In a health-conscious society in which the focus is on eating well and being fit, perhaps more thought needs to go into not just what foods are "right" to eat but also where exactly we should be eating them.
BHP Billiton is one of many corporate workplaces where employees are subject to strict rules regarding the use of their work desks, including what foods can and cannot be eaten there.
Employees at the Australian mining firm can consume beverages, chewing gum and "a sensible amount of lollies" at their desks, but all other foods are off limits and must be eaten at designated communal areas around the building.
Employees must also clear their desks at the end of each work day with only the minimum office essentials - including a monitor, keyboard, mouse and telephone handset - to be left on the desk.
While media spokeswoman Kelly Quirke said the policy was used "to encourage security of information and to create flexibility with the use of work stations", there could also be a health benefit to it.
Many studies show that office desks have more bacteria than toilet seats, with research published by scientists at the University of San Diego revealing that more than 500 types of bacteria exist on office spaces.
The information comes after researchers swapped the chairs, phones, desktops, computer mice and keyboards of 90 office buildings in New York City, San Francsico and Tucson, before analysing the bacterial DNA to determine the types and amount of bacteria present.
While it came as no surprise to find that work desks are a hot spot for germs, the discovery that more bacteria were present on office chairs and phones than on keyboards and computer mice did surprise researchers.
Yet despite all of this, a 2010 survey of 600 Australian workers, by social researching company McCrindle Research and Australia Speak, showed that one in four Australian employees eat lunch at their desks - more than double the number who make an effort to eat outdoors.
Communal areas such as the kitchen have also been proven to be a haven for germs, with forgotten lunches and snacks putting workplace refrigerators low down on the cleanliness scale.
Senior Research Fellow in Occupational Health and Safety at Curtin University, Le Juin, said it was important for employees to recognise that, as they were sharing workplace facilities with other people, hygienic standards needed to be maintained.
"Make sure when you do your work that your hands are clean, and before you go to lunch or go to do something else that you wash your hands and have a good hygiene habit," Juin said.
She also said taking lunch breaks away from the desk were a good way for office workers to stretch and give their hands, eyes, and neck a rest.
"They are all ergonomic issues that we need to pay attention to. For every hour, you need to stand up and have a short break and do some exercise and then come back," she said.
If that's not enough to get you away from the desk, Andrew Stewart, a professor of law at the University of Adelaide, said office rules that encouraged employees to eat together were also good for building workplace friendships and morale.
"If you're encouraging, for example, people to go sit in the lunch room and eat their lunch with one another as opposed to sitting at their own desks, you know, working away through lunch ... arguably you can build a greater sense of co-operation and teamwork by doing that," Professor Stewart said.
Quirke shares these views about BHP's desk work policy, and said it "encourages you to take breaks away from your desk".
"It's so much about, not so much the strict wording of these sorts of policies, but how it's applied in practice and, at the end of the day what you want is, you want a degree of common sense and co-operation," Professor Stewart said.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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