As a food handler, it is of utmost importance that you follow protocol to promote and maintain food safety. However, you may wonder if it’s really that important to wear a clean set of clothes daily to work in the kitchen.
It’s probably going to get dirty anyway. Besides, who will notice if you’re not in the public eye?
You should not wear dirty clothes when working in a kitchen as it increases the risk of transferring foodborne pathogens. Ideally, food handlers should wear clean clothes to work and while working (including your uniform) to minimize the chances of introducing contaminants to the food preparation areas.
We know it’s not always practical to have a clean uniform every single day you’re on the line. You might be tempted to put on the clothes you were wearing the day before, especially if they don’t look or smell funky.
However, you might unwittingly be harboring harmful bacteria, viruses, or toxins on your clothes. And if someone does notice your dirty uniform, you may find yourself in hot water.
Dirty Clothes May Harbor Pathogens Transferrable To Food
The clothes you wear in a kitchen play an essential role in food safety practices. For instance, dirty clothes with food stains or particles are more likely to encourage pathogen growth. Even if you can’t see any food marks on your clothes, it’s expected that there are other areas of your clothes harboring microorganisms. Some microorganisms are toxic and could cause foodborne illnesses.
The World Health Organization states that foodborne diseases arise from contamination at any stage of the food handling process. The top foodborne germs in the United States that cause illness, hospitalization, or death are the following:
- Salmonella (non-typhoidal)
- Clostridium perfringens
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Toxoplasma gondii
- E. coli 0157
- Listeria monocytogenes
Where Are The Hotspots For Pathogens On Kitchen Clothes?
Some parts of your kitchen clothes are more likely to get dirty and harbor pathogens, even if not visible. However, through contact, these pathogens can spread to food. The hotspots for pathogens on kitchen clothes are the following:
- Aprons and the front of your uniform
- Rips or holes
- Sweaty areas such as collars, armpits, bandanas, chef hats or hair nets
- Side towels
12 Tips To Keep Kitchen Work Clothes As Clean As Possible
Keeping your kitchen uniform clean is challenging, especially if you’re handling different types of food and sweating a lot. However, by adhering to the following tips, you will be able to keep your uniform as hygienic as possible.
- Wash yourself before changing your into work clothes, as skin is a good place for pathogens to hide.
- Wear a clean or disposable apron to protect the front of your uniform.
- Change aprons after handling raw produce such as meat, eggs, poultry, or unwashed vegetables.
- Remove your apron when you need to leave the kitchen, e.g., when going to the bathroom or taking out garbage.
- Wash your hands twice after using the bathroom or touching dirty equipment.
- If possible, change into your clean kitchen clothes at work.
- Tie a bandana around your neck to catch dripping sweat and wipe your face.
- If you sweat a lot, choose a hat that will absorb the sweat on your forehead.
- Refrain from washing your kitchen uniform with other work clothes, e.g., cleaning or maintenance uniforms.
- Repair rips and holes in your uniform or replace them if irreparable.
- Food preparation clothes should ideally be lightly colored (to identify dirt) and free of external pockets.
- Do not dry or wipe your hands on your uniform.
It is not advisable to wear dirty clothes when working in a kitchen, as they could harbor harmful germs that cause foodborne illnesses. Additionally, you may bring yourself or your workplace into disrepute by looking a mess. Therefore, to promote food safety, it is best to wear clean clothes each day you work in a kitchen.
Related Common Questions & Answers:
Q: How often should I wash my kitchen uniform?
A: Ideally, you’d want to give your kitchen uniform a good wash after each day you’re cooking up a storm. That way, you’re starting fresh each day and keeping those nasty germs at bay.
Q: Can I wear my street clothes while working in a kitchen?
A: It’s not the best idea. Your regular or street clothes might be comfortable, but they can also bring in unwanted bacteria. It’s better to change into a clean kitchen uniform once you’re on site.
Q: Where should I keep my kitchen clothes when they’re off-duty?
A: Keep them in a clean, dry spot away from potential germ hangouts like dirty laundry or food prep zones.
Q: What should I look for in a kitchen uniform?
A: Go for something breathable and easy to clean. Cotton or polyester blends are a good option. They’ll keep you comfy, and they’re extremely easy to wash.
Q: Is bleach okay for cleaning my kitchen uniform?
A: Absolutely, bleach can be a real germ buster. Just make sure to check the care instructions on your uniform first, and use the right amount.
Q: Do I need to wear gloves in the kitchen?
A: Gloves can definitely help stop the spread of germs, especially when you’re working with raw foods. Just remember to change them often and wash your hands before and after putting them on.
Q: What’s the right way to wash my hands in the kitchen?
A: Lather up with warm water and soap, and scrub for about 20 seconds. Make sure to get under your nails and between your fingers. Then rinse off and dry with a clean towel or an air dryer. For more tips and tricks on proper hand washing in the kitchen, refer to our guide here.