Cooks, Chefs, and Bakers: If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen?

President Harry Truman popularized the phrase, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” He meant one should leave a task to others if the pressures become too difficult. In a more literal sense, we decided to look at jobs people perform in kitchens to see how likely they are to be exposed to heat. It turns out that people who work in kitchens often are exposed to both extreme heat and extreme cold. Yes, we have a stat for that!

According to the May 2017 estimates from our Occupational Employment Statistics survey, there are 2.4 million cooks, 131,430 chefs and head cooks, and 182,890 bakers employed in the United States. Let’s see what percentage of these workers are exposed to extreme temperatures.

The 2017 estimates from our Occupational Requirements Survey tell us what percentage of workers are exposed to extreme temperatures.

Chart showing percent of cooking jobs exposed to extreme heat or extreme cold.

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

We can make three observations based on these estimates.

1. Cooks are much more likely to work in extreme temperatures than a typical U.S. worker.

Among all U.S. workers, 9.3 percent are exposed to extreme heat on the job, and 8.5 percent are exposed to extreme cold. These numbers are small when compared to those of various types of cooks. For example, among chefs and head cooks, 71.3 percent work in extreme heat and 74.8 percent work in extreme cold.

2. For each cooking occupation, the likelihoods of working in extreme heat and extreme cold are about the same.

Most cooks in the United States have exposures to extreme heat, and similar percentages of cooks work in extreme cold. Fast food cooks are the only cooking occupation with a significant difference in the likelihoods of exposure to extreme heat and extreme cold.

3. Bakers are not like cooks.

Bakers, like the cooks, are more likely than a typical U.S. worker to work in an environment exposed to extreme temperatures. Bakers are less likely than cooks to work in extreme temperatures, however.

So, does President Truman’s old saying stand the test of empirical evidence? Yes, but only partially. The evidence suggests we should change the old saying slightly. Here is my suggestion: If you can’t stand the heat—or the cold—get out of the kitchen, or consider being a baker instead!

Percent of jobs where workers are exposed to extreme temperatures, 2017
Occupation Extreme cold Extreme heat
All Workers 8.5% 9.3%

Chefs and head cooks

74.8 71.3

Fast food cooks

72.1 55.1

Institution and cafeteria cooks

71.1 61.8

Restaurant cooks

70.8 67.4

Short order cooks

53.8 57.9

Bakers

32.9 28.6

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