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Short Fingernails a "Must" for the Kitchen?

Ok, I am laying it out here.

In NY, my fairly new (on a somewhat regular basis) residence, long nails on women in particular, but also for some guys, are a big plus for gals/guys looking for out-of-the-kitchen action.

I am not from around here, and don't understand it. I love to garden. I love to cook. I love to play with paint. Can't imagine a life with fingernails of 'who-knows-what' captured and growing under them, not even if those "nails" have a pretty, 'Permanent French Manicure' on top. Just me - no judgements, to the lovely ladies (or guys), into it. When I get a manicure, the instructions are always the same... "as short as possible, no gloss, just one coat of Nailtique" (ok, we have a selection, so I choose the most natural.)

I start getting queasy when I think of the bacteria in the rarely-dry, long-nail/fingertip area that has been in contact with (you never know) perhaps, a lot when ingredients in the kichen, touching my or whoever I am with's food.

Two questions... one, if someone has long, luxurious, beautifully painted nails in the kitchen and just prepared your meal, how clean do you think the food is? Is it 'all good', because the nails look good? Does it make a difference, or am I just a bit over-anxious about this? I keep mine so short that there is no visible nail, most of the time. (No offense to anyone with longer nails, but I am still recovering from the "Worms in Cod" thread. Thanks to Sam, I think I see tiny tapeworms near me thinking about procreating in my nails...)

Second, if you went into your most delicious and newly discovered resto, toured the kitchen and everyone prepping and cooking in the kitchen (men included) had long fingernails, would it bother you at all (considering the food was otherwise excellent?) in terms of health?

To you, are short nails a necessity in a clean, orderly kitchen; even at home?

And p.s. I've noticed some "chefs" have one long pinky fingernail, what's that about? All the other fingernails are short. Is that long nail a special "spice finger"?

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  1. Since I live in a "magic house," I have no problems with others and the cleanliness issue. I, however, can't do it. I also like to garden and between that and cooking, fingernails just don't work for me. I love Oprah's nails (short and squared off) but I can't even do that. Too much maintenance and $$$. I just stick with clipping mine every couple of weeks - if that :)

    1. "what you don't know won't hurt you"
      My SO worries about all kinds of things like that. The restaurant kitchen isn't the sterile place you'd like to think it is. There are worse things than long fingernails going on there. It's nice to see that in the last few years some of the food handlers are wearing gloves.

      If there was a significant health risk from long fingernails, the the health department wouldn't allow them. Years ago I managed restaurants for a chain and their kitchens were consistently spotless and clean. Unfortunately the one thing you can't control is the personal hygene habits of the people handling your food. That towel that cleaned the table you sat at wasn't used on your table only and lots of other incidents where there can be cross contamination. I cringe when the person handling my water glass is touching the rim of the glass.

      1. well, if you know the typical restaurant employees predeliction towards "recreational substances" you will understand what the one long nail is for!!! "spice nail" indeed.........

        too funny!

        3 Replies
        1. re: nkeane

          The OP should know, that's probably the cleanest fingernail.

          1. re: nkeane

            OMG, that is EXACTLY what my thought was - HA!

            OR... my Sicilian grandfather used to keep a long pinky nail so that he could clean his ear - yep, I couldn't make that up.

            1. re: lynnlato

              I'm not sure how to respond... cannot decide what is more disturbing; that cocaine could still be "in", or that my chef might be cleaning his ear with his spice finger before prepping my food...

          2. To me I just don't see longer nails as a bacteria issue. It probably is, but as long as they wash their hands really well I'm not bothered by it. Looking at my nails I can't imagine how dangerous bacteria would get under them, maybe dough, but it seems like bacteria would just easily get washed out. What grosses me out more though is when people cook with their rings on.

            Personally, I keep mine shorter cause of turmeric. That stuff dyes really well and then next thing you know I'll be walking around the whole day with yellow fingernails. >_<

            1. In a professional kitchen...NO LONG NAILS..and no painted nails either. Ugh.

              I've never noticed the one longer fingernail...maybe it is a cocaine finger. Who knows?

              4 Replies
              1. re: melly

                Yes, I believe that was what nkeane and monku hinted at above. I remember one of the first places I waited tables. I teased one of the cooks about his lone fingernail, and how 'un-manly' he was. Only later did a fellow waitress explained to me its real purpose...I felt like such a dork :)

                1. re: enbell

                  I believe these threads are essential in totally obliterating the appeal of restaurants and the industry ;)

                  1. re: Blueicus

                    Sorry, I couldn't fall asleep in good conscious last night without posting this nagging question... :-).

                2. re: melly

                  no nail polish is actually a health dept regulation - short nails are more difficult to regulate- what is short and what is long?

                  about the gloves comments below - are only required for food that will not be cooked prior to serving - latex, which is the closest to working bare handed - is not allowed.

                3. Is it appropriate in a professional kitchen? No. Any chance one of those nails could end up in someone's food is a deal-breaker. The concern is more with losing a nail than with the nails carrying bacteria - as far as I'm concerned. The hands in general can carry bacteria if the staff is wiping their noses, mouths, etc. regardless of the nail length.

                  At home - to each their own. I have naturally longer nails (I don't get manicures and I don't wear polish) and I wash my hands often. As far as I know, I've never lost one in the food I've prepared. If I were you, even though you have short nails I would be concerned about your polish chipping off into your food.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: lynnlato

                    >>""The hands in general can carry bacteria if the staff is wiping their noses, mouths, etc. regardless of the nail length.""

                    Or worse yet, is those that I catch leaving the restroom without washing their hands, or those that just has to play with their hair.

                    1. re: lynnlato

                      When I first started working in a kitchen, I remember looking at my nails and seeing one missing or nailpolish missing or something like that, and I threw the whole bowl away. I only cook at home now but keep my nails cut very short anyway, that incident skeeved me out. On the other hand, doesn't anyone wear gloves? I always do when my hands are in chop meat or chicken and the like, just so I don't have to scrub and sanitize my hands for 20 minutes later.

                      1. re: lynnlato

                        Lynnlato, I always respect your posts and now you have me wondering about the "natural" Nailtique #2 protein coating they put on my very short nails... http://www.nailtiques.com/products.as... . It isn't "nail varnish" as such. Sounds pretty natural, but it is difficult to read between the lines. I get it once every couple of weeks (just buff and file in between) but now am wondering if there are food concerns with it.

                        Many have suggested using gloves. Sorry, at home, that doesn't work for me. So much of the pleasure of cooking is using all the senses, including being tactile with my ingredients... but I will skip the Nailtique if that is not healthy...

                        1. re: ideabaker

                          Thanks ideabaker. :) I checked out the product you use. I'm not at all familiar w/ it - I'm a natural nail girl - sorry. Yea, I wouldn't want to wear gloves at home either for the same reasons you mentioned.

                          Personally, I don't worry myself too much about such things. I'm sure there are a lot of things we wouldn't want to know about the food we eat. As they say, "ignorance is bliss". That's not to say you shouldn't be aware. But the food I cook at home I am in control of the ingredients, for the most part, so I take comfort in that.

                          My guess is that the nailiques coating has to be safe for incident ingestion for those who may bite there nails??? Hell, I don't know! LOL

                          1. re: lynnlato

                            Lynnlato, I am so with you on the cooking at home thing. I much prefer home cooking as I know what is going into my food, and the conditions under which everything was stored, prepped and prepared.

                            LOL on the ingestion of nails. Thank goodness I am not a nail biter (too short to bite them and I much prefer nibbling on food...)!

                      2. I keep my unpainted nails somewhat longer than "as short as possible" and you can certainly tell that they are clean just by looking at them. But I kind of agree that painted nails are kind of "icky" in combination with preparing food. First you can't really tell whether they are clean, and second the paint must flake off to some extent.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: DGresh

                          >>""I keep my unpainted nails somewhat longer than "as short as possible" and you can certainly tell that they are clean just by looking at them.""

                          Those people that eat their nails to make them "as short as possible", scares me to death! When I applied for foodservice positions, most employers asked to look at my hands if they were in not in obvious sight. Nail biters and nail painters were obviously not hired. Restaurants made comments to keep the nails trimmed, even more so when they went to touch-ordering screens.

                        2. I find very long nails distracting, and only colour my toenails (red). For my hands, nothing stays on due to washing, cutting, etc. I'm sure there are some people who manage with long nails, but I don't get it. That said, just because I can't, doesn't mean someone else can't. Seeing a bit of nailpolish or nail (or hair) in my food? Disgusting. I don't know if that is worse or on par with a bug.

                          My nails go between very trimmed and up to 1/2" of white. Usually they're great for 10 days, then one breaks or is sliced off when I'm not paying attention (once the tip of my finger), then another, and I trim them back to short. My husband has his finger and toenails kept trim, as I have delicate skin.

                          Traditionally, royalty kept long fingernails to indicate that they didn't need to work, with one rumour having the nail scrape against the door instead of knocking. For the past 50 years or so, however, the pinky nail has generally been for nose candy.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: Caralien

                            Professional food prep people should wear gloves. At home you wash, you prep, you wash. If you come back to prep more, you wash. I am a medium length but natural looking girl, but I never worried about it, EXCEPT, I trashed my contacts from chopping jalapeños once. Washed after I chopped, washed before removing the lenses and probably washed a few times in the interim as it was several hours. Put the lens in the next day --after washing :) --and ¡ay caramba!

                            1. re: Whosyerkitty

                              Gloves make knives more slippery--try wearing some disposable gloves; they're usually not the latex style, but the type that one would use to dye hair. I've been given these (and hair nets and aprons) when I've volunteered in soup kitchens. They fall off, and you try to secure them, but they fall off anyway. And I was only serving. Once the gloves got wet, they needed to be replaced. I can't imagine how one would chop up pounds and pounds of vegetables with the flimsy gloves, but I've never done prep in a kitchen (and never saw gloves used when I did work in restaurants; if someone got a cut, their hands were sterilized and cotlets were used to seal over the bandage; occasionally a glove, but anything that disasterous usually required a hospital visit).

                              I agree that those putting the food together need to wear gloves (aka delis and sandwich places), but anything that increases the chance of slippage with a sharp object? Not good. Also, you can't touch a frying pan or hot pan with gloves--the plastic will melt.

                              1. re: Caralien

                                I've seen surgical type gloves, that's what I'm thinking of. I think if you could fill a tooth or stitch somebody up with them, they're okay for chopping veggies. More for actual PREP than cooking, because hey, if a pan will kill the bacteria in chicken or meat, hands are not a problem. Of course, using nasty rags to handle the pans, as I've seen, may be a separate issue.

                                1. re: Whosyerkitty

                                  I tend to be more distrustful of a kitchen that uses a lot of gloves. I was talking to a health inspector once and he said that there are lots of places where staff were wearing gloves but had no training or knowledge of sanitation. Staff go from task to task (e.g. raw meat to veg) without changing gloves, but figure, hey, I'm wearing gloves, it's all good.

                                  The only time I was required to wear gloves was when plating food (or other final steps before service). The food is already cooked, so there is no further cooking to kill any bacteria.

                                  I have a latex allergy and I haven't yet found a non-latex glove that worked that well while handling knives.

                                  1. re: Whosyerkitty

                                    Making a few slices and stitching someone up while someone else is keeping your hands, forehead, and area dry and clean (and you're being paid a lot more than minimum wage)--very different from the prep station. One requires precision and slow movements done once before breaking--occasionally after hours--the other requires less precision but is repeated over and over again, for hours. Fewer days off in one than the other also.

                                    Seriously, try peeling and cutting up even a 5lb bag of carrots, potatoes, or onions while wearing gloves.

                                    1. re: Caralien

                                      Gloves, both "surgical" latex and lower quality ones are very cumbersome and break up with abandon in any fast-paced kitchen environment... I simply wash my hands with abandon. I'd be more concerned about getting little shreds of latex in the food than bacteria, personally (assuming I prepped the food myself).

                                2. re: Whosyerkitty

                                  Well trained kitchen professional wash their hands constantly. Gloves are not required by many health departments--they aren't necessary if you wash your hands as you should. Working while wearing gloves all day is both a pain in the butt, and so wasteful, since you have to change your gloves every time you change tasks. Given the choice, I would always much rather just keep washing my (short nailed) hands a lot.

                                  1. re: Whosyerkitty

                                    Whosyerkitty, all I can say is OUCH... jalepenos can hang around for a long time... I have used my "garlic/onion eliminator bar" (shaped like a soap bar) for them, but still avoid touching any tender extremeties for a good day after working with any of the hot chile buggers...

                                3. Don't know what the consensus is but I like to keep my nails relatively short because a) they tend to break when long and that drives me nuts; b) hate cleaning dough and anything else from under the nails. Am very conscience of washing hands when I'm in the kitchen, I can't stand sticky fingers so am always washing.

                                  As for the health issues, your average healthy adult's immune system can take a lot of things. Am personally not a huge fan of the over zealousness with which some people take cleaning to these days (excess promotion of anti-bacterial this and that). Give it up, bacteria multiply fast and are everywhere. You will never get rid of them all. Think it's better for kids in the long run to get colds and sniffles as it exposes their immune system to various pathogens and then your immune system remembers it in the future. But I digress...sorry for the rant.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: bdachow

                                    My nails are medium length and red. i wash my hand frequently and also use hand sanitizer.

                                  2. My nails are generally medium-long until they get too long and I trim them back short, but I just wanted to say that they are also very clean! Long nails don't necessarily equal dirt and "god-knows-what." I quickly scrape anything from under them pretty often and I wash my hands regularly! My nails look neat and well-cared for and they aren't painted so you can see there is nothing under there. It's not rocket science!

                                    1. Fingernails should be trimmed short and scrubbed clean.

                                      If while touring a kitchen I noticed everyone doing prep had long nails, I wouldn't eat there.

                                      Then again, I suffer from OCD.

                                      1. I only cook at home, so I can't say what i'd do in a professional kitchen, where nails would get in the way if nothing else.....but I have LCN (gel) nails, shortish, mainly because I had a screwy thumbnail and I was self-conscious of it during meetings, shaking hands etc at work. They're short enough to type (alot) with ease, and I don't let them grow out long enough to be a problem. Besides which, I just like the look of them ! I have to say though, that I don't like long nails on a man. (i'm a gal)

                                        Only time I've ever had trouble with them, is when, like at X-mas, I was using a lot of chocolate and it seemed to get under my nails ....but I cleaned the heck out of them all through. LCN nails are very hard, not like a regular manicure, those suckers aren't coming off for love nor money, they don't chip or peel, although I think I did once "shave" a layer off with a knife by mistake, but I'd also done that with my regular nails, and not because they were long either.

                                        And no worries, I didn't know about the "spice" finger (Dune reference anyone??)...until I went to work in a prison. Could tell you some food stories from there too, lol.

                                        1. Fingernail bacteria are your friends. Unless your fingernails have recently been working in a peanut-plant in Georgia...

                                          I like my sausage casings to be natural - i.e. made out of intestines. As someone who is willing to eat something that used to hold shit in it, I'm not too worried about fingernails...

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: greglor

                                            LOL! I nearly fell off my chair when I read that - ha!

                                            Interestingly, I stumbled upon an article in the NYT today about eating dirt and it being the foundation, essentially, for a healthy immune system. Go figure!

                                            In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma.


                                            1. re: lynnlato

                                              Geez, maybe I should start creating some "dirt based, worm infused, immune-boosting" recipes, he he! Like Greglor, I too prefer natural casings, though until this moment I haven't thought about where the casings came from. Thanks for something new to obsess about :-).

                                              p.s. The peanut plant comment is simultaneously hilarious and scary...

                                              1. re: ideabaker

                                                Start a compost heap, and there will be plenty of nutritious dirt with a healthy dose of worms.


                                                1. re: Caralien

                                                  LOL, thanks Caralien... now for some immune boosting worm/dirt recipes...

                                                  On second thought, I always read "How to Eat Fried Worms" to my kids as a schoolteacher. Loads of interesting and simple recipes. Perhaps should look it up today, though I think the ten year old boy "chefs" made a point of removing as much dirt as possible with each culinary specimen.