Some California chefs are steaming mad over a new law that goes into effect this year. Beginning January 2014, a new section of the California Retail Food Code will prohibit bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods, in an effort to curb foodborne illnesses.
That means the use of gloves or utensils will be mandatory whenever ready-to-eat foods are handled. Cooks will be required to wear single-use gloves or use utensils when handling food such as sushi, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables and any cooked ingredients of dishes that will be served to customers.
The LA Times notes some chefs say the law is confusing, ineffective, bad for the environment and can compromise a final dish. Neal Fraser, chef-owner of BLD restaurant and Fritzi Dog, told the Los Angeles Times:
“The band-aid of a blanket glove regulation is potentially dangerous. People get into the tendency to not wash their hands. And environmentally it’s very unfriendly. It’s funny that at the same time L.A. institutes a plastic bag ban, there’s this.”
Neal Fraser’s comment is backed up by a 2007 study in the Journal of Food Protection which claims hand washing was less likely to occur with activities in which gloves were worn.
And a 2010 study in the same journal concludes: “Glove use can create a false sense of security, resulting in more high-risk behaviors that can lead to cross-contamination when employees are not adequately trained”
“When I heard about it, I thought, ‘No, you’re joking.’ This is terrible,” said Roxana Jullapat, pastry chef at Cooks County.
“Who’s saying gloves can’t cause cross-contamination or can’t get dirty? Outside or inside. Nothing good is happening in there where it’s warm and sweaty. And I bet it’s three months before a glove shows up in a salad.”
The pastry chef’s comments are echoed in the 2010 study referenced above:
“Occlusion of the skin during long-term glove use in food operations creates the warm, moist conditions necessary for microbial proliferation and can increase pathogen transfer onto foods through leaks or exposed skin or during glove removal”
“People put those darn gloves on and they think they’re protected,”says Denise Korniewicz, dean of the college of nursing at the University of North Dakota and an expert on the efficacy of gloves.
“The best way to prevent the transmission of bacteria, virus or other bug is to wash hands thoroughly, adhering to the protocols that we know work.”
Korniewicz adds that it’s not the gloves, but rather what workers are doing with their hands, like using the phone or wiping their nose.
Angelica Pappas, a spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Assn says, “Other states have similar rules, and a lot of restaurants are already practicing this, especially the bigger companies and multi-chain operators. It wasn’t anything unforeseen.”
But Jordan R. Bernstein, an attorney at Michelman & Robinson who provides general counsel for restaurant clients emphasized that the new California Retail Food Code is puzzling.
“A law intended to regulate employees at a Subway is now being applied to fine dining, which operates at a different capacity with a different approach to training and a different caliber of employees,” said Bernstein.
“I’ve spoken to some chefs that I work with who have a lot of questions,” Bernstein said.
“They’re restaurant managers and operators who have many employees contacting food and have been doing it in a certain manner for a long time, and — other than ‘everybody wear gloves’ — don’t know how to comply with the new law.”
Food safety experts note that there are guidelines for using gloves properly, and there’s a six-month rollout so restaurants would have time to become informed and comply.
But unless someone “rats out” chefs and kitchen staff, who will be around to enforce this new food code?