I am a trainee at some company with about 100 employees. There is a small cafe with some drinks, snacks, and fresh fruit and vegetables. Chips are usually in big bags and you put some on a plate, vegetables are in a big bowl and you put some on a plate, etc. Although there are tongs and spoons for this purpose, some colleagues use their hand to dig into the bowls and bas instead. I have even seen someone not washing his hands after using the restroom and 2 minutes later I saw him taking some carrots from one of the big bowls by hand. I don't really need to explain why this is not right and bothering me. Considering that I am just a trainee for 3 months, and I have no prior experience working in a company, should I:

  • Stop eating from this food and keep my mouth shut (I'd feel guilty for others oblivious to this behavior),
  • Make a comment for everyone I see doing so (I know it is a bad choice, but I am just listing all options I know),
  • Talk to someone in the company (e.g., HR), or
  • other option.
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    Are there people running the cafe, making sure food is replenished? Or is it unattended? – thursdaysgeek Sep 8 '16 at 20:04
  • It is unattended cafe. Someone just volunteered to refill food in the morning and order food every week. – user76646 Sep 8 '16 at 20:07
  • You don't need to keep your mouth shut, just don't name names when you tell people why you don't like eating there any more. – Dave Sep 8 '16 at 20:09
  • "I don't really need to explain why this is not right and bothering me." Maybe you should. I do this, many people I know do it, and we don't see the problem, and unless you tell us specifically why it bothers you, we definitely won't stop doing it. – Erik Sep 14 '16 at 8:37

Awkward emails prompted by not-to-be-named colleagues is the specialty of HR. It is part of their job description to front in those circumstances so you don't get any flak (as mentioned by Christopher).


Go talk to HR, and they will (may) send an awkward email to everyone, so you don't have to.

(thanks sleske)

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  • I have no idea what you're saying here. Can you edit? – user8036 Sep 8 '16 at 20:39
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    I think what rath means is: Go talk to HR, and they will (may) send an awkward email to everyone, so you don't have to. – sleske Sep 8 '16 at 20:46

Difficult question. As a newcomer it's probably best not to confront people. Either stop eating free food, or mention it to management.

Management will either take it to HR or deal with it themselves, or (hopefully) stop putting their own grubby hands on the food. Or if it's a cultural thing might have a hand washing station near the door and/or put up a sign.

But, I would tell anyone I saw doing that to get their hands out of the food and have a bit of respect for others and couldn't care less if they don't like it.

So it really depends on your personality as well.

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You've run head-first into a culture that's already in place and well-precedes you.

The only thing you can really do that won't alienate yourself from everyone (which can always have negative ramifications on a variety of levels) is to just stop eating there. Don't feel guilty for others. They're adults and there's really not a ton you can do.

Now, if you don't care what happens to you or what people think of you, go ahead and say something at the company or make a comment. I honestly can't see how you'll come out looking like a hero though. People hate being called out for their bad manners/hygiene and it's not your position to do so.

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  • "I honestly can't see how you'll come out looking like a hero though" I can see how the OP could come looking like a martyr - mainly because he would be a martyr AND he would be martyred :) The way to become an endangered species is to complain about how I go about washing my hands. – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 8 '16 at 21:29

For what it's worth, open bowls/trays of munchies are the norm at some large (3000-person) events I go to. People are gently encouraged to use a scoop, by the simple practice of leaving one or two scoops in each bowl. Realistically, we wind up with lots of hands in the food anyway, but "convention crud" (as illness after a convention is known) tends to be spread much more by air than by this vector. The salt in some snacks is enough to kill many germs...

Maybe you can get your office to switch to plastic bins ("the bins will help keep things fresher than the bags do, and they shelve better, and..."), add scoops to those (may be as simple as leaving a cup in each bin), and see if folks get the hint.

If not, all I can suggest is going for individually wrapped snacks, or putting a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer on the break-room table...

Or casually bring your own snacks. Fruit and veggies are tremendously better for you anyway; snacks plus desk job is a dangerous combination. (I'm trying to undo some of that damage and improve my habits now; got a scary and expensive reminder.)

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If your company has some sort of Morale/Day-to-Day person; i.e. People Manager, Site Operations, etc - some goofy companies have people that are just there to send out newsletters and organize chili cook-offs - I would take it up with them.

Since you are a trainee I would recommend against being "That Guy/Gal" and bringing it up to people, perhaps mentioning it to your manager - but more or less as a health concern and not that you are reproached by it (which is fine, I don't want someone's unwashed bathroom hands on my apples) so you can get taken a little more seriously.

This behavior has a lot to do with company culture, or perhaps the ethnic group in the company, I have witnessed this. Typically a large, bold font in MS Word/LibreOffice printed out and pasted everywhere can mitigate, or of course, no fruits for anyone and they can learn to stop being disgusting little plebes.

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