Thousands of Americans do it every day: eat lunch at their desk.
According to the American Dietetic Association, as many as 70 percent of Americans engage in “desk dining” several times per week.
Kelsa Ferguson, field specialist in nutrition with University of Missouri Extension, says dining at your desk has health and nutrition downsides.
For starters, when you eat at your desk, you are not the only living creature eating there. “You are contributing food for bacteria to thrive,” Ferguson said.
A study by microbiologist Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona found lots of bacteria in offices. In fact, offices typically have 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat.
The places with the most germs are, in order, phones, desktops and keyboards.
“To prevent growth and spreading of germs and bacteria, clean your phone, work area and keyboard often to decrease exposure to these potential illness-causing bacteria,” Ferguson said.
She suggests using a disinfecting or sanitizing solution. A damp cloth only spreads the germs around. It is also a good idea to frequently wash your hands.
Ferguson says desktop dining is potentially unhealthy from a nutritional standpoint as well.
“If you are working at your computer desk, you may overeat by not paying attention to the amount of food you are eating,” she said.
People who eat at their desks may also be in such a hurry that they just grab something quick from a vending machine. Those types of foods don’t represent healthy choices.
“Eating at your desk also means your body doesn’t get the chance to move around,” Ferguson said.
Take health steps
Ferguson says it is possible to be healthy and enjoy desktop dining. But doing so takes time.
“You really should wipe down your desk area before and after you eat to keep the germs away,” she said. “Then plan for your desktop dining experience.”
Ferguson recommends preparing your lunches at home. This lets you pack the correct portion size (to prevent overeating) and plan a well-rounded meal that contains protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
“Make sure you store that lunch in the refrigerator,” she said. “Food stored at room temperature can grow harmful bacteria. If you store food around your desk, make sure it is packaged well so that you do not invite crawling pests to your area.”