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Summer in the kitchen: What can restaurant cooks wear?

back of house cooks


Can cooks wear tank tops in the kitchen?

– Steven, Uncle Eddie’s, Georgetown, Ohio


Ah, summer. The time for Advice Guy questions about how to stay cool by wearing—insert shorts, sleeveless shirts, rolled up pants, etc.—in the sweltering kitchen.

Cooks should have their arms (and armpits!) covered in the kitchen. While municipal health codes vary slightly, the FDA food code, upon which health codes are based, in article 2-304.11, states, “Food employees shall wear clean outer clothing to prevent contamination of food, equipment, utensils, linens, and single-service and single-use articles,” and goes on to further mandate covering body hair, which would include arm and armpit hair.

There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Protecting employees. While it may feel gross to wear a long-sleeve chef coat in the summer heat, sleeves protect the skin from scalds and scrapes.
  2. Protecting guests. The food code also specifies washing hands and forearms since those parts are often in contact with food. It is not practical to frequently wash the upper arm. Further, the armpit is a haven for bacteria of many types. Also, sweat drips.
  3. Perception. I recently lost my appetite watching a sleeveless pizza cook reaching high for a slice. It’s just gross, and it communicates to guests that you don’t prioritize cleanliness.


If you can’t stand the heat, look at your ventilation and HVAC or find a solution that doesn’t necessitate the gun show.

More on dressing for summer here.

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