Is your workplace kitchen making you sick?

7 ways your work kitchen is quietly trying to kill you and what you can do about it.

According to the Food Safety Information Council, on average food poisoning accounts for:

  • 120 deaths
  • 1.2 million GP visits
  • 300,000 prescriptions for medication
  • 2.1 million sick days.
This costs Australia an estimated $1.25 billion each year. Worldwide, unsafe food is linked to the deaths of roughly 2 million people each year. Food containing harmful bacteria, chemical, parasites or viruses is the cause of over 200 diseases. So, in time for World Health Day (with this years' topic being food safety), we here at have looked at the dangers present in the office kitchen and what you can do to stop yourself from getting sick.

Things making you sick

  1. Problem: Is there soap in your kitchen? One of the biggest issues in the workplace kitchen is people not washing their hands before they handle food or eat their kitchenSolution: Place a liquid soap pump-pack next to the sink or an antibacterial wash dispenser by the kitchen door. You may even wish to put up signs around the kitchen reminding your staff to make sure they have washed their hands.
  2. Problem: Is the fridge cold enough? An overcrowded fridge is an unhappy fridge and can be an unsafe fridge – and not just because of the increased chance of your lunch ending up on the floor. Overcrowded fridges struggle to regulate their temperature, which ideally should be kept at below 5° Celsius. Solution: Don't just jam more and more food in there. Make sure you check that the temperature is at a constant 5° Celsius. Clean out the fridge regularly, get into a routine of emptying the fridge each Friday. This will ensure that food is not left in there over the weekend to tempt those 'brave enough' to eat it on Monday for breakfast.
  3. Problem: Is the food stored properly? We've all been there. Get into work in the morning and spot something tasty sitting on the bench. You know it's been there overnight but there's no one around right now to judge you ... so you cram it in your mouth. Food that has not been properly stored presents a real danger. Solution? Don't eat it. If something is sitting on the bench overnight, it is probably not fit for you to eat in the morning. Keep perishable food in the fridge. In perfect conditions, the amount of bacteria present on a piece of food can double every 20 minutes. The following table shows how bacteria multiplies on meat over 3 hours:
    Number of bacteria
      • 100
      20 minutes
      • 200
      40 minutes
      • 400
      1 hour
      • 800
      1 hour 20 minutes
      • 1600
      1 hour 40 minutes
      • 3200
      2 hours
      • 6400
      2 hours 20 minutes
      • 12800
      2 hours 40 minutes
      • 25600
      3 hours
      • 51200

    *Source: Australian Government Department of Health

  4. Problem: How clean is the cutting board? Unclean cutting boards and bench-tops are a haven for germs. When germs from unclean items or the juices from raw meat come in contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods, you run the risk of cross-contamination. Solution: Wash your cutting boards thoroughly in hot, soapy water after each use. Alternatively, you could use a dishwasher. Throw out your old cutting boards, the cracks and knife scars are a breading place for germs. When you are preparing food, use separate cutting boards: one for raw meats and the other for ready-to-eat foods, such as vegetables.
  5. Problem: Are you planning on eating that prepackaged meal? A common reason for food poisoning is people not following the instructions on packaged foods. Foods such as frozen pies, microwavable pizzas and chicken nuggets can pose a serious risk of foodborne germs, such as salmonella, if they are prepared incorrectly. Solution: Read and follow the products cooking instructions to the letter. Make sure you know if the food is fully-cooked, partially-cooked or raw prior to heating. Look at the labels and don't rely on the eyeball test. Some frozen foods look like they are cooked but they are actually pre-browned or covered in sauce or breading.
  6. Problem: Are you planning on eating those leftovers? Just because something was safe to eat yesterday, doesn't mean it is safe to eat today. If you're planning on reheating leftovers, you need to be careful that you're not eating them at an unsafe temperature. Solution: Hot food needs to be kept and served at 60°C or hotter. Food has a danger zone of between 5°C and 60°C. If you are planning on reheating your hot food from the day before, make sure it is warmed to a minimum of 60°C. A good way to check you food is hot enough is that there is steam coming off the top and by using a food thermometer. Important: Make sure you only reheat food (especially chicken) once.
  7. Problem: How old is that dish towel? A dish towel should be used for one thing and one thing only: drying dishes. Unfortunately, dish towels often become interchangeable with hand towels. This has the potential to make you very sick, as you are wiping your dirty hands on something that is there to dry clean crockery and cutlery. Solution: Throw out old dish cloths as they can carry bacteria. Only use the dish towel for drying dishes. Once you have finished using the dish towel, be sure to hang it so it will dry thoroughly. And make sure you wash the towel at least once a week.

How do I know if I have food poisoning?

Food poisoning happens after eating contaminated good and can present itself as early as one hour after consumption. Symptoms include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pains
  • diarrhoea
  • feeling weak
  • fever or chills/sweating
  • headache

Common food poisoning bugs

There are four common food poisoning bugs:



These bacteria are found in many animals including dogs, cats, cattle and poultry. People can get campylobacter from:

  • ingestion of contaminated food
  • ingestion of contaminated water
  • contact with infected animals
  • poor food handling.

Campylobacter symptoms generally last from two to five days. Symptoms include:

  • diarrhoea
  • fever
  • severe abdominal pain
  • vomiting.



These bacteria are found in the soil and in the intestines of animals, including cattle, poultry, fish and humans. People can get clostridium food poisoning from:

  • poor food handling
  • unsafe cooking temperature
  • improper storage/refrigeration temperatures.

Symptoms normally present themselves about 12 hours after eating the contaminated food and normally last for approximately 24 hours. Symptoms include:

  • stomach pains
  • diarrhoea
  • nausea
  • vomiting.



There are many types of salmonella and are mainly found in the bowels, faeces and intestines of humans and other animals. People can get salmonella from:

  • poor food handling
  • seafood from polluted waters
  • dirty eggs
  • improper handling of meat or poultry at the abattoir.

Salmonella can take up to 48 hours to develop and last from between three and 21 days. Symptoms include:

  • diarrhoea
  • fever
  • headache
  • nausea
  • stomach cramps.

In some cases it can also result in death such as the elderly, the enfeebled or the very young.



The staphylococci bacteria can be found in the yellow mucus that is coughed up or sneezed out by someone with a cold. The staphylococci bacteria are found in :

  • bowel of humans
  • infected eyes
  • nose
  • saliva
  • skin
  • sores
  • throat.

The staphylococci bacteria grow and multiply once present in food. As they grow they produce a toxin and it is this toxin that makes people sick. Symptoms normally present themselves between one and eight hours after ingesting contaminated food.

  • boils
  • cellulitis
  • impetigo
  • staphylococcal scaled skin syndrome.

Cross contamination in the work place

Luke went fishing on the weekend and caught a flathead, which planned to eat for lunch on Monday. What he didn't know was that the water where he was fishing was contaminated with salmonella. Luke brought the contaminated fish into work and prepared his meal in the kitchen using a knife and the cutting board. The salmonella bacteria from the fish was left on the knife and cutting board. After he had finished preparing his fish, he offer the cutting board to one of his colleges, Wedge, who then went about making himself a ham and cheese sandwich. The salmonella was transferred to the ham and both Wedge and Luke had to miss several days of work.

Tips for keeping safe in your work kitchen

Keeping yourself safe in the work kitchen is easy by following these helpful tips:

  • Keep floors clear of obstructions and dry at all timespancake
  • Do not place hot glass from the microwave in cold water or on a wet surface
  • If you have broken a glass, wrap it up before throwing it out
  • If you spill soap or oil on the floor, make sure you clean it up with hot water immediately to avoid anyone slipping over
  • If you smell gas, check the stove and notify your safety warden
  • Take the time to access your kitchen hazards and, if possible, enact appropriate risk controls
  • Display a list of health and safety tips on the wall in the kitchen that includes hazards and what to do in an emergency
  • Do not overload electrical outlets
  • Do not plug in or unplug electrical items with wet hands
  • Make sure your cook your food thoroughly
  • Test your kitchen equipment regularly
  • Don't eat food that is past its used by date
  • Follow the food storage and cooking instructions
  • Use separate knives when preparing uncooked meats and vegetables.
  • When carrying knives, keep the sharp end pointed down towards the ground
  • When moving hot foods in pots and pans tray always tell people.

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