Is it OK for wok cooks to wear shorts?
– Davy, Manager, Mandarette, Los Angeles
Welcome to the season of swamp a**. Summer is bad enough without factoring in kitchen heat. To combat the summer heat, cooks improvise all sorts of creative ventilation solutions. Shorts and rolled-up pants have become summer fixtures even in high-end kitchens.
While health codes vary by municipality and may not explicitly forbid shorts, the FDA food code, upon which health codes are based, in article 2-402.11 covering the effectiveness of hair restraints, reads, "(A) Except as provided in (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 and worn to effectively keep their hair from contacting exposed FOOD; clean EQUIPMENT, UTENSILS, and LINENS; and unwrapped SINGLE-SERVICE and SINGLE-USE ARTICLES” (emphasis in original).
Without getting into a close examination of employee hairiness below the knee, which can open you up for additional problems, I think the intent of the code is clear—body parts of food preparation employees should be covered.
In addition to the importance of keeping food safe, long pants are also helpful in protecting employees from burns, scalds, spills, cuts and scratches. OSHA specifies long pants for employees handling hazardous materials, which would include many kitchen cleaning supplies.
As always, it is best to clearly spell out your uniform policy for each job title in your employee manual and to verify its accuracy with your local restaurant association and attorney. In the meantime, pass the cornstarch.
More on shorts in the workplace here.