The 10 Worst Foods to Avoid at Work

Young woman eating sushi

There’s a shared, unspoken rule among coworkers about the sanctity of lunch hour. No one judges you for being first in the break room, no one makes you feel bad about eating at your desk and no one stops you if you take a short nap in your cubicle. After all, breaks are meant to recharge you for the remaining work ahead. For one solid hour, you’re allowed to go wherever and do whatever you want – but maybe just not eat whatever you want.

As with any right, taking breaks and eating at the workplace also comes with a little bit of responsibility. So, if you don’t want to be blacklisted by officemates for violating any lunch break code, here’s a top list of foods to avoid at work.

1. Leftover fish

The salmon you had last night might have been the best thing you’ve had in a while, but please don’t bring it to the office the next day. No matter what kind of fish it was or how it was cooked, nothing’s worse than the smell of leftover fish being reheated in the microwave.

If you’re not familiar with the scent, it’s a smell that’s slightly reminiscent of used gym socks that have stiffened after weeks of being left unwashed inside your trainers. In other words: if you’re thinking about reheating fish at work – please. Just. Don’t.

2. Kimchi

Kimchi and other kinds of fermented foods are usually chockful of prebiotics that help aid digestion, but it’s also one of the most offensive-smelling meals you can bring to the office.

Skip the exotic meal for something simpler and indulge in all that prebiotic goodness at the comfort of your own home. Or, if you have an intense craving for anything fermented, try eating out instead. But be sure to bring some cologne with you to mask the smell when you get back!

3. Hard-boiled eggs

For years, die-hard fans of the low-carb diet have been advocating the benefits of the simple but highly nutritious hard-boiled egg – and for good reason, too. Eggs are a great source of protein and other nutrients, making them a terrific option for those trying to watch their weight and keep full longer.

But while they’re a fantastic choice for breakfast, they’re absolutely horrible for lunch. Just a tiny whiff of that hard-boiled egg can cause anyone to gag or lose their appetite. To put it bluntly: they smell a lot like someone just passed gas. So, if you don’t want to get dirty looks during lunch time, observe proper office etiquette and save the eggs for breakfast, instead.

4. Broccoli (and other smelly vegetables)

There’s nothing wrong with trying to eat healthier at work. In fact, your officemates will probably applaud you for swapping those fries with veggies, except maybe when they’re broccoli. Broccoli is almost odourless when they’re fresh out of the steamer but reheat them in the microwave and they suddenly turn into the gooey, green monster all children accuse them of being.

If you’re trying to be healthier, opt for carrots or mixed salad, instead. The smell isn’t nearly as offensive and eating them has almost the same benefits, as well. Plus, most vegetables lose their nutrients when reheated in the microwave, anyway (which kind of defeats the purpose of eating them in the first place).

5. Exotic fruit

So, you’ve recently come back from that trip to Asia and you’re excited to share the new exotic fruit you’ve discovered. Before you start handing out slices to coworkers, it’s probably a good idea to do a bit of research on it first. You may not be sensitive to the scent of fruits, but others might be (just Google ‘durian’) and a lot of them contain allergens you might not be aware of.

6. Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds are some of the tastiest snacks you can nibble at your desk, but they’re also painfully messy and noisy to eat. Don’t be that guy or gal who everybody secretly calls ‘the Goat’ for your annoyingly loud munching.

If you do want something crunchy and savoury to snack on, swap those seeds for cashews or almonds. They’re a lot less noisy to eat and they provide just as many nutrients. Or try buying your sunflower seeds unpeeled. That way you won’t make any unnecessary noise or mess that could distract your officemates.

7. Meal replacement bars

The idea for energy bars first began in the 1970s when Pillsbury, one of the largest manufacturers of grain, created what they called Space Food Sticks for astronauts to eat in space. They were meant to have a longer shelf life without having to be refrigerated. Fast-forward to a few years later and you can find meal replacement bars in every supermarket.

While there’s nothing gravely offensive about meal bars, they can be unhealthy. Similar to the effects of most junk food, it can mess with your body and cause a sugar rush. It’s basically when your body becomes hyperactive after consuming too much sugar, after which your energy levels plummet, leaving you lethargic and unproductive at work. So, unless you’re an astronaut or too busy to have lunch, skip the sugar bar and opt for a real meal instead.

8. Curry

While there’s nothing wrong with adding a bit of spice (pun intended) to your breaks, in the hierarchy of worst things to eat in the office, curry comes a close second to leftover fish. That may sound like an exaggeration, but curry has a lot of spices which all have their own pungent scent.

If you don’t believe us, just try sniffing a bottle of cumin (a common ingredient in curry) the next time you’re in the grocery store. Trust us: it’s 10 times worse than that. (Fun fact: curry is known to cause body odour, as well.)

9. Cheese

Cheese can make any dish better – sliced mozzarella, a piece of bread et voilà: you’ve got pizza! Sprinkle parmesan on pasta and bon appétit: the perfect carbonara! But having cheese in the office, especially if it’s the more pungent kind (think: clue cheese), is a sure-fire way to lose lunch buddies.

The smell can stink up any room and is strong enough to make anyone remember life on the farm, or at least wish they were on a farm since anyone who comes in close proximity to your cheese will smell like a cow, anyway.

But if you can’t leave home without having your daily dose of dairy goodness, opt for cheddar or provolone, instead.  They might not be as tasty as Limburger or Époisses de Bourgogne, but at least you’ll still have friends in the office at the end of the day.

10. Popcorn

The smell of popcorn holds a special place in almost everyone’s hearts. It’s a nostalgic scent that can bring back fond memories similar to that of burning firewood or drops of rain. But much like most nostalgic scents, it’s incredibly difficult to recreate.

For some reason, popcorn that’s made in any place except the theatre smells exceedingly appalling. It’s a bit hard to describe but it’s a lot like burnt rubber dipped in lard. So, if you want to have this tasty snack at work, try the ones that come in tubs. They’re less likely to cause a mess and they won’t stink up the room.

What are the worst food items you’ve ever seen at the office? Share your lunch stories in the comments section below.