It would seem that the amount of heat in the kitchen serves as a deterrent for chefs to keep long hairstyles, but it proves to be not enough. In reality, many chefs sport long hair and beards.
But is sporting long hair and beards truly acceptable for chefs in this modern time?
After all, hair can be considered a foreign object found in food. There is also the stereotypical concept of cleanliness for chefs to be considered, which is that clean haircuts and clean-shaven faces are more presentable.
How do food establishments navigate this issue? How are other chefs handling it?
Can your guests get sick from eating stray hair in food?
An interesting article from Pop Sci shares a study by Maria Colavincenzo, a dermatologist at Northwestern University who specializes in hair. According to Colavincenzo, hair won’t cause any problems when digested since it comprises a dense protein called Keratin that is chemically inactive in hair. Colavincenzo adds that in the unlikely event that staph bacteria is present in the hair, the tiny amount of staph that can hide on a hair or two is not enough to lead to gastrointestinal problems.
Are hair covers and restraints still needed?
The practical measures issued by the Australian food safety standard include restraining hair by tying it back, using hair nets, beard restraints, scarfs, hats, etc. Requiring persons to restrain hair keeps dislodged hair from ending up in the food and may deter persons from touching their hair.
Most production/packaging kitchens are stricter in implementing these standards, perhaps because the hair in food that is stored for more extended periods has a higher risk of becoming a source of foodborne pathogens over time.
And while this is a guide, it is a gray area as there is no immediate requirement for food handlers to wear hats, hair coverings or nets, beard restraints or other coverings. Hence, each kitchen is free to choose from.
Yet many chefs prefer not to wear hats when cooking, as wearing one can cause more harm than good. A chef’s head with a hat can quickly overheat with the hot kitchen temperature, tempting chefs to remove the hat for some relief constantly. In addition, the constant putting on and removal of the hat produces a greater risk of hair falling into the food.
Without the hat, chefs are unlikely to touch their hair when cooking and as such, hair contamination is not a common problem. It also provides practicality and comfort. Try working with hair clinging to your sweaty face – not fun.
Many prefer to use breathable chef wraps that serve to keep hair off the face, cover the head and wick sweat. Hairnets, though useful, are less visually appealing. Hair spray or tying back the hair in a ponytail or braids alone are not effective hair restraints for long hair. But, doing so can help contain hair underneath a head covering.
The same goes for beards with beard nets. Many argue that the kitchen’s heat makes wearing a beard net very uncomfortable. They put it on and off several times during a shift causing hair to fall out.
How about hairy arms? Gloves are encouraged for people with unusually hairy hands, especially when kneading the sticky dough.
Is clean hair a must even if hair restraints are used?
Good hygiene is always encouraged when working around food. After all, hair tends to attract grease and smell. And while hair coverings can be used, sweat rolling down from unwashed hair and rolling onto the plate can be off-putting.
Overwashing of hair can lead to scalp and hair damage, so dry washing using dry shampoo or cornstarch on the scalp can be an option to counter the grease. Some chefs braid their hair to minimize the chance of making their whole head smell like the kitchen.
Beards can also benefit from excellent and regular cleaning maintenance, perhaps beard oil for the manageability of appearance and texture.
Interestingly, many chefs in this modern time sport long hair and beards. Thanks to the rise of reality tv cooking shows, doing so has become acceptable. Whatever way restaurant kitchens decide to implement hair containment’s food safety standard guide, food safety should always be a top priority.
As for finding hair on your guest’s plate, chefs know that this will eventually happen regardless of how careful they are or how clean they keep the kitchen. It may not even be from their kitchen but from the guest themselves. What’s important is how the issue is resolved with as much dignity and grace afforded to both the guests and the restaurant staff.
That’s it for this week.
As always, Professional Chefs on Call at Anytime!
Ciao for now,