Ethnic smelly food, a no-no in the office

CaribbeanfishSome ethnic food has a strong or spicy smell when heated; however, the person bringing the food might not be as sensitive to the smell as other co-workers who are not used to that kind of food. People might complaint or just get upset.Clients visiting the office might think your business stinks as much as your office. Is it OK to have a policy against strong-smelling food in the office? And if so, what is the right thing to do?

Alison Green, from the website, recommends:

Sure, you can absolutely have a policy against heating up strong-smelling food in the office microwave, and plenty of offices do.

You want to make sure, of course, that your policy isn’t unfairly targeting people of a particular ethnicity or national origin, who might bring in foods that smell different from what the rest of your employees are used to. So your policy needs to tackle strong smells across the board, both in wording and in how you enforce it. But yes, it’s entirely reasonable to have a policy that says something like, “For the comfort of employees and visitors, foods that produce strong smells should not be microwaved or consumed in the office.”

Of course, even after the implementing that policy, you might still discover that people don’t always realize that their food smells strongly to others, and if that happens, then you’d need to tell them. As in: “Jane, would you mind not heating up fish and similar foods in the office microwave? The smell carries pretty strongly.”

If, in response to that, the employee asserts her right to cook whatever she wants, you can explain that no, in fact the office doesn’t allow foods that produce strong smells to be cooked there, end of story.

So this is one of those cultural behaviors that seems to be banned in the workplace. What do you think about this policy? Have you encountered this problem in your office or workplace? What is your company’s policy? We would love to hear from you sharing your experiences and how you handled it!


  • Award-winning journalist, author, multicultural expert, public speaker, small business advocate and the Editor-in-Chief of Susana is an Argentinean immigrant who started her own small business over 20 years ago. Now, through her new digital platform and social media channels, she advocates for the economic empowerment of Latinas in the United States.

2 replies
  1. K
    K says:

    There is no non-ethnic food. All dishes were invented by some ethnoses. Calling some food ‘ethnic’ is racist and ethnocentric


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