Have you ever had the misfortune to find a hair in your food? Most of us can unfortunately answer “Yes” to that unsavory experience. That hair probably did not make you sick, but it could certainly ruin a meal or discourage you from ever buying the product that contained the hair ever again.
The picture below is of a cookie that was offered as a snack at a sanitation workshop presented many years ago. The cookie became a great teaching aid, as it emphasized the importance of good personal hygiene, and especially the use of hair restraints. Hair, whether it is on the head, face, or arms, will fall out eventually. That’s what hair does. Look at your comb or brush after you comb your hair -- there are always a few hairs -- so the trick is to keep those hairs out of food that is being prepared or processed.
Food Processors vs. Foodservice Operators
Food processors spend thousands of dollars each year to keep foreign materials, including hair, out of their products. Part of the program is outfitting workers in a food plant with hair restraints. These include hair nets, snoods, or beard nets, and in many cases, sleeves. (Yes, hair on arms may end up in product.)
It is a shame that foodservice and restaurant operators generally don’t have the same commitment. While some do require hairnets, many restaurants don’t require that their employees use any kind of hair restraints, and others feel that baseball caps or tall chefs hats are adequate. They aren’t.
The food processing industry does a pretty good job when it comes to keeping hair out of food, but it could do better. Let’s consider the basics of a program designed to keep hair out of foods and ingredients.
Elements of an Effective Program
The first step is an element that the processor has little control over: personal hygiene. Good hygiene keeps the hair clean, and it also provides a side benefit. Washing the hair flushes out loose hairs that have fallen out.
The next step is ensuring that the workforce properly contains the hair. It’s up to the company to provide the garments (hair restraints and sleeves), and to make sure that the workers understand why it’s important to wear them.
Hair restraints come in many names, sizes, colors and formats. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know.
Names. Hair restraints go by many titles. They may be called “hairnets,” “bouffants,” or something else.
Format means weaves or apertures. There are hair nets that have a very fine weave with extremely small apertures (< 1/16 inch) and those with course weaves (1/4 inch or more). The smaller the aperture, the greater the probability hair will be properly restrained and contained.
Color is actually an important consideration. Among the colors offered by Gloves by Web are white, blue, green, red, orange, pink, and yellow. A company should choose a hair restraint that will allow management to determine, at a glance, that the hair restraint is being worn properly. This is why black or brown hair restraints are a bad idea; it’s really hard to see whether someone with dark hair is wearing their hairnet properly. We also offer hairnets and bouffant caps in different colors so that companies can color-coordinate your work zones and prevent cross-contamination.
How beard and moustache restraints are worn is another issue that must be addressed. Some operations try and establish policies that define the size or configuration of moustaches and whether a restraint is required (for example, “If the moustache does not go below the top lip, no restraint is required.”) If a man wishes to sport a beard or moustache, he will have to wear a restraint of some sort.
The next element in building a program for restraining hair is to properly educate the work force on how to wear the gear, and to make certain that supervisors are overseeing proper use. The basic rules are:
- Hair nets should cover the hair and the ears.
- All hair should be restrained within the net.
- Hair restraints must be worn by every worker entering the processing area, even those workers with shaved heads.
- No exceptions.
Education is the key. When hiring new employees, personal hygiene and how to properly wear uniforms and hair restraints must be part of the orientation process. If your workforce includes employees who don’t speak English well, make sure your training and materials are bilingual. The subject of hygiene and hair restraints should be addressed during yearly refresher training sessions. In addition, it’s a good idea to post pictures that show the right and wrong way to wear a hair net, snood and sleeves, if they are required. Many companies get their people to pose for these pictures to promote a sense of ownership and make them feel more involved.
Finally, it is up to the supervisors to be sure that the work force follows the rules. If they observe someone without hair restraints or wearing one or more items improperly, they need to take action.
The photograph here shows a situation in which management was simply “asleep at the switch.” The company mandates that hair nets be worn, yet the workers in the picture are not complying.
So, to help keep hair out of foods, food processors (and restaurant operators) need to select the proper hair restraints for the people, set policies on how they are to be worn, train the workforce on these policies, and make sure management enforces the policies that have been set. Hair may not make someone sick, but it is not something that anyone wants to find in their food. Food processors and restaurant operators rely on repeat sales. That single hair could cost you a customer -- so do what you can to keep hair out of your products.
Pictures used with permission of Richard F. Stier