5 genius ways to catch someone stealing food at work

Updated on September 6, 2023
how to stop someone from stealing your food at work
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How do you catch someone stealing food at work? This is something that happened to me a few years ago.

I remember it being another wonderful day at the office! It was a productive morning and it was finally time for me to reward myself with the homemade lunch that I had brought for myself.

So I went to the fridge in the lunchroom thinking that all I needed to do was to microwave my meal for about 20 seconds, get a fork, and dig in! Yum-yum! I was ravenously hungry and Flavortown was just a minute away!

Only to discover. Nothing. A cold shapeless void.

The food that was prepared with love and care for me by my sweet and kind grandmother was gone. Somebody had stolen my lunch.

Eventually, I found out that other colleagues have had their lunch stolen recently. So it seemed that we had a serial lunch thief lurking around who was stealing food at work.

How exciting! A chance to test my skills as a sleuth who would do everything possible to solve a mystery.

Of course, at the time I didn’t have the slightest of clues that my investigation would eventually uncover an international conspiracy and conclude with a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Just kidding. I simply put the following note on the fridge.

“I saw you steal food from the fridge!!! Please stop!!!
If one more lunch disappears, I will announce your name to the entire company!!!
You will be publicly shamed and fired for a freakin’ sandwich!!!”

My bluff worked like a charm and we solved our problem. No more food-stealing happened ever again.

So has this ever happened to you? Is this unforgivable crime being committed again and again every week where you work? Employees eating other employees' food is actually a common occurrence.

Food theft at work is incredibly unpleasant and it can harm team morale and lower productivity. So you can’t let this go on!

And there’s is plenty that you can do to stop it. Here are a few strategies that you apply.

How to catch the office food thief

How to catch the office food thief

Catching the office food thief is a task that requires some cunning, patience, and thinking outside the box. This will test your creativity and your abilities to communicate and negotiate with people.

Of course, you know your situation best, and by all means, you should apply ideas and tactics that come to mind depending on your capabilities.

Keep in mind that somebody stealing food at work can be a sign of passive aggression in the workplace.

That said, here is how to catch a food thief in your office.

1. Do not mix laxatives in your food and drinks

Let’s just get something out of the way first. It is about how NOT to catch the food thief. Right now you might be tempted to go for the oldest trick in the book.

However, putting a dangerous amount of laxatives in your food might get you in trouble.

You might be thinking that there will be no way for them to prove that you did it on purpose specifically to get back at the lunch thief and you are most likely correct.

How will they know? Still, it is advisable not to risk such a serious offense just to catch someone stealing food from the work fridge. Instead, simply try the rest of the tactics outlined here as they are much safer.

2. Leave a worrisome note on the fridge

This one worked for me and I am confident that it will work for you as well. Take a piece of paper and use a red marker to write something like “We know that you stole the food, don’t do it again or we will tell everyone and you will be fired!”.

Or maybe something like “Whoever ate my sandwich, please contact me immediately because it contained my medicine and it is dangerous for healthy people to have it.”

If we apply some critical thinking, such a message doesn’t really make much sense but let’s hope that the thief’s anxiety will get the better of them and they will come forward worried about their health.

3. Put some cat food in your lunch

This is a nasty one. But dealing with extraordinary situations requires extraordinary means. So simply visit a pet store and purchase the most delectable cat food that you can find.

You know they sometimes put little bits of veggies in there? Yes, that would be perfect. Go for something that looks “mouthwatering'', smear it on a piece of bread, and top it with another to make the perfect cat food sandwich for thieves.

In case the sandwich is gone, make sure to leave a cryptic message that only the food thief will get. Something like “Isn’t it funny how cat food can look (and taste) like human food?” - they will surely get the meaning.

4. Serve them the hottest chili peppers in existence

Wait, what if they don’t like spicy food? They will see those chili peppers sticking out of the sandwich and avoid it like the plague. My friend, these days chili peppers come in all kinds of forms.

Simply get some Carolina Reaper chili powder and mix it with mayo to create a delicious-looking sauce. Make sure to spread a generous amount on each side of the sandwich.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Just to clarify, Carolina Reaper is the hottest chili pepper in the world. Even the smallest amount can cause gagging, hiccups, crying, rivers of snot, and even vomiting.

All at the same time. I’ve personally had a fresh slice of it and I can describe the sensation of having your mouth on fire and being melted from the inside. Swallowing it feels like having your throat sliced by a white-hot scalpel from the inside.

The best part about this method is that you might be able to catch the office lunch thief in the act.

As soon as they have that first bite of doom, they will be running towards the nearest water tap in a futile attempt to put down the scorching inferno going on in their mouth.

5. Wait, do you happen to have a CCTV camera in the office?

How did we not think of probably the most civilized way to resolve the situation? Of course, you can turn to technology for help.

Just speak to your manager or go straight to the person in charge of security and ask to see the CCTV footage.

In case you find out who the office food thief is, resolve the situation in accordance with your company’s policy.

Keep in mind that something like this can be considered gross misconduct and the person might lose their job.

How to stop coworkers from eating your food

How to stop coworkers from eating your food

By trying to stop coworkers from eating your food, you are probably doing a favor to other people by investigating your very own case because they might be falling victim to the office food thief but are embarrassed to come forward.

Employees eating other employees' food is actually a very common problem. This can be a sign of low morale and perhaps you are dealing with toxic coworkers.

Prevention is far better than actually dealing with the problem. So here are some wonderful strategies on how to stop someone from eating your food.

1. Eat together - it’s great for many reasons!

It would be wonderful if you and your colleagues had lunch together. This way the lunch thief has to conform with the norm and they don’t get the chance to sneakily snatch somebody’s lunch.

Also, eating together with your coworkers every day can be a bonding experience. You get to talk about things other than work and get to know each other a little better.

This boosts morale in the office and improves communication and the overall productivity of everyone.

Of course, don't resort to this method in case there are certain annoying coworkers that you are trying to avoid.

2. Make your food look “unappetizing”

You can purchase a few sandwich bags with fake moldy spots. Or you can put a couple of plastic toy bugs in your food. This is a long shot but it just might work.

And if someone suddenly raises a concern that there is a box of chili in the fridge with cockroaches in it, that person should immediately fall under suspicion. Why are they looking at other people’s food, right?

3. Bring your food in a box that locks

I laughed when I found out that stolen food in the office is such a big problem so they started an entire industry around it. Apparently, you can purchase a sturdy food box with a locking mechanism.

I have personally never had one but it seems like a reasonable, safe, and effective solution to the problem. I should have probably started with this one, huh?

4. Put weird labels on your food containers

A classic example is to label your food with your boss's name, or better yet the company owner’s name. Nobody would even dare to glance once again at a food container labeled “Jeff”.

Also, you can let your imagination run wild and opt for something scary like “myoglobin sample” or “fungi experiment #47”.

You can also label them with prescription drug names or maybe something in a foreign language to confuse and scare the thief.

5. Buy your very own small fridge

In case your desk has a spare socket available, you can bring in your very own mini portable fridge. Is this a bit excessive?

Sure. But do you remember what I said earlier about extraordinary situations?

Besides, the comfort of your very own small fridge near you can’t be underestimated if you like to enjoy cold beverages during the hot summer months.

Note: Dealing with a food thief at work can be stressful. Especially if you are able to figure out who they are and confront them. You can find our complete series of blog posts on coping with difficult coworkers to be quite helpful.

Key takeaways

  • There are many tactics that you can use to catch an office food thief.
  • Leave a note on the fridge with a bluff that you know their identity.
  • If it doesn’t work, try some of the other tactics outlined here.
  • Do not lace your food with a strong laxative, this could be very dangerous.
  • Suggest to your coworkers to have lunch together to boost team morale.

Frequently asked questions about food theft at work

What are the legal implications of setting up a camera in the office without informing employees?

Installing cameras without informing employees may violate privacy laws and rights in many jurisdictions. Always consult legal counsel before surveillance implementation.

How can companies create a secure environment to prevent food theft?

Companies can use lockable fridges or personal storage containers, implement clear policies on personal belongings, and foster a culture of respect and trust.

What steps should management take if the food thief is found to be in a position of authority?

Management should address the issue impartially, considering disciplinary actions, counseling, or training, ensuring that position doesn't influence the response.

What are some signs or patterns to look out for if you suspect someone is stealing food?

Signs might include consistent theft on specific days/times, unusual loitering around the fridge, or defensive behavior when the topic is raised.

Is it advisable to confront a suspected food thief without concrete evidence?

No, it's best to gather evidence or witness accounts first. Confronting without proof can lead to false accusations and harm workplace relationships.

What are the potential repercussions for an employee caught stealing food?

Repercussions can range from verbal warnings to formal disciplinary actions, depending on company policy and the severity of the offense.

Written by:
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galin office topics square
co-founder / office worker
Alex has been an office worker for more than 10 years. He is dedicated to helping other office workers to achieve the perfect life-work balance through well-being, effective communication, and building productive habits.

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