Cornish Pasty Co.'s George Jacobs sums up his problem with beard nets succinctly: "I don't like them. They're itchy."
Jacobs can thank the federal Food and Drug Administration for the accessory. In metro Phoenix, Maricopa County's Environmental Services Department complies with the FDA's Food Code, which states:
"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."
Jacobs is one of the many bearded men who work at the Tempe restaurant and dutifully dons a beard net whenever he's working in the kitchen. It's obviously not because he likes them, but rather because it's a health code requirement. In fact, beard nets are a common fixture in restaurant kitchens across America, where they serve as another barrier between someone's body hair and our food.
And the requirement may be for good reason. Just this year, a TV station is Albuquerque asked a microbiologist to take swabs of beards for testing. The results were hair-raising, finding some beards "as dirty as toilets." While the stunt was not an actual scientific study, its findings made headlines prompting some online panic.
Dirty or not, thick beards are a popular fashion accessory for some men, made fun of on shows like Portlandia and meriting a New York Times trend piece. But kitchen employees who choose to rock the beard (or are just too lazy to shave) need to strap on the net to keep health inspectors happy.
"From what I’ve been told, this does not seem to be a common violation or problem in most of our food-related inspections," says Johnny Diloné, a spokesman for Maricopa County's Environmental Services department.
But that doesn't mean the violations don't occasionally come up. Earlier this year, we reported a violation from The Beer Research Institute in Mesa, in which inspectors wrote "two employees in kitchen with heavy beards and no beard restraints."
Despite the discomfort, manager Iain Gerrard explains why the nets are necessary.
"Nobody likes to get hair in their food," he says. "The point of the beard nets is to prevent that from happening."
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