Is Your Desk Making You Sick?

For Release August 23, 2011 
CHICAGO – A whopping 83 percent of Americans typically eat in their office or cubicle in an effort to save time and money, but not practicing proper food safety could end up costing them both. When it comes to protecting themselves against foodborne illnesses, many professionals are still “out to lunch.”

According to a new survey by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods’ Home Food Safety program, a majority of Americans continue to eat lunch (62 percent) and snack throughout the day (50 percent) at their desks, while 27 percent typically find breakfast the first thing on their desktop to-do list. Late nights at the office even leave a small percentage (4 percent) dining at their desktop for dinner.

“For many people, multitasking through lunch is part of the average workday,” says registered dietitian and ADA Spokesperson Toby Smithson. “While shorter lunch hours may result in getting more accomplished, they could also be causing workers to log additional sick days, as desktops hide bacteria that can lead to foodborne illness.”

Top of the Workplace To-Do List –
Washing Hands and Surfaces

Only half of all Americans say they always wash their hands before eating lunch. In order to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, Smithson recommends washing your hands before and after handling food with soap and warm water, and keeping your desk stocked with moist towelettes or hand sanitizer for those times you can’t get to the sink. “
A clean desktop and hands are your best defense to avoid foodborne illnesses at the office,” she says.

According to the Home Food Safety survey, only 36 percent of respondents clean their work areas—desktop, keyboard, mouse—weekly and 64 percent do so only once a month or less. A study updated in 2007 by the University of Arizona found the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat. “Treat your desktop like you would your kitchen table and counters at home,” says Smithson. “Clean all surfaces, whether at home or work, before you prepare or eat food on them.”

Forget the Water Cooler,
Gather Around the Refrigerator

Even though virtually all work places now have a refrigerator, only 67 percent of those surveyed say it is where they store their lunch. Frighteningly though, approximately one in five people admit they don’t know if it is ever cleaned or say it is rarely or never cleaned. Smithson recommends not only cleaning the office refrigerator, but also using a refrigerator thermometer to ensure food is safely stored below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

When it comes to safe refrigeration of lunches, perishable foods need to be refrigerated within two hours (one hour if the temperature is greater than 90 degrees Fahrenheit) from when it was removed from the refrigerator at home. However, survey results show that 49 percent admit to letting perishable food sit out for three or more hours, meaning foods may have begun to spoil before the first bite.

Microwave Continuing Education
Besides a refrigerator, nearly all office kitchens also have a microwave oven (97 percent), making leftovers and frozen meals easy, quick and inexpensive lunch options. It is crucial to follow the microwave cooking instructions on the package closely when cooking prepared food in the microwave.

Microwave ovens can cook unevenly and leave cold spots, where harmful bacteria can survive. The recommended way to ensure that food is cooked to the correct temperature, thereby eliminating any harmful bacteria that may be present, is to use a food thermometer. Re-heat all leftovers to the proper temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Food safety is very important, whether at home or at work. Simple things like washing your hands before preparing food and following microwave cooking instructions can really go a long way,” said Joan Menke-Schaenzer, chief global quality officer, ConAgra Foods.

For the Executive Summary of the 2011 Desktop Dining Survey results—who snacks throughout the work day, desktop cleaning habits of men and women, and much more—or to speak with ADA food and nutrition experts about food safety, please contact Ryan O’Malley, media relations manager at the American Dietetic Association, at 800/877-1600, ext. 4769, or email

*HealthFocus International conducted the home food safety survey in April 2011 for the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods through an online survey of a random sample of 2,191 full-time employees, both men and women, who work at a desk. The sample was chosen to closely match U.S. population demographics.

The American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods’ Home Food Safety program is dedicated to raising consumer awareness about the seriousness of foodborne illness and providing solutions for easily and safely handling food in their own kitchens. More information can be found at

The American Dietetic Association is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. ADA is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the American Dietetic Association at

ConAgra Foods, Inc., (NYSE: CAG) is one of North America's leading food companies, with brands in 97 percent of America's households. Consumers find Banquet, Chef Boyardee, Egg Beaters, Healthy Choice, Hebrew National, Hunt's, Marie Callender's, Orville Redenbacher's, PAM, Peter Pan, Reddi-wip, Slim Jim, Snack Pack and many other ConAgra Foods brands in grocery, convenience, mass merchandise and club stores. ConAgra Foods also has a strong business-to-business presence, supplying frozen potato and sweet potato products as well as other vegetable, spice and grain products to a variety of well-known restaurants, foodservice operators and commercial customers. For more information, please visit us at

Registered Dietitians are Essential for
Successful Treatment of Eating Disorders


As one of the most complicated sets of illnesses to treat, eating disorders have mental health, as well as medical and nutritional, aspects. While treatment by a multidisciplinary health-care team is considered the best practice, there is considerable debate over how to most effectively treat eating disorders and who should be on a treatment team.

In a newly updated position paper, the American Dietetic Association says nutrition counseling by a registered dietitian is an “essential component” of successful care for people diagnosed with eating disorders. ADA’s position paper on “Nutrition Intervention in the Treatment of Eating Disorders” has been published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that nutrition intervention, including nutrition counseling by a registered dietitian, is an essential component of the team treatment of patients with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders during assessment and treatment across the continuum of care.

Eating disorders are serious illnesses affecting approximately 8 million Americans at any given time. While anyone can suffer from an eating disorder, affecting all cultures, ages and genders, they are most common in teen and young adult women. All forms of eating disorders can be fatal. It is critical for anyone with symptoms of an eating disorder to seek professional help. Early treatment gives the greatest chance for a full recovery.

More information about eating disorders is available on ADA’s website.

ADA’s position paper was written by registered dietitians Amy D. Ozier, PhD, RD, LDN, assistant professor of family, consumer and nutrition sciences at Northern Illinois University; and Beverly W. Henry, PhD, RD, LDN, associate professor of family, consumer and nutrition sciences at NIU.

In addition, ADA’s has produced its first practice paper on eating disorders, providing up-to-date information for registered dietitians on current research and controversies in the field; offers guidance on diagnostic criteria, symptoms, assessment and treatment of eating disorders; and delineates concrete ideas about the role of RDs.

ADA’s position paper is designed to:
·    Increase awareness of the types of disordered eating and eating disorders
·    Detail emerging issues including associations between binge eating disorder and overweight and obesity
·    Focus on special populations such as athletes, adolescents and those considering bariatric surgery
·    Address other challenging issues encountered in treatment of eating disorders such as insurance coverage. 

“The complexities of EDs, such as epidemiologic factors, treatment guidelines, special populations and emerging trends highlight the nature of EDs, which require a collaborative approach by an interdisciplinary team of mental health, nutrition and medical specialists,” the authors of ADA’s position paper write. “RDs are integral members of treatment teams and are uniquely qualified to provide medical nutrition therapy for the normalization of eating patterns and nutritional status. However, this role requires understanding of the psychologic and neurobiologic aspects of EDs. Advanced training is needed to work effectively with this population. Further efforts with evidence-based research must continue for improved treatment outcomes related to EDs, along with identification of effective primary and secondary interventions.”

The authors note that a registered dietitian’s role in the nutritional care of individuals with eating disorders “is supported by the American Psychological Association, the Academy for Eating Disorders and the American Academy of Pediatrics....An RD may be the first to recognize an individual’s ED symptoms or be the first health-care professional consulted by a patient for this condition,” and registered dietitians can facilitate the referral process and help the patient understand the effectiveness of a full treatment team. “Multiple components of nutrition assessment performed by RDs can contribute to treatment plans.”

The purpose of the practice paper is to provide registered dietitians with updated information about the development of eating disorders and to bridge the gap across multidisciplinary health-care teams by describing unique contributions of registered dietitians in treating the full spectrum of eating disorders in a variety of settings.

The practice paper also addresses such issues as:
·    Registered dietitians’ unique contributions to multidisciplinary teams treating eating disorders
·    Evidence why leading researchers are calling eating disorders “brain disorders” (since physical symptoms of eating disorders may be caused or worsened by malnutrition or under-nutrition)
·    How RDs treat this spectrum of disorders
·    Controversial subjects related to eating disorders
·    Encouragement to RDs to become more literate about eating disorders and work to improve understanding and treatment.

RDs are encouraged in ADA’s practice paper to become more literate and skilled in working with patients who have eating disorders and to embrace essential priorities that include collaboration, communication and advanced training. The practice paper will be published online as a resource for ADA members and accessible only to members. 

The authors of the practice paper are Therese Waterhous, PhD, RD, LD, owner and president of Willamette Nutrition Source LLC, Corvallis, Ore.; and Melanie A. Jacob, RD, owner of Nutrition Therapy LLC, Troy, Mich.

The American Dietetic Association is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. ADA is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the American Dietetic Association at

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