Working in the heat can be an exhausting and dangerous. And many chefs know first hand what it is like to work long hours over a grill or next to a hot oven. If the heat is not managed properly, we can start to see drops in cognitive processing and increased fatigue. Even worse symptoms like nausea and fainting can occur in longer periods in high heat conditions. To better manage the heat, we need to better understand the effects heat has on the body. We can then manage the causes and symptoms we may feel when working in the kitchen.
It’s getting hot in here. No, literally getting hot inside.
Measuring the heat in a room is not as straight forward as keeping a thermometer on the wall and checking the temperature. We need to take into account the humidity in the air, the air flow, and speed at which we work. Humans are also not the best at monitoring their body temperature until we have a problem, so we are also going to understand the ways we measure and categorize heat in humans.
The human body in heat:
Humans are able to manage the heat via one main mechanism, sweat. When humans begin to heat up from the environment or exercise, they begin to sweat heavily. This is one of the bodies on board cooling systems and when utilizing it properly it can be one of the most effective ways of managing the heat. Unlike other animals, humans use sweating as one of the primary ways to regulate body temperature. Sweating lowers the bodies temperature by evaporating the sweat off our bodies in the heat. This works best in dry conditions where the moisture can be evaporated and cause a cooling effect.
But surface temperature of the body can be very different than what is happening inside. The symptoms of heat stroke and heat fatigue are caused by an increase in the internal temperature of the body. Since the heat is increasing inside the body, it can be difficult to reduce the temperature quickly when problems arise. It is also more difficult to notice when the body is over heating because the skin temperature may not be a good indicator of how warm the total system is. One of the best ways to prevent this is to spot the signs of heat exhaustion before it is a problem.
Spot the signs of heat related illnesses:
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Heavy sweating during intense exercise
Muscle pain or spasms
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Cold, pale, and clammy skin
Fast, weak pulse
Nausea or vomiting
Tiredness or weakness
Fainting (passing out)
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
High body temperature (103°F or higher)
Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
Fast, strong pulse
Losing consciousness (passing out)
The tough part for many people is knowing when they will have symptoms of heat related illnesses. Everyone is able to acclimatize to different temperatures and humidity. But heat illnesses are also impacted by the person’s hydration levels, fatigue, clothing choices, diet, and drug use. The end points of heat illnesses may be the same but when we get there will all be different.
So what is a chef to do when working in the heat all day? Let’s look at a few things you can do today to manage the heat.
Managing the Heat
Before your day begins:
Make sure your day starts right with a boost of hydration. Coffee and energy drinks are diuretics which means they will cause a loss in water over time via urination. When you wake up take the time to drink a full glass of water and always keep a glass water with you while you enjoy anything with caffeine.
Eat a proper meal.
Dehydration not only reduces water content but also reduces the electrolyte balance in our cells by sweating out salt. This can be prevented by eating a proper meal before the work day begins to give yourself the electrolytes your need.
Wear moisture wicking clothes:
When the term ‘moisture wicking’ is used it essentially means a material that will allow sweat to pass through it faster and away from the skin. This will allow it to evaporate faster and keep the sweat from building up as close to the body. You can find lots of moisture wicking clothes for a great price!
During your workday:
Drink Cold Water:
This may seem obvious but drinking cold water cools down internal body temperature faster than room temperature water. It’s not the be all end all of lowering body temperature but it does help manage increasing body temperatures over time.
During Microbreaks remove yourself from the heat:
If you are taking a small break, take the time to remove yourself from the kitchen and hottest part of the restaurant. Preferably somewhere with effective air flow so the sweat can evaporate and cool your temperature.
Take a cooling shower:
Ice baths are the be all end all for decreasing a person’s temperature quickly in emergency high heat situations. This may not be available to everyone but a cold shower can have a similar effect.
Making the Kitchen a little less hot.
Kitchens have a couple standards in place already that really help manage the heat levels. Firstly, they have ventilation hoods above the main cooking stations. These do a massive service of pulling hot air out of the kitchen and forcing it out of the building.
While the hoods are sucking the hot air out of the kitchen we also want to make sure we are replacing this with fresh cooler air back into the kitchen. Some newer kitchens have HVAC systems, that pull cooler air from the dining room and replaces it in the kitchen. If you don’t have a ventilation system doing this then invest in a fan that will blow cooler air from a window or doorway into the kitchen. This fresh air is most likely cooler and dryer than the moist air in the kitchen and will create a greater evaporation of sweat.
Create a hot work policy:
Create a checklist or flow for the kitchen team to better manage the effects of the heat. One simple way to do this is to make sure everyone has done the following before service:
Cold water is at their station
Is hydrated before they start
Has eaten a meal.
Make sure everyone knows the signs and symptoms of heat related illnesses and to notify management if they see it happening.
Seems simple but this is really going to help manage the chances of having a heat related condition while working.
There you have it! We can’t make the hot conditions in restaurant go away completely but we can manage it a little bit better. This can make the difference in the hot summer months and will reduce fatigue levels for your team.