Those who work in shared spaces will know too well how quickly the communal fridge can become a point of conflict for all who regularly open its out-of-date-milk-carton-lined doors.
Many of us have fallen victim to the sudden anger-fuelled fridge clean out, and lost perfectly good lunches without so much as a passive-aggressive warning. Before you know it, last night's leftovers have joined a bloated bin bag filled with the crusty remnants from the last office bake-off.
Within each workplace there has evolved a distinct set of personalities, which readily partake in the office fridge wars. To identify them is to give yourself an advantage.
We've all encountered the quarrelsome cleaner, whose frustration is often expressed in an office-wide email that becomes a little too personal -- questioning the state of their colleague's homes based on their lack of workplace etiquette.
Then there are casualties whose provisions regularly disappear, resulting in yet another office-wide email regarding the whereabouts of that gone-but-not-forgotten banana that was 'specifically being saved to have with my tea at 3 pm.' This personality type is prone, naturally, to leaving anonymous Post-It notes throughout the kitchen.
Then we have the pilferers, who can be positioned on a scale on which one end there are those who think a stolen slice of cheese here and there, will go unnoticed. On the other end of this slippery scale, are those who feel comfortable taking sealed beverages and wrapped food without a thought.
There are individuals with various levels of olfactory sensitivity, too. Of course, we have colleagues who see no harm in bringing strongly scented dishes into the kitchen, only to leave their leftovers uncovered. The tin lids of their sardines are returned to the fridge, rolled halfway open, allowing odours to disperse long after they've left for long-service leave. At the other end of this scale is the colleague who is unable to deal with the slightest hint of flavour in a teammate's lunchbox and, usually, has no qualms about confronting the situation head-on.
The final personality I have identified is the fence sitter, who claims they don't generally use the fridge, sympathises with both the cleaners and the culprits, and suddenly becomes very busy at their desk when a frenzied throw-out begins of a Friday afternoon. I can recognise this personality with ease -- because this describes me.
Fortunately, whether you're a fence sitter or not, there are some simple ways you can ensure you come out on top in the fridge wars -- or, at the very least, steer clear of the nasty emails they prompt.
- Avoid bulk-buys that require refrigeration. You're not only asking office thieves to suppose you won't notice one yoghurt missing from your six-pack, but you're also taking up prime fridge real estate and will inevitably be chided via Post-It notes.
- On that note, where dairy is involved, set yourself a gentle reminder to consume it before expiry. There is nothing less collegial than leaving lumpy, long-curdled sour cream in a communal fridge for all to whiff. Give inedible items the boot -- today.
- This leads me to my concluding tip: as wonderful as these items can be when stored and enjoyed in the privacy of your own home kitchen, fermented foods (including kimchi), particularly pungent cheeses (including the likes of Époisses), fish that requires re-heating and -- repeat after me -- malodorous produce (including Durian) has no place in a communal space.
Now, have your cake – but label and eat it before its use-by too.