Fridge wars: beating the food thieves

By admin
Category: Social | Date: Wed 22 Oct, 2008

Has this happened to you yet? You wake up one morning, stagger bleary-eyed into the kitchen, stick the kettle on, grab your cereal box from the cupboard, and reach into the fridge. Only to find … someone’s nicked your milk.

Food theft is an unfortunate fact of life in almost any communal-style living arrangement, but student halls and houses seem even more prone to it than offices and “professional” shared places. Drunkenness, hangovers and disorganisation are amongst possible reasons why some fellow student might have swiped your food.

Short of staking out the kitchen, setting up spy cameras, or persuading your landlord/uni to supply you with one of these … what can you do to prevent your food from being nicked?

Set ground rules

At some point, it’s a good idea to chat to the people who share your kitchen about everyone’s expectations. There tend to be “unwritten rules” about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour as regards communal facilities, and if everyone seems to be playing by these, insisting on drafting a formal document will come across as a tad anal. Reasonable expectations are:

  • Pots, pans, plates and cutlery can be used by everyone, regardless of who they belong to, so long as the person using them washes them up afterwards.
  • Foodstuffs where a negligible amount is used each time (herbs, salt, pepper) can be used by anyone.
  • Communal foodstuffs (often bread and milk, maybe pasta, rice etc) can be used by anyone, if these are purchased with that understanding – this is something you need to get everyone to agree on. Some students find a “milk rota” useful.
  • “Special” foods should not be scoffed by anyone but the owner, without express permission. (These include the cake your grandma baked you, those extra-gooey-double-chocolate-chip cookies that knocked a sizeable dent in your loan)..
  • Foods significantly past their use-by date can be chucked away by anyone, in the interests of hygiene.
  • If you “borrow” someone else’s food, you should replace it as soon as possible. That means actually going and buying more of the foodstuff, not just chucking them some cash to make up for the lost food.

Label stuff in the fridge

I’d recommend labelling all your stuff. Yes, your corridor-mates will probably think you’re a bit anal (I’m sure mine thought that about me!), but sticking a label on your cheese/milk/etc in the communal fridge reminds would-be thieves that the food belongs to someone, and prevents you from accidentally taking someone else’s food in mistake for your own.

An alternative to this is to get a big Tupperware box and pop all your chilled stuff in it, then keep the box in the fridge. This does make it a bit more of a pain to actually get at your ham/cheese/eggs, but this goes both ways: it’ll be more of a pain for the thief, too.

Keep things in your room

If you’re having recurrent problems with food going missing, or if you’re just suspicious and untrusting by nature, try keeping any particular goodies in your room. Dried stuff can be stashed in your wardrobe without coming to any harm, and you could even invest in a mini-fridge to keep chilled goods safe from prowling fingers.

The drawback to keeping food in your room is that, during an essay-crisis moment, it’s all that much easier to keep reaching for another cookie or a bag of crisps…

If all else fails…

…check out Passive-Aggressive Notes for their wonderful collection of exasperated fridge notes. Leaving a polite but firm note in the kitchen might strike guilt into the heart of the mystery food thief. Alternatively, it might give everyone a good laugh. Either way, you’re probably doing a public service.

If you are having serious and ongoing problems with people taking food (not the occasional dash of milk or slice of bread, but whole unopened packs going missing), it might be worth having a word with other corridor-mates or housemates and discussing a solution. Don’t be shy to ask others if they’re also having problems: it’s not fair for you to spend your money and your time buying food that people then steal.

Over to you

Further reading

Have you had problems with food going walkies overnight? Do you blame those mathematics students facing 8am lectures, the two permanently drunk guys at the end of the corridor, or the mysterious “gremlins”? Have you successfully solved a food crisis or caught a fridge raider? Let us know in the comments…

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