As Popular Science explains, hair mostly comprises keratin, a protein that poses no threat when eaten. And while it is technically possible that there’s Staphylococcus aureus bacteria clinging to the hair, it’s probably not enough to cause any gastrointestinal distress. If the hair snuck into your food before it got cooked at a high temperature, chances of illness are even slimmer. “Ingesting a hair or two … will likely not be problematic and will just pass right through you,” Adam Friedman, a dermatology professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, told VICE.
You could choke on a hair, or it could cut the mucous membrane in your mouth—but neither of those are common issues. If you have a habit of eating hair, on the other hand, that’s a different story. Trichophagia is a psychological disorder where people compulsively ingest their hair, which can cause hairballs called trichobezoars to get lodged in their stomachs. Not only is that a rare occurrence, but it definitely wouldn’t be the result of a single hair-in-food incident.
The FDA doesn’t seem to think swallowing a few hairs now and then is harmful, either. Manufacturers are allowed to include an average of up to 11 rodent hairs per 25 grams of ground paprika or ground cinnamon, for example, and plenty of other food products can contain rodent hairs, too. As for human hair, the FDA doesn’t mention it at all in its Food Defect Levels Handbook. It does come up in the FDA Food Code, which recommends that food employees wear “hair restraints such as hats, hair coverings or nets, beard restraints, and clothing that covers body hair.” Not every department of health rigorously enacts and enforces that mandate.
But while a piece of hair on your plate isn’t a huge risk by itself, it could warn you of a larger problem. “Hair can be an indicator of lack of sanitation at the facility where the food was prepared,” USDA food safety specialist Archie Magoulas told VICE. At the very least, you should probably get a free meal out of the debacle.
[h/t Popular Science]