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Office refrigerator stench packs punch, sends seven to hospital

  • Story Highlights
  • AT&T worker cleans out refrigerator filled with rotting food, forcing office evacuation
  • Spoiled food combined with cleaning chemicals caused noxious fumes
  • Worker who cleaned refrigerator had allergies, and didn't smell a thing
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(CNN) -- We've all been there: reached for our food in the office refrigerator, only to recoil from the stench from the crammed containers of decomposing food.

When a worker at an AT&T building in San Jose, California, took it upon herself to clean out an office refrigerator during her lunch hour Tuesday, the smell from the moldy food was so noxious that it sent seven of her co-workers to the hospital and prompted the evacuation of all 325 people in the building.

"It was like a brick wall hit you," employee Robin Leetieh told CNN affiliate KGO-TV. "Stopped you immediately."

The refrigerator had been unplugged for some time and moved into a conference room for cleaning. When the woman tried to scrub down the mess, the stench from the cleaning chemicals combined with the rotting food.

"It caused some to vomit, some to just get nauseous. And it, for us, activated a hazardous incident," Capt. Barry Stallard of the San Jose fire department told the television station.

Another office worker tried to cover up the odor -- and made matters worse.

"Someone also took some spray and tried to deodorize the air," Stallard said. "And it turned out that was spot cleaner, not a deodorant. So it made people very sick."

Firefighters set up a triage area in the building's parking lot. In all, 28 workers reported feeling sick. Seven were taken to hospitals for evaluation.

Not among them: the woman who volunteered to clean the fridge.

She suffers from allergies, firefighters said, and had had nasal surgery.

She didn't smell a thing.

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