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A recent tweet about a worker’s lunch going missing and security footage being viewed to find the culprit went viral after employees everywhere related to the common office crime.

Last week, an employee shared this saga on Twitter: A co-worker’s lunch was stolen, and HR and the victim viewed the security camera tape to find a female colleague removing the man’s lunch from the fridge and tossing it into the trash. The man didn’t want her to get in trouble, but HR emailed the whole company to remind them not to steal, or in this case, throw out, each other’s food.


Common criminals

While the series of tweets were funny, food theft is a common office occurrence that leaves many employees angry and frustrated.

A survey by the online grocer Peapod found that 71% of workers have had a snack, drink or meal stolen from the communal kitchen.  Only about 35% of employees admitted to swiping someone’s food, though.


Art Markman, author of “The Psychology Behind Why People Steal Their Co-Workers’ Stuff,” says that food thieves generally don’t think it’s a big deal and justify their behavior in the following ways:

  • “It’s like the fridge at home — everything’s up for grabs.”
  • “I was starving and couldn’t help myself.”
  • “It’s not like I’m stealing someone’s money.”

Survey respondent John, a self-confessed fridge raider, admits to taking co-workers’ sandwiches or leftovers somewhat regularly. His philosophy is anything’s up for grabs if the person’s already gone home for the day, because “day old food is gross.” He’ll leave things with a longer shelf life alone.


Preventative measures

There are a few ways employers can tackle lunch theft. Offering some free snacks in communal areas can reduce the number of hungry employees who resort to stealing.

Encouraging employees to put their names on their food items can cut down on theft, too. Better yet, bringing food in a brightly colored or personalized lunch bag will make it more noticeable when a worker has food that isn’t theirs.

From an HR standpoint, Markman says food theft can really damage morale and cause friction between employees. Taking measures to catch and discipline lunch thieves can send a clear message that stealing food won’t be tolerated.