Can Eating Lunch At Your Desk Be Hazardous To Your Health?

It seems harmless enough, eating a tuna sandwich at your desk whilst taking bites in-between typing or swallowing frantically when the phone rings. This humble lunch time ritual is something that we can all admit to but, it’s not as innocent as we think. According to a published report titled “Office Space Bacterial Abundance and Diversity in Three Metropolitan Areas” on the PLoS ONE site, studies have confirmed that a group of researchers found over 500 types of bacteria in three different offices in New York, San Francisco, and Tucson - that’s enough to make your skin crawl whilst simultaneously putting you off ever eating food at your desk again!

That’s a nail biting, stomach turning scientific finding. The details of these icky results map out how researchers took swabs from various computer keyboards, phones, desktops, chairs and computer mice.

Here comes the science part: “The five surfaces were chosen because they are commonly found in offices and also because they represent a diverse set frequently touched surfaces. We used culture-based methods to estimate heterotrophic bacterial abundance and amplified bacterial 16S rRNA gene sequences via PCR with “universal” bar-coded PCR primers from a subset of the samples.”

The swab results revealed, “The most abundant of these genera tended to be common inhabitants of human skin, nasal, oral or intestinal cavities.” I think I can speak for all of us when I say, yuck!

Other findings of this study show that offices with a high percentage of male staff members are more likely to be breeding grounds for high levels of bacteria saturation. The study offers this explanation:

“Since men are, on average, larger than women, they have a correspondingly greater skin surface area, as well as nasal and oral cavities and, therefore, a proportionally greater surface area for bacterial colonization. Thus, in addition to being less hygienic, it is possible that men may also shed more bacteria into their surrounding environment.”

The full findings of this research is available here, if you manage to stomach reading it, you may be wondering - what can I do to combat these germy beasties when I eat my lunch at work? The answer is simple: heed the good words of your mother and farther, wash your hands thoroughly before you eat any meal. It’s also a good idea to make sure that your office equipment is cleaned with anti-bacterial products as well.

Now, this article is not suggesting that you should don a plastic onesie, protective eye gear, and hose down your work space with disinfectant before you consume your lunch at your desk. That measure would be particularly extreme, hilarious and impractical. Yet, this study is truly convincing (it has bar graphs and everything) so, if you opt to consume your lunch in your office because, you just can’t face venturing outside in search of a quickie meal deal purchase, or because it’s just one of those days where the weather is so bad that the Met Office should have issued a weather warning, remember this: when you eat at your desk, there is the possibility that you’ll be chowing down on some delectable bites of bacteria as well.