Video: California Law Forces Chefs and Bartenders to Wear Gloves
"This law, which seems to be really focused on the Subways and Chipotles of the market, now affects your most well-trained and experienced chefs who have mastered their craft and have never had any issue," says Jordan Bernstein, a Los Angeles–based attorney at Michelman and Robinson who represents some of California's top chefs and eateries. "They've been using their hands for 30 years and now this really throws them for a loop."
At a time when California is considering a statewide ban on plastic shopping bags, the legislature unanimously approved a measure that would force fine dining chefs and bartenders to wear plastic gloves when handling a variety of food items.
Recent changes to the California Food Retail Code meant to promote food safety have created a backlash in the restaurant industry. Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, the modifications ban any bare-handed contact with ready-to-eat foods. This means that all chefs and bartenders must now wear single-use plastic gloves when handling food such as steak, sushi, bread, fruit, and even the lemon garnish on your tasty cocktail.
And because California is considered to be one of the pioneers of food safety laws, changes made in the state could eventually spread nationwide.
"There's a possibility that wearing the gloves won't have the intended affect because there's a possibility that people will use it as a false sense of security—that their hands are clean and they won't actually wash their hands," Bernstein continues. "I don't know why this notion of not washing hands was not good enough. You could have just as much contamination with gloves."
Not only are there concerns about the effectiveness of the law, but the blanket rule changes also have unintended consequences on sushi chefs and bartenders.
"The big issue is the sushi chef," states Bernstein. "You've never seen a sushi chef wear gloves when preparing your rolls or pieces. So that's an unintended consequence." Bernstein also points out that the cost of stocking kitchens with high volumes of disposable gloves could also negatively impact a restaurant's bottom line.
Though the state has said that certain chefs and establishments can apply for an exemption from the law, it hasn't defined how an exemption can be obtained—nor has it stated how it plans to enforce the law when it fully goes into effect later this year.
Bartenders have taken a grassroots approach to fight the law and launched a petition on Change.org to get an exemption from the statute. The petition has received over 11,000 signatures in just a few weeks. Angelica Pappas, spokesperson for the California Restaurant Association, says the trade group is also working with the state health committee to make improvements to the law. Maybe they can convince Sacramento bureaucrats that having a cookie cutter approach to food safety has no place in any kitchen.
Approximately 5:30 minutes.
Produced by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Tracy Oppenheimer, Paul Detrick, William Neff, Sharif Matar, Gabrielle Cole, and Alex Manning.
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