Food hygiene is a vital part of being a chef, and a large part of that is the personal hygiene standards a chef must follow. Fortunately however, it is very easy to comply with the range of regulations by following a few of the basic rules.
This article contains the 12 most frequently asked hygiene questions that would-be chefs would like to know, and will set anyone onto a great career path!
Can Chefs Have Beards?
Chefs can have beards and many choose to. The food standards agency advises that hair nets are worn to cover the beard. However, in most kitchens this is not followed and doesn’t present a food hygiene risk. As long as it is well kept and not played with whilst cooking it should not present a problem.
That may be confusing for some readers. If the food standard agency advises wearing them; then why is it not followed?
Some places, like food production factories are incredibly careful about hygiene and would ensure that everyone wore a beard net. Restaurant kitchens are a bit more laid back.
The argument has always been; when you ask a chef to wear a hat or a beard net, the heat of the kitchen makes it very uncomfortable and they end up taking it on and off multiple times during a shift. This taking on and off can actually cause hair to fall out.
If a beard net is not worn a chef will rarely touch their face and so it is less likely hair will fall out and contaminate the food.
Ensuring the beard is well groomed will help prevent any problems. If the restaurant suffers incidents of hair getting into food then they are more likely to start implementing a beard net policy.
Just to be clear though, the food standard agency does advise the wearing of hair nets and it is best practice to wear them. Source
It can be a great idea for anyone considering a chef career to look at taking an online food safety course. They look great for beginners to have on their C.V as it provides some valuable experience which may be lacking at the beginning. It also shows that you are serious about starting a catering career. They are relatively easy to pass with just a little research and by completing one online saves you both time and money.
Can Chefs Have Tattoos?
Chefs are allowed tattoos, and there is a large tattoo culture among chefs. So long as they are not offensive they should present no problem to a chef being offered a job. However, there are some exceptions and a chef having tattoos may negatively affect them.
There is an artistic side to being a chef, and a subculture where tattoos are not only accepted but embraced. We’ve seen a similar uprising in the culture surrounding barbers in recent years. The idea of heavily tattooed chefs adds to the appeal of the career rather than detracting from it.
Open kitchens are becoming more common and as such the image a chef presents is very important. Even in an open kitchen a chef with tattoos covering their arms would not present a problem.
Tattoos on the face or neck may be a different issue. These types of tattoos are still not as accepted into mainstream culture. Some kitchens may be absolutely fine with them but others may not. It will depend on the Head chef, the owner’s personal preference and to some extent the location of the kitchen in my opinion.
In a modern city center restaurant with wood fired ovens, the image of the tattooed chef will fit right in. A health retreat in the middle of nowhere serving the same food for the last 40 years may be less inclined to hire the tattooed chef (purely my opinion obviously!)
Do Chefs Wear Hats?
Chefs are advised by the food standards agency to wear hats but this advice is not followed in all professional kitchens. As this is a guide only, each individual kitchen is free choose, There are advantages and disadvantages to chefs wearing hats which should be considered.
The hygiene advice is that hair should be tied back and hats worn when working with food. However, you will often notice chefs not wearing hats when cooking, so why is this?
Some argue that wearing hats cause more harm than good. As kitchens are so hot the chefs head overheats with a hat on, therefor they will find themselves constantly taking the hat on and off for some respite.
This constant taking the hat on and off produces a greater chance of hair falling out and going into the food. If a chef doesn’t wear a hat they are unlikely to touch their hair when cooking and as such hair contamination is not a common problem.
Hair in food is not a common problem. Few people wear a hat when cooking at home and the chances of finding hair in your food is low.
However, for some restaurants the fact that the guidance notes recommends wearing hats it is enough to insist on their chefs wearing them. Many big chain restaurants will enforce this role, (McDonalds is a great example, all their cooks have baseball hats on during a shift.)
Chef’s hats have come a long way since the traditional tall white hat that is iconic with the pubic (like the one used in our logo!). Most chefs will choose a baseball cap or the more modern chef hat demonstrated in the photo.
I personally have worked in kitchens that insist on hats and others that do not. I found the ones that did, the heat of the kitchen makes the hat very uncomfortable and the constant taking on and off negates the benefits of wearing the hat in the first place.
Can Chef Wear Dark Colours?
Chefs are advised to wear light colour clothing as it highlights any dirt clearly. However many chefs choose to wear black uniform and ensure they wash it after every shift. Whichever colour a chef chooses there are a couple of important points to remember.
More and more chefs are now favouring black as their uniform of choice. Black is believed to still show up any dirt adequately and looks more professional for the duration of a shift. Washing the uniform after every shift prevents any food hygiene problems and is the reason why many chefs are comfortable ignoring the light coloured clothing guidance.
Kitchen hierarchy comes into play when considering the colour of a chef’s uniform. I wrote an article with the steps for deciding if you can divert away from traditional white, which I shall link here.
The uniform should contain no external pockets. External pockets have the potential to harbour dirt and bacteria. A chef’s hand going in and out of the pockets during a shift can present a food safety risk by transferring this bacteria onto the food.
Traditional chef jackets do not contain pockets for this reason (although they do have a small pocket on the arm, used for storing pencils and pens).
Chef’s trousers will always have pockets and a chef needs to be aware of the dangers of contamination when putting their hands in and out.
Can Chefs Wear Jewellery?
Chefs should not wear any jewellery, including watches whilst cooking, except for one plain wedding band. This is to prevent bacteria gathering on the jewellery and being transferred onto the food. Chefs do not always follow this advice and there are a number of reasons for this.
It is typical to follow the no jewellery rule. Chefs tend to not wear earrings, necklaces or bracelets as they present a food safety risk, can easily get damaged and just generally get in the way.
Many chefs do choose to wear a watch though. A watch is seen as a necessity to many as they can check the time as well as setting timers to prevent food burning! The ability to choose a durable watch, which is also water proof, means it can be thoroughly washed at the end of every shift solving the hygiene issue.
I wrote a whole article regarding chefs and watches which contains a few insider tips as to why they are worn.
Do Chefs Have To Wear Aprons?
Chefs are advised to wear aprons as they prevent dirt and bacteria from getting onto work clothes, they can be changed when working with different food groups and can easily be removed and washed. Most chefs will follow this guidance, but the way they follow it can change.
As with all the food hygiene guidance, chefs do not have to follow it, but it is a code of best practice. Nearly all chefs will choose to wear an apron as they have many benefits without any real drawbacks.
Wearing an apron tied around the waist and looped over the head is the traditional way. They do a great job of keeping the uniform clean, even though the uniform is still cleaned after every shift regardless. Some chefs prefer the more modern way of wearing the apron only tied around the waste.
Whichever way it is worn one of the biggest perks to wearing an apron is that it gives you somewhere to hang your tea towel during the shift! A chef will carry the towel with them all day and it either lives over your shoulder or hanging neatly from the apron string.
The only negative I can really think of is that it is another item to wash, but as it can be thrown in with the rest of the uniform this isn’t generally a problem.
Do Chefs Wear Gloves?
There are no guidelines that advise chefs to wear gloves. Instead the focus is on good hand hygiene by washing thoroughly and regularly throughout the day. Most chefs will not wear gloves; however, there are some instances where they may choose too.
- When using hands to mix ingredients, many chefs will pop on a pair of disposable gloves. The gloves prevent a lengthy hand wash after mixing and are an added layer of protection.
- Gloves are also worn if handling hot food for long periods. During service it may be necessary to use your hands to portion or plate up very hot items. Putting on a pair of gloves (or two pairs in some cases) has the benefit of protecting your hands from the heat of the food.
- If the chef has a cut on their hand, they will put a colourful plaster on it and then often wear a glove as well. The glove prevents the general grease of the food from removing the plaster and is extra help at stopping any bacteria getting into the wound.
To ask all chefs to wear gloves at all times would great a huge amount of waste. When switching between food groups, for example preparing fish to preparing vegetables, the gloves would need to be disposed of and a new pair put on.
In the course of a day this would end up with hundreds of pairs of gloves in the bin. It’s decided that a better system is to thoroughly wash hands instead.
Can Chefs Have Long Hair?
Chefs can have long hair but must ensure it is tied back when working with food. The food standards agency also advises that a hair net or hat be worn, although this is not always followed for several reasons.
Chefs having long hair is not a uncommon sight in kitchens. Simply tying it behind the head and ensuring it doesn’t contaminate the food is adequate. Some chefs with longer hair choose to wear a hat, although the hat plus the long hair can get pretty warm!
Many chefs favour the short hair look as it’s less work to keep looking good and a nice way to keep a little cooler next to the heat of the stoves.
What Shoes Do Chefs Wear?
A chef will typically wear either crocs, slip on Birkenstock shoes, or steel toe capped regular shoes. Whichever style is chosen, they must ensure they are non-slip. Kitchen floors can get very slippery and sliding around in a pair of trainers is not as fun as it sounds. Each type of shoe has its advantages and disadvantages.
Shoes from outside the kitchen are not allowed to be worn for hygiene reasons. A chef will change their footwear when they are putting on their uniform to prevent dirt from outside being dragged around the kitchen floor.
Steel toe capped shoes are the type that beginners are given when they start. Many chefs quickly discover the downside of these are that their feet get very hot, and the extra weight of the shoes starts to become noticeable at the end of a 12 hour shift.
Many chefs then upgrade to crocs or Birkenstock slip-ons. These allow the feet to breath and are remarkable comfortable even after a long day. If looking to buy a pair they must be non-slip soles!
Non-slip are more expensive but vital in a kitchen. The risk of injury from sliding around is massive and a Head chef would never let someone work in their kitchen in regular trainers, it’s just too dangerous!
Do Chefs Wear Their Uniform Outside Of Work?
A restaurant will always have a place where the kitchen staff can get changed before and after a shift. Chefs should not wear their uniforms outside of work as they run the risk of bringing bacteria from outside into the clean kitchen.
As well as for hygiene reasons, the advantage of getting changed at work is that the chefs can go straight from work to a local bar to have a drink when they finish. Many kitchens have showers available as well. It’s not uncommon on a Saturday night to have a whole brigade getting changed into their best gear for a night out (except those working Sunday of course!)
What Are The Different Coloured Chopping Boards?
Different coloured chopping boards are used in kitchens to prevent cross contamination of foods. The colours used are Red, Yellow, Blue, Brown, Green and White. Each colour is used for a specific food group
- Red: Raw Meat
- Yellow: Cooked Meat
- Blue: Fish
- Brown: Vegetables
- Green: Salad and Fruits
- White: Breads and Dairy
As well as making sure the correct coloured board is used it’s also important to check that the chopping board is in good condition.
Lots of deep grooves and scratches are great places for bacteria to hide. To thoroughly clean inside these groves can be difficult. Using only for the same food type helps illuminate the contamination problem but once a board is looking well-worn it needs to be replaced.
Do Chefs Use Different Knives For Different Food Groups?
Chefs don’t have knives for specific food groups instead they thoroughly wash them to ensure they are not cross contaminating. Certain knives are more suited to certain tasks. For example, a long bladed fish filleting knife is unlikely to be used for any other task. Some kitchens do have colour coded knives and there are a few reasons for this.
If a kitchen employees people that would be categorised more as cooks than chefs, then they may choose to provided knives which are colour coded.
The reason is that the cooks they employ typically do not have any culinary qualifications. The coloured knives are an added layer of protection to ensure the hygiene rules are being followed. Coloured knives can be a great way to set up for a busy service having a knife specifically placed at each chopping board.
The downside of a kitchen providing the knives is that they tend to be pretty blunt. Lots of abuse by the cooks and everyone sharpening their own way makes them less than razor sharp.
A knife should always be sharpened in the same way. If someone else comes along with a different technique it blunts the knife instead of sharpening it.
To Sum Up
This is a summary of the most frequently asked hygiene questions and is a great starting point. When writing this article I have given honest feedback about what actually goes on in kitchens. The answers here may be different from the ones a student needs to give when completing a food hygiene course!
Completing a food hygiene course is a great introduction to cooking at a starting point for any would-be chef to get some all-important experience on their C.V.