Q: In food handling, hair restraints are required. I’ve heard that this is because hair is made up of 90% protein which supports rapid bacterial growth. Then why is it OK for arm hair to be unprotected during food handling?
A: The reason for hair restraints is not so much the hair protein that can support bacterial growth (hair is also dry, which would hinder growth) but the tendency for persons to touch their hair, scratch scalp, wipe sweat, etc, which could contaminate hands and fingers with Staphylococcal or other bacteria from our bodies. Also, we lose hair follicles every day, in which case falling hair poses a physical contamination risk to foods.
While not specifically required in the FDA food code, many operations require arms to be covered with chef coats, shirts or arm guards, to shield arms and hair from contacting food. It’s up to the individual to use discretion and good judgment in requiring arms to be covered or not, depending on the risk in a particular operation.