Mold and the Chef

Mold-Inviting Scenarios in the Home Life of a Chef

Mold can grow most anywhere with the help of several atmospheric conditions, as well as catalysts, such as water leaks, unkempt or neglected homes, and other homeowner or renter mistakes. But, in some cases, mold-growth can be the result of a specific career.

Naturally, it’s safe to assume that a mold inspector or a mold-removal specialist would have greater cause for the effect of mold; and while that could be true, it is also possible that they take greater measures at preventing mold transference from their job site to their home than any other career out there. However, direct transference of mold is not the main risk, nor is it the topic of this article.

The careers that enable mold-growth in the home all have three things in common: 1. Long hours, 2. Infrequent days off, and 3. High-stress atmospheres. This could range anywhere from a soldier to an ER doctor to a stripper, but for the sake of writing from personal experience, I will be focusing on chefs.

With the potential of microscopic mold spores naturally teeming in the thousands (if not millions) inside and outside the home, it should come as no surprise that anyone’s chances—of acquiring mold growth at all—are incredibly high. In fact, it is a constant battle, especially in more humid climates or in homes that have moisture issues.

Even if a home does not suffer from moisture issues, our simple daily tasks could be inviting and maintaining mold growth. The risks are raised even more-so when we engage in careers that are so draining—emotionally, mentally, and physically—that we can’t perform our housekeeping skills as well as we should to prevent a mold infestation.

Many psychologists and counselors have compared the effects of a chef’s career as being similar to a soldier on a bloody battlefield. The stress levels are through the roof and the physical and mental strain is incalculable. In fact, the same severity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosed in soldiers who have suffered through intense battles, is actually diagnosed in many chefs, as well. This is especially true in high-customer volume, standards-strict restaurants where the bosses/managers/employers micromanage, criticize, and even yell at or cuss out their chefs. In fact, that’s actually a typical job site scenario for a chef. This could explain why most chefs pick up the terrible habit of smoking, recreational marijuana use, drug addiction, alcoholism, or even eating disorders (binging on junk food or not eating hardly at all). In other words, being a chef can actually be detrimental to your overall health.

It’s no wonder that, with all that riding on their shoulders, chefs are even more at-risk and potential mold-victims. This is because of the little to no mental and physical energy that they come home with. Many chefs will put-off sitting down after a shift because they know that once they do sit down, it will feel absolutely impossible to get up and be capable of cleaning, cooking, showering, changing their clothes, or doing something with their spouse or children. And, it isn’t just physical—even the simplest tasks take a motivation and a personal drive that they simply don’t have after taking such a beating at their job.

Lacking mental and physical energy is what leads many chefs to neglect their housekeeping duties, which could potentially invite mold into their home.

Listed below are only some of the main duties that, if neglected, could lead to mold-growth:

Cooking and Food Storage

  • There is an irony among chefs—something the general public isn’t aware of. Most people assume that, with all the knowledge and skill he possesses, a chef will go home after work and cook gourmet meals for himself or his family. This is rarely true. Most chefs are so burnt-out from cooking for such long hours that they come home and rely on their spouse to cook, or they eat nothing and just go to bed, or they make themselves something as simple and unappealing as a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.

The problem with food preparation at home for a chef is the fact that it’s possible they’re just too tired to care sometimes about proper prep, proper clean up, proper storage, and proper nutrition.

Proper prep pertains to using the right tools to cook, which minimizes spills and damage to kitchen items. For instance, using the cutting board instead of the counter ensures that cuts, scrapes, or holes are not made in the countertop. This damage leads to the absorbance of moisture and filth, which could lead to mold, if not just unhealthy bacteria. Also, proper prep would mean that a chef doesn’t crack an egg and throw the shell across the room to the trash bin, where it may leave an unseen trail of egg white goop. Or, it could mean the chef peels carrots or potatoes directly above a trash bin and doesn’t let the peels fall to the ground or stick to the walls behind the bin. Or maybe it could mean he isn’t careless when he puts food in a pot of boiling water or mixes ingredients, which could easily lead to dropping the food in the crevice between the stove and the counter or splattering food on the backsplash. Unfortunately, some chefs are just plain overworked and tired of doing proper prep. They would prefer to cut corners and be done quicker—and you can’t really blame them after 8+ hours working in a kitchen every day.

Proper clean up involves cleaning up spills and food prep messes as they happen, and washing dishes or pots and pans immediately after cooking. While it is a simple concept, some chefs are just too hungry and exhausted to clean up their messes as they occur. They think they will eat first and then clean up afterward, but the truth is, adding a full stomach to an already exhausted body will only further tax its resources. Many chefs feel the need to go to bed immediately after dinner, or they feel like napping right after breakfast. This is quite common and many home kitchens are left dirty for hours—even days—because of it.

Proper storage techniques could stave off the possibility of food poisoning, as well as contamination or oxidization (improper storage can leave food vulnerable to mold, as well). Some chefs don’t want to wait for food to cool down before they close it up and put it in the refrigerator, too. This is one of the more common ways people give themselves food poisoning and one way in which the refrigerator temperature rises temporarily, which could cause mold growth or food spoilage among the other items in the fridge. Another thing fatigued chefs might do it haphazardly cover their leftovers with plastic wrap, a lid, or aluminum foil. Sometimes, food will spoil or cause poisoning if the correct cover is not used or if the cover is not wrapped or closed tightly (such as storing pizza in the pizza box instead of wrapped in tin foil or plastic). This also would allow mold access to food. (Note: don’t assume that just because a refrigerator is cold, that mold cannot grow. There are thousands or more mold spores floating around in most spaces. Chances are, they have already landed in food or in an open refrigerator door and are lying dormant, waiting for any warmth or moisture to allow for growth.)

Proper nutrition will equip the body to fight viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Since some chefs are less inclined to properly defend their body with good nutrition—at least at home—then they are setting themselves up for the kind of susceptibility and vulnerability that mold loves to take advantage of. This is why the chef continues to feel tired and drained or even succumbs to every sickness that comes his way—it’s because he doesn’t properly nourish his body at home.

Cleaning out the refrigerator regularly is another way to avoid mold and the vulnerability to mold sickness. This is because the fluctuation of temperatures in the refrigerator throughout the day—depending on the volume of food being stored or the temperature at which the items are placed within–

Dishwashing

  • Even if a restaurant has official dishwashers and bussers, these workers often have limited shifts or are even incompetent, leaving the chefs with the daunting task of washing the cooking dishes, as well as the customer dishes—just to get through their shift. This is also another reason why they are forced to work long hours (some of those hours go unpaid or are swept under a fixed salary) and their energy is zapped from them.

When a chef comes home and fixes something to eat or even has someone else cook for him, he doesn’t want to do exactly what he just finished doing at work. He’ll either let the dishes pile in the sink (sometimes for days, which is a mold hazard), or he may even carelessly wash and rinse them, leaving food particles on them. If there is a machine dishwasher, he may not have the patience to rinse the dishes thoroughly before putting them in.

Another problem is that he may put the dishes away in the cabinets before they have fully drip-dried. If they are moist and have food particles still on them, they could easily develop mold if spores are present.

Cleaning Out the Refrigerator and Trash Bin

  • Because a chef is rarely home, he is not available or up to cleaning out the refrigerator and trash bin regularly. If he has a day off, he’d rather sleep, relax, hang out with family and friends, and maybe run errands that he hasn’t had a chance to do in a week or longer.

It isn’t that he’s lazy or purposefully negligent. It simply means he’d rather perform the minimum just to get by due to an aching back and fatigue. He cleans out refrigerators and trash bins on a daily basis at work and to come home and perform the same tasks, would make his day off feel like the same work, just a change of scenery. In fact, he would prefer any chore that is not related to kitchen work or doesn’t require constant bending over or heavy lifting.

The refrigerator and trash bin definitely need to be cleaned each week. Expired or badly stored refrigerator foods need to be thrown out and any spills or leaks cleaned up. The outside and inside of the trash bin should be scrubbed and fully dried before a trash bag is put back inside.

Bathroom and Laundry Upkeep

  • Despite the possibilities above, not all chefs allow their exhaustion to make them careless in their own kitchens. In fact, most chefs are so accustomed to running their work kitchen that they don’t think twice about keeping their own kitchens in tip-top shape. But, if there is a room or area of the house in which a chef may make the biggest mold-inviting mistake of all, it is either the bathroom or the laundry room.

These rooms are where mold is most-likely going to grow in a chef’s home. This is because a chef’s uniform accumulates food and filth like almost no other job on the face of the planet. It’s on his apron, his chef pants, his chef coat, and his shoes (even the patterned treads on the soles of the shoes will amass food and grease). To top that off, his underclothes are usually drenched in sweat, especially his socks. All of that makes for a very tasty treat to mold and what does the chef do once he gets home? He frees himself of all his clothing, piles it on the floor in either the bathroom or the laundry room, hops in the shower, and then forgets about it until he finally has a day off to do laundry.

While some chefs may have a washer and dryer in their home and may put their uniform through the wash every night or every morning, it still stands that most chefs have multiple uniforms and won’t feel the need to wash them until there is a week’s worth (to save on money). This means that there are a great number of chefs out there who are simply piling their filthy, moist, food-infested clothing and leaving it, their home, and their health at the mercy of mold spores.

The best option is to wash uniforms immediately after a shift. The next best option—if a chef has to use a laundromat and won’t have time to do so for a few days—is to rinse off the uniforms with hot water (as hot as the hands can stand), wring them out, and hang them up to dry so that mold can’t land and benefit from both the food particles and the moisture that would have been available had the clothes just been piled for a week or longer.

Car Interior Upkeep

  • Lastly, there is the chef’s vehicle. Most chefs confess to “living out of [their] car.” Perhaps they’ve got a long commute to and from work, or maybe they just generally spend their breaks in it to get some peace and quiet away from the kitchen. Many chefs eat snacks and meals in their cars or they purchase coffee or energy drinks in the morning and, unfortunately, toss them in the passenger floorboard or in the back seat area. They also track in food and grime on the soles of their shoes. They even rub off food and grease from their uniforms onto the front seat. All of this provides moisture and food for mold, while the sun and metal/glass components of the car conduct excellent heat for it to grow and thrive.

Simply tossing out food and drink containers, cleaning up messes or spills immediately, and regularly deep-cleaning the inside of the car will prevent this concern.

This article was not written with the intention to villainize chefs or even generalize and stereotype them. These are all just possible scenarios in the life of any overworked, exhausted individual. If you or someone you know is a chef and none of this occurs from your perspective, then that’s great! It means you are less at-risk. However, if you’re a chef or have a similar job that causes you to do the bare minimum at home, please be mindful of the risk you are putting your health and your loved ones’ health in.

If you are the spouse or roommate of a chef or someone with a similarly stressful and exhausting career and you’re frustrated with their housekeeping or childcare skills, please try to be compassionate and patient. They may be experiencing so much fatigue that they have developed depression or health issues and couldn’t function well at home, even if they wanted to. Communicate your concerns. Above all, try to be supportive and understanding, and when you communicate, share information—not accusations. Show them this article and have them read other articles on MoldBlogger.com so that they understand the mold-causing health risks they are putting their family in by being careless.

For more information regarding mold, mold prevention, and mold solutions, please check out the rest of MoldBlogger.com.

Amanda Mott is the mother and personal chef of two boys, the domestic technician of a three-bedroom town home, and occasionally, a freelance writer and editor. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @TheWifesLife

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