new law that prevents them from touching the food they will serve to customers. The new law, which took effect on January 1, is part of the California Retail Food Code.Chefs and bartenders in California are aghast over a
State food handling regulations previously required foodservice employees to "minimize bare hand and arm contact with non-prepackaged food that is in a ready-to-eat-form[.]"
The new law "instead requires food employees to minimize bard (sic) hand and arm contact with exposed food that is not in a ready-to-eat form." The "ready-to-eat" terminology means "food that is edible without additional preparation to achieve food safety."
That sounds complex.
So which California lawmakers voted for this law? All of them, it turns out.
Why this unanimous support for the law?
One reason, I suspect, is that there is data to support the claim that restaurant food preparation can—and sometimes does—make people sick (even if it's but one of many risk factors for foodborne illness).
According to CDC data, for example, nearly half of all cases of foodborne illness in 2009-10 "were caused by food consumed in a restaurant or deli." And a California Restaurant Association fact sheet notes that "food service employees are the source of contamination in more than two-thirds of the foodborne outbreaks reported in the United States with a bacterial or viral cause." But rather than suggesting chefs wear mittens while handling food, for example, the CDC instead urges every restaurant to "[t]rain and certify managers in food safety[.]"
The CDC also suggests other preventative steps.
"Illnesses can be greatly reduced," Dr. Patricia Griffin of the CDC told the Wall St. Journal last year, "if food preparers take simple precautions such as washing their hands often and keeping raw meat separate from fruits and vegetables."
So what can chefs and bartenders in California do to deal the glove requirement?
Thankfully, there is a loophole. It allows "food employees not serving a highly susceptible population to contact exposed, ready-to-eat food with their bare hands if specified requirements are met[.]"
Who is this "highly susceptible population"? The law defines it as "a group of persons who are more likely than other people in the general population to experience foodborne disease because both... [t]he group is comprised of immunocompromised persons, preschool age children, or older adults; [and that] group obtains food at a facility, including, but not limited to, a kidney dialysis center, hospital, nursing home, or senior center, that provides services, such as custodial care, health care, assisted living, or socialization services."