How to Keep Employees From Stealing Other Employees' Food From Refrigerators

Food thieves strike when co-workers are busy.
i Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Office lunch bandits are sneaky. They lurk in the shadows, striking refrigerators when their co-workers are being productive. Their unsavory actions leave behind more than just empty stomachs. Emotions can spiral out of control when searches for food end in failure due to theft. Trust is lost as staff members are left wondering why anyone would resort to stealing food from co-workers. Putting an end to food theft requires a dedicated effort.

    Step 1

    Express concern about food theft at staff meetings. Take a zero-tolerance policy against stealing. Tell everyone that taking other people’s food is wrong -- no matter how small the take. This includes slicing off slivers of cake, pouring a splash of stolen milk and skimming the top from ice cream. Talk about how food theft can erode co-worker relationships.

    Step 2

    Enforce clear labeling standards for all personal food items. Tell employees to put their name, department and date on every personal package stored in the refrigerator. Suggest that small items such as cheese sticks be placed in zippered storage bags so they can also be labeled.

    Step 3

    Clean out the workplace refrigerator daily. This helps stop the excuse that “abandoned” food is up for grabs. Stress that the refrigerator is meant for temporary storage. Warn employees that food left behind at the end of each workday will be thrown out.

    Step 4

    Encourage employees to use distinctive containers. Lunch bandits may think twice about pilfering from highly recognizable containers. Ask employees to practice a hands-off policy when it comes to other people’s bags.

    Step 5

    Create a “community chest” section of the refrigerator. Some thieves take from their co-workers because they forgot or simply don’t have food to bring to work. Ease the temptation to steal by contributing guilt-free snacking options. Encouraging the entire office to share can build cohesion, while keeping personal food stores safe.

    Step 6

    Employ extreme measures. Unfortunately, some food thieves will not be deterred by simple methods. Set up a camera to monitor the break room -- after warning the staff that you're going to. Reprimand offenders with official warnings in their personnel files. Patrolling the break room can also help catch unsuspecting thieves in the act.


    • Post friendly reminders on the refrigerator about not eating what you didn't bring.


    • Don't accuse anyone of stealing without solid evidence.

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