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Tips to avoid a stinky lunchbox in an open-plan office

Here’s a list of better ways to eat some of the more offensive lunchbox contenders to avoid being a target for office drama

by: Andrea Fedder | 25 Feb 2020
Lunch Box

The workplace can be tension-riddled enough without adding pungent lunch times to the dynamics. Here’s a list of better ways to eat some of the more offensive lunchbox contenders to avoid being a target for office drama. Ignore at your social peril.

The hard-boiled egg

This is a highly compact protein source. Though great on hikes, in an enclosed office space it can be a bit too sulphurous on the nose. 

How to put a hard-boiled egg in your lunchbox with less pong:

- Don’t overcook them. The harder they get, the more sulphurous (AKA stinkier) they’ll become.

- Add vinegar to the water when you boil the eggs, it will neutralise the odour.


Fish, in the salty sea air setting, smells like the ocean. That’s because it’s really fresh. But when you shove it in a container for several hours, it becomes an olfactory explosive device thanks to a fishy enzyme that gets converted into trimethylamine oxide once the fish is killed. 

How to make fish less smelly for office eating:

- Rinse it under water before you cook it. This washes off most of the trimethylamine oxide.

- If it’s the kind of fish that can be cooked in milk, that will help. The casein protein in the milk binds to the trimethylamine oxide and keeps your catch smelling ocean-fresh.

- If possible, don’t reheat it in the office. Rather turn it into a cold salad or fish-mayo sarmie.

Blue cheese or the like 

Taking funky cheeses to work is just odd. Since they’re not the kind of thing that usually ends up on a samie, they’re probably leftover from your cheese and wine night. No one is interested in the story of debauchery that explains why the lunchroom smells like grandpa’s socks. If you have leftovers from your wacky wine weekend, you weren’t doing it right. Funky cheese should just be finished while you’re in funky town.

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts 

Re-heating these cruciferous dudes in the microwave will definitely leave the whole room smelling a bit ripe.

How to prep your broccoli:

- Steam for 30 to 60 seconds and then quickly submerge into ice water.

- Alternatively, place a little tub of coffee grinds in the container with the broccoli. That should absorb any remaining sulphur smells.

- If you can, eat them raw in a salad. Cut them much smaller and you probably won’t notice. It’s healthier and less smelly.

Pickled onions, sauerkraut, kimchi and the like 

Fermented foods may be all the rage now, but it will also evoke co-worker rage if you crank open a jar of almost anything that’s been stewing in its own juices. It’s a tricky one to make tolerable – unless you’re going to burn incense or bring enough for everyone to partake, it’s probably best to abstain from these.


Cooked cabbage has a way of fouling up a room very quickly. The sulphur in the plant multiplies the longer you cook it, so when you’re reheating it in an office environment, no matter how stinky it was before, you’re guaranteed to stench up the place by reheating it.

How to do cabbage in your the lunchbox

- If you must have cabbage at work, eat it as part of coleslaw.

- It’s said that a tablespoon of lemon in the cooking water neutralises the sulphur, but test it over the weekend first, not on your colleagues.

Kindness is free

Some foods are so ingrained in certain cultures that it doesn’t even occur to them that the smell may be less than appealing. Check yourself before you make any public disclaimers of disgust over someone else’s food. A public disregard for another’s norm, which can be totally, is far more offensive than any lingering pungent food odours.

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