 '14 at 17:54
  • @MHH - I feel embarrassed when I work at companies that put up signs to cleanup, put dishes away, make sure food is in containers, especially when I know we have clients in the office. I use to teach children and have no desire to treat adults the same regardless of how much they deserve it, but do what you have to do.
    – user8365
    Jul 29 '14 at 13:45
  • One difference I see is that (assuming a non-smoking workplace) there's no amount of fire that's acceptable in the office, whereas the definition of "left too long" might be open to dispute. In a smoking workplace in some country that allows such a thing, taking a fire extinguisher to a smoker's face to "put out the fire you found" won't be considered reasonable, likewise the person whose meat you throw away might dispute your claim that it's off. Still, at least then you'll know who's doing it. Mar 26 '15 at 0:01

Recommendation: Get approval from management in both companies to post a sign saying "Everything in this fridge must have a name and a date on it. Anything that does not will be thrown out. Anything that has a date later than "now" or earlier than "one week before now" will be thrown out."

But realize that by doing so you've just volunteered to be the primary enforcer for this, which means both doing the gruntwork and having to do the "don't argue with me, your own management approved this" discussion repeatedly.

If you're extremely lucky, the slob will get the idea after losing something they wanted to keep. But that isn't likely. They're leaving stuff because they don't care enough about it. If someone else will clean up after them, that's probably a win from their point of view.

EDIT: I'd suggest adding to the policy "Fridge will be emptied at the end of every month." (Or every other month, or every quarter, or whatever.) That gives you a chance to do a clean sweep and to wipe it down if needed. But again, unless one or the other company is willing to pay their cleaning staff to perform this service, you may be assigning yourself that job. And it's not unlikely that you'll have to do it on your own time rather than being paid for it -- your boss isn't going to want to pay expert prices for grunt labor.

This isn't perfect. But it's possible, it's been used in many workplaces and at least it gives you a defense for tossing anything unreasonable... while defining "reasonable".

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    You may be able to get "raw meat must be in sealed containers", where a ziplock counts as a sealed container. Talk to management about what they'd consider reasonable. But you'd be asking for arguments over the definition of "raw", and frankly if the fridge is going to get cleaned out on a regular basis I'm not convinced meat is any more of a problem than milk, cheese, or many other things.
    – keshlam
    Jul 24 '14 at 1:07
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    Save perfection for your fridge at home, or give up on getting consensus and cooperation.
    – keshlam
    Jul 24 '14 at 1:24
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    Don't try to define the kind of container. Just write 'closed container'.
    – user8036
    Jul 24 '14 at 11:47

At places were I've worked, we were fortunate enough to have a dedicated person to handle all the logistical nuances of making the office more comfortable for employees. Aside from typical office managerial duties, we've had office managers who, twice per week, would clean out the refrigerator by throwing away any unlabeled or out-of-date food.

With that said, if you don't have such a person, and there's a problem with sanitation in the office, that falls under the umbrella of "safety", which would fall under the domain of human resources.

Thus, approach the human resources department with your concerns. You don't necessarily have to mention specific names of people or get into specific details, but if you mention to HR that you feel there could be a food safety issue in the refrigerator, they should hopefully be able to take it from there and implement solutions to the problem, whether that be hiring someone or just simply clarifying the policy in a more official manner.

Finally, if your workplace is in the United States and covered by OSHA, they may be responsible legally to ensure a safe environment for all employees. In places where I've worked, HR is delegated the task of complying with such regulations, but this could be different in other places of business, such as small businesses with a small or nonexistent HR department.

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    If you go the "safety" route, the "solution" could be to remove the refrigerator, to ensure that the company is not liable for any illness resulting from improper refrigerator use. Jul 24 '14 at 1:37
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    It could be, @PurpleVermont, but man that would be extreme...
    – jmort253
    Jul 24 '14 at 2:12

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