When Your Office Kitchen Smells Like a Fish Factory

Say hypothetically, a co-worker makes a habit of microwaving fish at lunch; and not relatively odorless fish like tilapia or catfish — I’m talking the stinky stuff. Say this co-worker has been napalming your office more enthusiastically than Robert Duvall in “Apocalypse Now,” with the noxious odors emanating from the kitchen and wafting down the floor. This makes everyone else gag and crinkle their nose. Hypothetically.

Of all office etiquette issues, the stinky food dilemma is one of the most delicate.  Food choices are intensely personal. Cultural and dietary differences come into play. And everyone reacts to odors differently — what smells bad to one person barely registers to another.

I think we can all agree though, not all microwave food smells are created equal. Pesto, Chinese food, lasagna, last night’s roast chicken — good. Oily fish — bad.

I assumed the fish rule was common knowledge… but apparently it’s not.

So what to do?  Here are a few options:

1) Approach the olfactory offender tactfully. “Excuse me, is it possible for you not to microwave fish for lunch? The odor is quite strong.” Somewhat gentle, but could still lead to confrontation and hurt feelings.
2) Approach the olfactory offender less tactfully. “Dude, you gotta stop microwaving fish. Your food reeks.” Direct and to the point.
3) Print out a list of office kitchen etiquette rules, highlight the section about no stinky fish, and tape it to the microwave door. A little passive-aggressive, but possibly effective.
4) Send out a department email with a reminder of kitchen etiquette.
5) Walk around the kitchen with a stink-face and a clothes pin on your nose, and pray that someone gets the hint.

Hypothetically, a fellow co-worker attempted tactic #3. And it may not have worked, because the day the list was taped up, fish may have been microwaved once again.

Should tactics #1, #2, and #4 fail, that leaves only one option.

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