Donna Kim-Brand

How would you react if you found a hair in your food while dining out? Ask for a refund for that item or for the meal to be free? Order a replacement and continue with your dining experience? Blame the waiter or pay an angry visit to the kitchen? Make a scene and leave? Or eat the meal anyway, having removed the offending hair?

Despite the sudden gag reflex a hair in your food induces in many people, to the point of choking or vomiting in some, scientific evidence indicates that any contamination that would make you sick is extremely rare. The main culprit would be a hair carrying staph bacteria or other toxic substances which could cause gastro-intestinal problems in some sensitive stomachs.

The rate of likely contamination is so rare that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code doesn’t even place a limit on strands per plate as a violation since they have not received any reports of people getting sick, according to Popular Science Magazine. Because of this, you have no legal grounds to sue a restaurant for a hairy meal, should you be so inclined. (Not the case in all countries, like the UK).

Perhaps the low rate of ‘hair-in-food’ occurrences is due to the Food Code requirement for all food workers to wear ‘complete-capture’ hairnets. This is to keep their hair out of their face for their own safely, as well as to prevent free falling hairs. Another reason is that restaurants tend to be highly sensitive, and thus responsive, to upset customers, knowing how much damage they can cause to a business. The underlying issue with a little hair in your food is that it makes patrons suspect there may be worse hygiene issues lurking in the kitchen. Having owned and worked in a deli-restaurant years ago and having been certified in Sanitation Management, I am aware of the range of nasty possibilities that food handling, preparation, serving and storage present. It’s a wonder we don’t have more upsetting experiences, frankly.

Back to the hair element, hair is made of a protein called keratin, which is chemically inactive in hair and won’t cause any problems if digested. You’d have to ingest a whole clump of hair to cause intestinal troubles, and not many people could get that much hair swallowed to allow that to happen.

We talk about the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. So this is a crazy hair topic to consider as the sun blazes. It’s a great game question to ask among a group of friends – what would you do if…? And it just might make you think twice about brushing your hair at the table, in case you ever gave that a thought!

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