Gloves, Hair Nets, & the FDA Food Code
As important as it is to provide guests with an enjoyable meal and good customer service, it's at least equally important to serve food that is not contaminated by potentially harmful bacteria or foreign objects such as hair. Many kitchens rely on strict hand washing rules to prevent cross-contamination, but protective coverings like hair nets and food service gloves provide hygiene that is usually a legal necessity. Specific mandates vary between states, but the federal requirements for gloves and hair restraints are laid out in the FDA Food Code. Although you should check with your local health department about laws specific to your location, you can learn more about federal requirements below to help prevent your commercial kitchen from getting into hot water during your next health inspection.
Food Service Hair Net Requirements
Stray hairs found in meals can cost you financially, as those meals are often comped to rectify the situation, but it can also damage your restaurant's reputation. It may be common sense that chefs and line cooks with long hair should keep it restrained while working to prevent their hair from making contact with food, but employees with short hair should be restrained as well because contamination can happen when hair of any length falls onto a surface during the prepping, cooking, and plating processes.
The FDA Food Code1 offers two paragraphs in section 2-402.11 that address how and when management and personnel are required to wear hair restraints, as well as what is considered an acceptable hair restraint.
(A) Except as provided in [paragraph] (B) of this section, food employees shall wear hair restraints such as hats, hair coverings or nets, beard restraints, and clothing that covers body hair, that are designed to effectively keep hair from contacting exposed food; clean equipment, utensils, and linens; and unwrapped single-service and single-use articles.
(B) This section does not apply to food employees such as counter staff who only serve beverages and wrapped or packaged foods, hostesses, and wait staff if they present a minimal risk of contaminating exposed food; clean equipment, utensils, and linens; and unwrapped single-service and single-use articles.
Depending on your restaurant's style, you may wish to allow cooks to forego hair nets in favor of casual baseball hats, which has become more popular in recent years, or bandana-style head coverings. Even if you go this route, it's important to ensure your kitchen stays stocked with hair nets or, if you serve a high-end menu, chef hats. This will allow you to provide each employee with a head covering, guaranteeing you remain compliant with FDA Food Code recommendations for hair restraints.
If your kitchen staff includes employees with beards, you may also consider investing in beard covers or beard nets. Although they may not be the most fashionable kitchen accessory, they can help prevent a guest from discovering a wayward beard hair on his or her plate.
Are Gloves Required in Restaurants?
Section 3-304.15 of the Food Code includes guidelines on how frequently employees should change disposable gloves, called single-use gloves in the Food Code, throughout the stages of preparing meals.
(A) If used, single-use gloves shall be used for only one task such as working with ready-to-eat food or with raw animal food, used for no other purpose, and discarded when damaged or soiled, or when interruptions occur in the operation.
Frequent and thorough handwashing is a must for any foodservice employee, but disposable gloves should also be used in every kitchen since bare-hand contact with food is prohibited. Because the average chef handles dozens of different tasks each shift, you should keep plenty of disposable gloves on hand.
- FDA Food Code 2017. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed March 2018.