Hair can be both physical and biological hazards in the food service industry.
How can it be both? It’s a physical hazard because it's a foreign object in food. Like any other foreign object, hair could potentially harm anyone who puts it in their mouth. Hair is also a biological hazard because it carries many disease-causing pathogens that could make customers sick.
Why wear a hair restraint?
Many people who work in the food service industry are familiar with the recommendation to wear a hair restraint, such as a baseball cap, hair net, and beard net. Worn properly, hair restraints can prevent hair from contaminating food.
According to section 2-402.11 of the FDA Food code: “A hair restraint keeps dislodged hair from ending up in the food and may deter employees from touching their hair." This is crucial to prevent cross-contamination. Staphylococcus aureus is an example of a common pathogen that is found on skin and hair. If enough of the bacteria is ingested, it could cause illness. Common symptoms of this illness include vomiting, nausea, and stomach cramps.
If you do touch your hair or adjust your hair net or hat, be sure to wash your hands and change your gloves before working with food. In addition, if you wear a hat, visor, or other hair restraint that’s not disposable, it should be clean, as it is part of your uniform. Following these steps will prevent cross-contamination and keep your food safe to serve.
When do I need to wear a hair restraint or beard net?
Anytime you are preparing food, you should wear a hair restraint. When putting on a hair net or cap, be sure to tuck away all hair. This will keep it from accidentally falling into the food. If you notice your hair restraint needs adjusted, do so immediately and wash your hands before resuming preparation. When you touch your hair, the pathogens can easily transfer to your hands or gloves, which in turn would contaminate the food you prepare. Keep your hands clean to prevent cross-contamination!
If you are serving food, you likely won’t need to wear a hair or beard net. However, if you have long hair, it should be tied back to keep it out of food. If your hair does touch the food or you notice hair in it, discard the dish and get a new one.
For more food safety tips and other training, visit statefoodsafety.com.
— Janilyn Hutchings
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