California Chefs, Bartenders Now Forced To Wear Gloves

A new law prevents food professionals from touching what they serve to customers. Can a loophole help them skirt the rules?


Gloved hands
f1uffster (Jeanie) / / CC BY-NC-ND

Chefs and bartenders in California are aghast over a 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.

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.

"Every California lawmaker who voted for this should be asked to cook food this way at home," says Walter Olson of Overlawyered and the Cato Institute, by email.

So which California lawmakers voted for this law? All of them, it turns out.

While the law has been wildly controversial since coming into force, it passed both the state senate and state assembly by unanimous votes.

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."

If it appears to you that the exception pretty much swallows the rule, then you're absolutely right. How many bartenders are zesting lemons for custom cocktails destined for "preschool age children" at, say, a kidney dialysis center, right?

So if the law isn't worth the paper it's printed on, then why are chefs and bartenders up in arms? It's the confusion it causes. And the paperwork required to avoid it.

In order to qualify for a "highly susceptible population" exemption, the law states that restaurants and bars must "obtain prior approval from the regulatory authority;" must maintain "[w]ritten procedures" on site "that include a list of the specific ready-to-eat foods that are touched by bare hands," and must present "diagrams and other information[.]" And that's not even the half of it. (The multi-step compliance language runs more than 400 words.)

And then there's the fact that "it's not clear how the Los Angeles County health department will enforce the new regulations or how it would allot exemptions," reports the Los Angeles Times.

"In pursuit of the mirage of perfect safety, this rule sacrifices craft, proportion and common sense," says Olson. "Even though laws like this often go ignored in practice, they open up every ungloved bartender and sushi chef to selective enforcement or an inspector's shakedown."

"This bill bothers me for many reasons. For the aesthetic crime of not letting cooks touch their food (which I firmly believe makes good food almost impossible to make), for the environmental impact of using millions of gloves each day, and most importantly, that studies show glove use actually increases overall bacteria, which makes more people sick," says Iso Rabins of the handmade food community ForageSF—who knows a thing or two about overly burdensome food safety rules—in an email to me this week. "It just doesn't make sense."

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  1. minimize bard hand and arm contact

    So Shakespeare can’t touch my food? I’m OK with that.

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  2. The CA state government is completely insane.

    1. And Francisco Franco is still dead.

    2. Start working at home with GOOGLE!YAHOO. ABCNEWS AND MORE GLOBAL SITES… It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, ….

  3. Does the new law also prevent reason from using snarky alt-text?

    1. I can help you with your discomfort, Ted.
      How’s this:

      Rubber gloves — they’re not just for anally raping libertarians any more!

      1. Take your meds and fuck off Mary.

  4. and the threat of selective enforcement.

    Even if there were only one law on the books for all of California, completely unrelated to food at all, this would still apply.

  5. My wife used to be annoyed whenever she observed a bartender grab a piece of lemon for a drink after handling money.

    Still. The laws seems a bit of a stretch. You can probably make a sandwich with gloves but cooking? I cook at home and can’t imagine doing that.

    When I was a stock broker the most difficult client profile were engineers and pilots. They often were too smart for their own good – one even came in with formulas convinced they could beat the options market.

    When it comes to doctors and public policy, I’m starting to get the same feeling. Quackery among doctors like we saw in a report from the CBC the other day asserting minimum wage is a health issue happens.

    1. Isn’t that the “public health” subset of doctors? They’re almost as nasty as the medical “ethicists”.

      1. Yeah. “Ethicists” frighten the crap out of me.

        1. I find what appears to be the fundamental premise of bio-ethics to be puzzling, because it seems to negate the very possibility of ethics.

          That premise, of course, is that people lack agency, and thus cannot make health care decisions for themselves. Thus, the need for “bio-ethics” to make those decisions for them.

          I just don’t know how any ethical system can start with “people have no agency.”

          1. I’m freelance. I have no agency.

    2. There’s an entire chapter in Modernist Cuisine debunking the currently set guidelines for safe food handling.

      The other chef here and I have talked about it before and I’ve discussed it with Baylen but, the vast majority of food regulations are arbitrary. They simple sound good to people that don’t know any better and are enacted to create regulatory jobs and, produce fees and fines.

      1. create regulatory jobs and, produce fees and fines.

        Sounds good to me!


      2. “They simple sound good to people that don’t know any better and are enacted to create regulatory jobs and, produce fees and fines.”

        Same as in my business.

        It’s all an illusion of safety.

        People like deception.

    3. I blame the writers for The Sopranos:
      Livia Soprano: [appalled at watching Emeril Lagasse at a cooking show] He’s not even washing his hands!

    4. The alcohol will kill the pathogens, at least if she’s having a decent drink.

    5. My wife used to be annoyed whenever she observed a bartender grab a piece of lemon for a drink after handling money.

      You didn’t explain to her that booze in an awesome antiseptic?

    6. There is no cross contamination from money. Worked in a restaurant, health inspectors in California never made an issue over it.

  6. I am so glad I’m no longer a chef. I’d walk away. Kitchens are hot. Can you imagine an eight hour shift in rubber gloves? Who wants sweat dripping into their food?

    1. I took some time “off” to learn pastry, in a production kitchen not a restaurant one. I might not go back. I’ve worked a double in gloves it’s fucking terrible and gross.

  7. Why would gloves help if you prepare a spinach salad that was irrigated with bird poop infested pond water?

  8. That know man land is like the coolest place ever.

  9. Gloves are meaningless when it comes to food safety. Gloves are intended to protect the wearer, not anything or anybody else. If you sneeze and cover with a gloved hand, then touch food, what difference does the glove make?

    It would make more sense to have the employees wear OR masks.

    1. I’d rather a diligent worker who washes their hands often enough. Unfortunately, it’s just one of things where you have to trust the restaurant you go to. That’s why I try to go to places I know and formed somewhat of relationship or at least trust.

      1. Rufus, do you mean to tell us you believe that decisions should be made by the PUBLIC?! I mean, they might, like, share information about the restaurant and collectively decide which ones are good on some kind of website even!

        But this is unauthorized. Are these people restaurant reviewers? Do they have a government license? DO THEY WORK FOR THE CDC?

        Obviously people can’t be trusted to eat where they’d like to eat. We need TOP. MEN. to do that for us.

        1. Nutty, eh?

    2. Exactly this^^^

      When I worked in a hospital laundry, that was exactly the function of the gloves we wore. We had to swipe them from the patient floors because there were never any in the laundry.

      For smoking a cigarette or eating, you pull off the gloves so all the crap on them does not get in you.

    3. And, inevitably, gloves make sanitation worse, because nobody washes their “gloves” like they would their hands.

      So, you contaminate your gloves, and keep handling things, because hey, gloves. You contaminate your hands, and you are at least more likely to wash them.

  10. Fatboy is officially done now.

    Two senior members of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration warned a New Jersey mayor earlier this year that her town would be starved of hurricane relief money unless she approved a lucrative redevelopment plan favored by the governor, according to the mayor and emails and personal notes she shared with msnbc.

    The mayor, Dawn Zimmer, hasn’t approved the project, but she did request $127 million in hurricane relief for her city of Hoboken ? 80% of which was underwater after Sandy hit in October 2012. What she got was $142,000 to defray the cost of a single back-up generator plus an additional $200,000 in recovery grants.

    In an exclusive interview, Zimmer broke her silence and named Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, Christie’s community affairs commissioner, as the two officials who delivered messages on behalf of a governor she had long supported.…..ey-hostage

    1. Let’s hope he twists in the wind a while. Americans have short memories and this could all blow over by next year.

    2. Palin’s Buttplug|1.18.14 @ 9:18AM|#
      “Fatboy is officially done now.”

      Yes, shitpile, while your fave lying bastard gets a pass.
      Go fuck your daddy.

    3. Team blue realized that they couldn’t treat him like old Mitt so they went after him early. However they could’ve just sat on this till he won the primary. Deviating from procedures may have consequences.

      1. The dems knew he was never gonna win the primary. He is the Dems favorite Repub, not the Conservatives favorite Repub.

        That’s why they decided to go ahead and have their fun now.

        Amazing to me that most people think his actions are worse than the administrations actions during the shutdown though.

    4. Why does a city of 50,000 people need $127mn?

    5. I dunno. Delivering messages that are asserted to be “on behalf of” the Gov doesn’t mean the Gov actually knew about them.

  11. Maybe they should wear condoms and porn workers should wear gloves.
    CA is too funny, best Kabuki going.

    1. I’m perfectly willing to let restaurant workers touch food with their penises if they want to. Let the public decide!

      1. i recall that Jack in the Box’s Jumbo Jack was made perfect by ‘Jack’s Secret Sauce’. i wonder if that was how it was done.

  12. I actively avoid any restaurant that has preparers use gloves UNLESS I observe the new gloves come out of a box immediately before prep, and go right in the trash after preparation.

    I would rather eat sweat, sneeze, or even trace booger residue than food handled extensively by gloves that have handled money all day long. Yech.

    1. One of the PA food laws: people who handle food shouldn’t handle money, or they should change gloves after they do. And don’t scratch your nose and then handle food. If I were an insurer, I’d want rules like this for my clients.
      This comment probably goes against the grain of others on this thread, but I think it’s reasonable to try to prevent food contamination.

      1. We have similar rules in QC. I’ve seen instances where people handle food AND money. Disgusting. Pretty sure this will happen in California. Workers during rush hour lunch won’t have a sec to keep changing gloves I reckon. And the cost to the business would be high.

        1. Money? who uses money anymore?

  13. Of course food servers should wear gloves — who do they think they are –cooks or nannies ?

    Think what might happen if young people were allowed to remove their gloves at dances, and then

    apply the same principle to publlc servants and wet nurses.

  14. I don’t understand this law. In PA, there’s a similar law, but it works differently: You can handle any food that will be cooked to temperatures above 165F with bare hands, before it’s cooked. Anything, cooked or not, that’s then “ready to eat” must be handled with gloves. This makes more sense. And, of course, there should be a trained person in charge. I have experience with food handling through work at service club breakfasts. Gloves like the ones shown certainly make your hands sweat and should be changed often. But when they fit well, most (even delicate) food handling things can be done easily. After all, look what surgeons can do with gloves on.
    Like most Libertarians, I don’t want lots of laws and bureaucracy. Insurance companies could easily accomplish most, if not all, food safety inspections and enforcement of good practices. But sadly, that’s not the system we have now. Safe food handling makes good sense.

    1. Oh, and clean tongs and other utensils can replace gloves.

    2. …”Safe food handling makes good sense.”

      Yes, and buzz-words make stupid policy.
      Care to tell us how wearing contaminated gloves is better than contaminated hands?

      1. See my post at 9:51 above.

        1. Yes, and the law in question does nothing as regards those issues.

          1. Okay, and you don’t see me being in favor of the law in question, do you?

          2. I said I didn’t understand it.

            In other posts on this thread, I suggest what I hope is viewed as a more libertarian, non-coercive approach to food safety, via insurance.

            I welcome education if I’m on the wrong track.

    3. The benefits of the laws – in practice – ate overstated from my point of view. Even if people were getting food poisoning at a particular restaurant, people stop going.

      Like those dumb mandated undercooked food disclaimers on menus, government is late to the party as usual. Pretty sure everyone, and i mean everyone, knew the risk of eating undercooked foods before the rules were in place.

      1. “The benefits of the laws – in practice – ate overstated from my point of view.”

        Pompey, you’re most probably right. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t want some care taken by our food preparers. As I said elsewhere on this thread, if I were a restaurant owner, I would expect my liability insurance provider to take an interest in how my employees and I handle food, in order to minimize its payouts.

  15. Practical joke skit from David Letterman some years ago;

    Letterman, with glasses and ball cap watches outdoor cafe from street and gives instructions to waiter via radio.

    Waiter brings drinks to table holding the glasses so his fingers are very obviously in the drinks. Outraged customers demand he bring new drinks without his fingers in them.

    A few moments later waiter returns with new drinks and his fingers in them again, but this time he is wearing bright yellow gloves. Customers lose their minds and go apeshit.

    1. Rupert Gee is the best!

  16. This would normally be one of the few regulations that I might support.

    At least that was until I saw what the people who actually have worked with handling food weighed in with.

    Making people who work with food wear gloves is one of those ideas that sounds good in theory, but as what a lot of people have mentioned when you handle something like raw chicken with bare hands, you instinctively wash them afterwards, but when you are wearing gloves you might not remember to clean or replace the gloves between food items possibly resulting in contamination.

    See, I would have supported this before until the people who actually have the experience in this issue commented which made me realize my ignorance and switch sides. But seeing as how I have critical thinking skills and the vast majority of statists don’t; I doubt many will be swayed.

    1. F_C, Your point on not remembering is taken.
      Laws are so permanent and inflexible. And they’re often written by a) pols who don’t know what they’re legislating about, b) bureaucrats, same, or c) lobbyists who have their own special interests.
      I say, leave it all to insurance companies. Then restaurants can advertise by whom they are insured (if they are, and if they wish), and consumers can make their choices. Done.

    2. I was going to make a similar point. I work in healthcare where the primary purpose of gloves is to protect the PROVIDER not patient (except for “sterile” procedures). And I have seen many many people wearing gloves touch and contaminate EVERYTHING and EVERYONE around them, including the patient. Personally, I rarely wear gloves and, as a result, am a COMPULSIVE hand washer and sanitizer user and am VERY careful in avoiding contamination when involved in patient care. I suspect that the same principle might apply in the food industry. I certainly follow the same principles when I cook and nobody has died yet.

  17. We and our partner Matty Yglesias probably should wear rubber gloves when we jerk each other off, but it’s not going to happen, and the right-wing fundies who control the government can’t make us.

  18. Darwinistically I may be in favor of this law – it’s one that is so bad that it will hopefully kill itself and result in the removal of the regulators that instigated it.

  19. my Aunty Isabella got a new cream Chrysler Town and Country Minivan by working part-time from a macbook air. you can find out more ?? WWW.????37.???

  20. They could just ban eating in restaurants. There, all fixed.

  21. This can’t be right. Either all the places are going to lobby to change this, or they outright won’t comply, or both. I mean really it’s freaking nuts

  22. As a freedom-loving Libertarian I’m torn on this issue.
    I own a factory that makes rubber gloves.

    I kid, I kid.
    (Old Jewish Man voice) BUT CAN YOU IMAGINE?

    Finally, end it with a Precious Pup laugh.
    I’m done.

  23. The first thing I thought about when I read this was when I worked in a restaurant. If I had a cut on my hand, I would wear a glove. Normally, I would wash my hands if I touched a dirty rag or had to pick up something from the floor, but this was nearly impossible with the glove on, so usually I would just wipe it on my apron. I feel bad about it now, since I probably gave someone E. Coli on their Caesar salad after wiping my hand on my apron instead of washing after using the toilet.

  24. Here we have just one more (among the many, many) law designed to eliminate all risk. These people have become the risk Nazis. Are there no Conservatives and Libertarians left in the California Legislature?

  25. About time this is a practice that has been the norm for years. I was in DC Washington and noticed no gloves or the washing of hands after coughing into their fist of bartenders. There was no recycle law for bottles or plastic and I thought, great here I am in Washington DC and the basic laws are ignored.

  26. The alcohol will kill the pathogens, at least if she’s having a decent drink.

  27. There are a number of reputable studies that show wearing gloves actually increases microbial and contamination risks. Researchers concluded that a large percentage of “gloved” food workers did not change gloves after touching unclean surfaces/foods and thereby increased risk of cross-contamination, while “ungloved” workers tended to wash their hands more frequently.

    I certainly support worker training and enforcement of cleanliness related to food handling, but the bottom line is that this is a more complicated issue than California legislators believe and yet another example of government hubris regarding regulating both science and business.

  28. Lets just skip a few steps and force them to wear hazmat suits.

  29. This will probably result in less-clean food (not replacing gloves often-enough… yuck!)

    Some regulations are good, some are bad. Regulations that require blind obedience to misguided rules are worse than useless. In this case, regulations about cleanliness and continuous training are ample, but nooooooo… some jackass wants to make a new law to platform on. Lawmakers should all go to hell.

    [Furthermore, the core issue: the rate at which people get sick eating prepared foods remains un-adressed because it’s caused by two things. 1) food that’s gone bad. 2) food that’s gone bad. Gloves don’t magically make bad food into good food. Target the food preparers who need to be trained or fired, or better-yet, target the businesses who prepare food and don’t properly train or oversee their employees (Imagine that!) **Not to mention those who wilfully serve spoiled foods or willfully store them in unsanitary conditions ((issues for which there are already regulations in-place… more pointless lawmaking, for the win!))]

  30. If restaurant workers aren’t careful to clean their hands, requiring them to wear gloves isn’t going to accomplish anything. They will use their dirty hands to put on the gloves, which will contaminate the gloves.

    I’m also surprised that in the land of fruits and nuts that they didn’t consider the environmental impact of all those extra gloves filling the landfills.

    I wonder who in the California legislature has a close relative in the glove manufacturing business.

  31. Every California lawmaker who voted for this should be asked to cook food this way at home,”

    I’m sure their illegals would be happy to wear gloves.

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