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15 Foods you shouldn’t microwave at work (for your co-workers’ sake)

Offices are tightly enclosed, relatively self-contained structures. That’s why one little food mishap is more than enough to fill any workplace with a cornucopia of smells your fellow co-workers don’t want to smell.

microwave sign

Image: Doug Waldron/Flickr

If you’re not sure which foods are likely to produce such aromas, we’ve compiled a list of some of the worst offenders. Be a good corporate citizen, and avoid these foods when you’re reheating your lunch in the office.

1. Popcorn


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You might be thinking to yourself, “Wait… Popcorn smells good!” It sure does! The mere scent is enough to drive most mortals mad if they can’t have some. So bring enough to share with anyone who gets a whiff, or leave it at home. Also, burnt popcorn is one of the worst smells. Ever.

2. Indian food


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Indian food is delicious, but the smell can be overpowering to those not used to it. That’s why unless you’re sure your co-workers are OK with it, leave the curries at home.

3. Steak


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First, don’t reheat steak in the microwave anyway! Second, if you do reheat it (or worse, use a stove at your office), your co-workers will be overpowered with the smell of mouthwatering meat or eye-watering char.

4. Ridiculously spicy food


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Ever heard of pepper spray? Good! Don’t make your own at work.

The more-hot spices (think cayenne, ghost pepper, etc.) are delicious if you like that sort of thing, and sheer agony if you don’t. If the spice gets airborne, it can mix with the liquid in your eyes and produce a nasty burning sensation. You might love spice of all kinds, but in most offices, there’s someone who just doesn’t want to deal with it.

5. Gumbo


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Gumbo’s issues lie between popcorn and spicy food. Despite being mighty good (we guarantee!), gumbo smells very strong. This can lead to more people wanting to devour it. However, it can also be very spicy and therefore upsetting to people’s eyes, noses and stomachs.

6. Smoky ribs

Bad BBQ pit

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Yeah, you’d think everyone loves the smell of good barbecue. Heck, it’s almost better than the taste. However, when you throw on your bib and nuke your leftover ribs, you’re going to waft that odor back into the air. Next thing, your workplace starts to smell like a smokehouse, which you might love, but others probably don’t care to get that smoke into their clothes, hair, even skin.

7. Frozen fish


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If you want to reheat catfish, tilapia, etc., you’re probably OK. On the other hand, really fatty fish, like salmon or whole trout, can release some funk when they hit the microwave. Besides, who wants to eat a whole fish at work anyway? It’s even worse when the fish is frozen. So stay away from fish in general, and go with a less-stinky chicken.

8. Cheese

Burnt cheese!

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Ever hear the expression “cut the cheese”? It applies to reheating too.

9. Fermented vegetables


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Kimchee is tangy, spicy, delicious and odoriferous. It’s probably OK to eat cold, since there’s nothing to waft the smell into the air. Once you nuke kimchee or other fermented veggies, get ready for some grumpy, grumpy co-workers.

10. Bacon


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Yes, you love bacon. We get it. But when you cook it at work, it reminds us how much we love bacon too. Please, please stop cooking it so we can get back to our bagged salad?

11. Heavily garlicky foods

Shaved garlic

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Garlic is an aromatic for a reason. Its smell will seek out every nook and cranny of your office and not stop stinking for days. Some people just don’t like that sort of thing.

12. Any “borderline” foods

Rotten food

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If you suspect your food has expired, is deceased or is now home to a colony of something you don’t want to think about, then throw it out. Chances are you’re right, and you’re about to throw a whole lot of foul smell all over your co-workers’ nostrils.

13. Apple pie

Apple pie

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Nothing smells as warm and inviting as apple pie. Unfortunately someone around you is on a diet or just really, really wants a bite, and you probably don’t have enough to share.

14. Durian


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Durian smells so bad you’re not allowed to carry it on buses in Asia. Why would you subject your co-workers to that smell?

15. Brussels sprouts

Bad sprouts

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Brussels sprouts have enough of a bad rep without constantly reminding everyone that when cooked, they release a nice bouquet of sulfur. Leave the Brussels sprouts at home, and go with something innocuous like green beans.

More office food etiquette

Party food: What to bring to your office potluck
14 Filling foods to stash in your desk
The cubicle diet: Tips for healthy eating while at work

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