Professional kitchens are hubs of coordinated chaos. Dishes must be prepared to perfection, and that includes running a tight ship. A huge part of kitchen responsibility is maintaining sanitary conditions. Body modifications have become a more common fixture of society—and the restaurant industry itself. This calls into question the logistics behind protocols for tattoos and piercings in professional kitchens. The following guide will brief you on proper hygiene, guidelines, potential risks, and misguided stigmas surrounding body modifications in the kitchen.

The Intersection of Kitchen Cleanliness and Personal Style

Individuality and self-expression are highly valued in the culinary world. After all, professional chefs, sous chefs, line cooks, dishwashers, and anyone involved in the fast-paced environment of kitchens are passionate about serving the best food possible—food with love and personality infused in every bite. Even then, it’s crucial to strike a balance between culinary expression and personal style.

In many kitchens, there are guidelines and protocols in place to ensure that forms of self-expression do not compromise food safety. For example, nail polish may be prohibited so it doesn’t have a chance to chip into food items. As far as body mods go, non-intrusive piercings and tattoos that can be easily covered by appropriate attire are often acceptable. In many cases, they don’t even have to be covered. However you choose to run your kitchen, it’s essential for staff to prioritize hygiene, which requires following strict cleanliness protocols to guarantee the safety and satisfaction of diners.

Easily Meet Safety Standards With Staff Tattoos and Piercings

With a few simple considerations, it’s easy to meet kitchen safety standards and still allow body modifications for your kitchen staff. The following tips will help you do so without sacrificing the style or integrity of your restaurant.

Acknowledge Potential Health Risks

Although rare, certain body modifications can pose health risks to your staff and, by association, restaurant patrons. It’s important to be aware of these risks when determining your guidelines. Consider that body mods may cause issues that are relevant to your kitchen health:

  • Skin infections;
  • Oral disease;
  • Pain, swelling, or burning;
  • Allergic reactions;
  • Bleeding;
  • Bloodborne diseases like MRSA, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

Again, these issues are not common. Most people are aware of the potential risks associated with getting tattoos and piercings, and they take the proper precautions to avoid these adverse effects. Make sure your staff is educated on body modification hygiene, including:

  • Vetting tattoo and piercing artists for proper equipment and positive reviews;
  • Avoiding shared needles or unclean environments;
  • Keeping the affected area clean using gentle soaps;
  • Applying moisturizer or other recommended salves;
  • Avoiding sun and water exposure until recommended;
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothing with minimal rubbing on the affected area;
  • Covering tattoos with wrap for a recommended amount of time;
  • Allowing ample time for the tattoo or piercing to heal.

Reputable tattoo and piercing artists will use sterile, disposable products like gloves and needle tips when performing procedures. Taking care of body modifications is much like taking care of a fresh wound. Artists will provide detailed instructions for aftercare, so check in with kitchen staff with fresh body mods to make sure they’re following instructions. If they’re working long hours, give them extra time to wash up or change wraps.

Hepatitis A—not B and C—is transmittable through food handling. It’s a common misconception that body modifications carry an increased risk of hepatitis that can be passed to other people through food. This isn’t the case. However, hepatitis B can be spread through direct contact with blood, so it’s still worth testing staff regularly to comply with FDA regulations.

Complications, like blood and pus from mods that aren’t healing properly, should be monitored and covered accordingly. This is only applicable to fairly fresh tattoos and piercings. If these are fully healed, they are much less likely to cause issues. In any case, educating kitchen staff about proper body modification hygiene is important to keep a clean kitchen.

Cater to Different Foodservice Settings

When you run your own kitchen, you can set your own rules for appearance and cleanliness. As long as you are following local and federal food service regulations, you have more leeway in how you want your kitchen staff to be represented. You may choose uniforms that cover visible tattoos, or you may allow staff to show off their body art. You may opt to have staff take out piercings or replace them with clear, non-invasive jewelry — or you could allow most types of piercings. It is up to personal preference and the aesthetic that the restaurant wants to maintain.

However, when you are working in a different setting, there may be varying rules in place by whatever organization runs the establishment. For example, your restaurant could be part of a hotel that has strict appearance guidelines for all staff members. Or, you could be running a ghost kitchen that prepares a variety of dishes for several establishments. Ghost kitchens are often not connected to a physical restaurant location and could potentially have more wiggle room for kitchen staff attire. Whatever the case may be, make sure to take into account the culture of your kitchen and how you want to be represented.

Update Your Dress Code To Reflect Values

Body modifications aren’t nearly as taboo as they used to be. If your restaurant staff dress code previously prohibited visible tattoos and piercings, you have the option to update these guidelines to reflect modern conventions. After educating yourself, stakeholders, and staff on body modification practices, misconceptions, hygiene, and acceptance, you can have a clearer understanding of how you want your kitchen staff to handle their appearance.

Regardless of how you choose to regulate body mods in your kitchen, make sure to cover all of your bases regarding hygiene and the potential for foreign substances to make their way into food. For instance, you could have a clause that prohibits ball closure rings due to their propensity to become loosened and fall out. You could require a certain amount of time after a fresh tattoo that staff has to cover the affected area. In any case, make sure that your updated dress code reflects the values and aesthetics that you want the restaurant to represent.

Increasing Acceptance of Body Mods in the Food Industry

The food industry has seen a remarkable shift toward increasing acceptance of body modifications among both consumers and professionals. It’s not uncommon to see professional chefs with tattoos of whisks on their forearms or their favorite vegetable adoring their calf. Red Robin’s former CEO years ago even got a burger tattoo in celebration of a company win.

While traditional norms and stereotypes have often influenced perceptions of individuals with visible body modifications, the industry is now recognizing the value of diversity and inclusivity. Chefs and other food industry workers with tattoos, piercings, or other body modifications are no longer viewed as outliers but are celebrated for their unique identities. This growing acceptance is reflective of a broader societal trend toward embracing individuality and celebrating the myriad ways in which people express themselves. It is a testament to the industry’s evolving culture, as it values creativity, authenticity, and skill above outdated notions of appearance, contributing to a more vibrant and inclusive food culture. If that’s something that jives with the way you want to run your kitchen, make sure your dress code reflects that.

Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but business, technology, and digital marketing topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or getting into the latest tech.

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees