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The Gloves Are On in Fight Over Misguided New York Restaurant Rules

Requiring chefs to wear gloves doesn't make food safer and generates mountains of waste.

Credit: nSeika / photo on flickrCredit: nSeika / photo on flickrLast week, New York City health inspectors ordered the doors of celebrated Japanese restaurant Sushi Dojo closed.

The inspectors claim the restaurant's practice of allowing foodservice handlers to handle food is indefensible and dangerous.

Sushi Dojo chef David Bouhadana told Eater the glove regulation is garbage. "We were closed for one thing and one thing only, not wearing gloves," he writes. "Sushi chefs are not supposed to wear gloves. 17 employees lost their job because the DOH has been harassing me for four months and threatening me for this issue. I have 20+ of the best sushi chefs behind me and many more ready to bat for me. We will solve this BS rule, a rule I don't stand by. Sushi is being ruined [b]y gloves[.]"

The New York Post's Steve Cuozzo blasted the city health department, calling the crackdown on Bouhadana and the city's sushi chefs "stupid, arrogant and plain insane," in a column this week. Anthony Bourdain, the voice of high-end chefs in America, also took umbrage with the health department's stance.

Bouhadana told Grub Street that he'd paid out $6,000 in fines to the health department in recent months. "In most cases, the DOH only shuts restaurants down for major violations such as vermin infestations.... But the DOH had been to the restaurant six times previously citing them with violations for not wearing gloves. And this time, they lowered the boom: the restaurant had to close," reports Zagat.

Bouhadana, a Zagat award winner, has vowed to fight back against the health department.

If this controversy sounds familiar, that's because it is. In 2014, as I discussed here, California's state legislature passed a law barring foodservice staff—from sushi chefs making maki to bartenders zesting fruit into a cocktail—from touching ready-to-eat food with their hands.

At least 40 states still have similar laws on the books. Colorado, for example, doesn't require the use of gloves in restaurants. But the state prohibits chefs from touching food with their hands. The state, just like New York, suggests chefs use tongs, spatulas, or waxed paper instead.

Even though laws like these are on the books around the country, that doesn't mean they must be so. In fact, an inspirational, chef-led movement in California forced the state to repeal its law in 2014.

"This bill bothers me for many reasons," food entrepreneur Iso Rabins, who helped lead the movement to repeal the California law, told me last year. "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."

Rabins is right. A 2007 New York Times piece discussed a study suggesting the solution (gloves) may be making the problem (foodborne illness) worse. A 2012 Washington Post piece also cited research that made the same case.

So the rules don't make food safer. Clean hands, as the saying goes, are better than dirty gloves.

As Rabins also points out, rules like these also promote senseless food waste.

"Northern California especially is very concerned with sustainability," said chef Todd Davies, in comments to the Marin Independent Journal after the California law took effect. "Why would we want to create more trash in a society that creates way too much trash anyway?"

The California law, which passed unanimously, was repealed unanimously, with the law's original sponsor speaking out against it. Let's hope New York State—and dozens of others around the country—will soon follow suit.

Photo Credit: nSeika / photo on flickr

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  • SQRLSY One||

    Government Almighty loves me SOOOO much that it wants to kill me (for my own good) with additional food-borne illnesses arising from the use of gloves. THANK YOU, Government Almighty! (May I have another).

  • Zunalter||

    Of course you may! If the government is efficient at one thing, it's giving you "another".

  • dchang0||

    You're going to love the study that shows that the ban on plastic shopping bags will result in more food contamination due to people failing to wash their reusable cloth shopping bags often enough...

    Funny thing is, the ban on plastic shopping bags is for the environment and its unintended consequence is the spread of foodborne diseases, and the glove requirement is for the spread of foodborne diseases with an unintended consequence of harming the environment.

    Can't Government Almighty make up its mind?

  • ||

    Parasitical government. It's amazing how bureaucrats don't seem to connect that a healthy economy generating income/revenues is necessary to pay their effen wages. Shutting down businesses for ignorant and stupid reasons like this is horrible for employment. But they don't give a shit, right? Someone, as one idiot told me once, will take its place! They destroy and someone else will pick up the pieces.

    In the end, they still get paid for their actions; not to mention getting (probably) a guaranteed pension. Maybe this part of the equation needs to be re-worked?

    As for the gloves, I'm uneasy with this as a zero-sum, once size fits all solution (which is what bureaucrats seem to understand). Who is to say people will be diligent with removing gloves when necessary? I have seen situations where they have gloves but because there's a rush they're still handling money. I know some places will have it more regimented with one person at the cash while another handles food but asking the person making the food to wear gloves when this system is in place is retarded.

    Good job New York. Like California, you lead the way on exactly no what to do. Unfortunately, we live in a climate of utter stupidity (see climate change, campuses etc.) that it usually wins the day.

    Dark. Age. Bah.

  • straffinrun||

    I had Kaiten sushi on Tuesday. The old guy was wearing plastic gloves. Go to a high end sushi bar and see a guy wearing gloves and you're shocked. The one time I got sick from eating sushi here was over ten years ago and the guy was wearing gloves. Funny thing, that place is out of business now despite being in a prime location. That the market and legitimate lawsuits wouldn't be enough is just silly.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Just spray the food with Lysol before you eat it. Problem solved.

  • dchang0||

    The few times I've gotten sick from eating sushi, it's always been because the restaurant kept the fish too long. In most cases, it was obvious because the restaurant soaked the fish in brine extra long, to kill the germs and mask the deteriorated taste. In one case, a hospital test of a stool sample confirmed that the fish had gone bad and that I needed antibiotics.

    Washing hands is far cheaper than throwing away unused fish--sushi restaurants are going to be tempted to keep fish too long in more cases than they will fail to wash their hands.

  • Ceci n'est pas un woodchipper||

    I think the glove thing is pretty typical. If you've never worked in a restaurant and think most people are icky booger-pickers, then of course you want them wearing gloves. In your head, the grungy high-school dropout or undocumented immigrant who's making your burrito changes gloves religiously between orders and follows all other generally accepted standards of cleanliness and sanitation. Making a law about gloves thereby prevents people who would otherwise put all of their icky germs and poop and boogers all over your food--out of ignorance or malice--from doing so. Yay laws! Thanks, government!

    In reality, what happens is people who don't wash their hands now have an excuse to keep on not washing their hands. Oh, and do you think the guy who can't spend thirty seconds to wash his hands between cutting raw chicken and plating food is going to bother changing gloves? Dirty people gonna dirty.

    Besides, did your parents wear gloves? Grandparents? All the family who cooked Thanksgiving dinner? Of course not. Don't be a pussy. Embrace the beautiful grubbiness of a full life.

  • Sevo||

    "So the rules don't make food safer. Clean hands, as the saying goes, are better than dirty gloves."

    Well, it's as plain as the nose on your face! We need a law requiring gloves over gloves! Over gloves, over gloves, ...

  • SimonJester||

    Don't give them any ideas.

  • Sevo||

    Food stuff:
    "Bay Area fast food workers plan 1-day walkout Tuesday"
    [...]
    "San Francisco and Oakland fast food workers will target local McDonald’s in their protests, joined by others who feel they are underpaid, such as child care providers and airport workers."
    http://www.sfgate.com/news/art.....616392.php

    I'm betting there isn't more than one or two 'fast food workers' among the collection of paid SEIU thugs.
    This isn't anything like a "strike", it's theater, and the SEIU ought to be paying SAG rates for the actors.

  • Scalro Humillimus||

    Wearing gloves will prevent food contamination if all procedures are followed. Following all procedures when not wearing gloves will also prevent food contamination. The latter is not as visible so it doesn't provide the 'we are doing something' emotional sense of security.

  • straffinrun||

    I wonder if these inspectors like chicken, because if they do, they can put this *grabs crotch* in their mouth. It's foul.

  • Eman||

    yeah i have my serv safe certificate, and it's very very well known that cross contamination is by far the biggest food safety risk, and gloves, if anything, increase that risk. you notice when your hands are dirty, but if you're wearing gloves it's something you have to consciously pay attention to, which isn't anybody's priority in the middle of a rush. at least you're not required to have your serv safe to work in a kitchen, but im a thousand percent sure that's coming.

  • The artist known Dunphy||

    'how can govt be so stupid' is like asking 'how can water be so wet?'

  • ||

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  • Cardiologist||

    Add to the NSA airport security theater the Health department pseudosterility theater. Hands are NO dirtier than gloves! I say this as a cardiologist who implants pacemakers for a living. In my professional setting, we are implanting devices inside people and real sterility is a must. First, we change our street clothes for clean but not sterile scrubs, then we meticulously was our hands TWICE with special surgical scrub solution (70% alcohol). Then we don sterilized gowns and sterilized gloves, then we wash the patient's skin with 'surgical prep' basically a mixture of laundry bleach and alcohol. Only then doe we start cutting.

    A food worker is preparing food, a living, NON sterile thing. The biggest food safety issues are cross contamination of cooked or raw edible (eg salad) foods with bacteria transferred from raw uncooked food or with viridae carried on the hands by NOT washing after using the bathroom. In both cases the gloves are a cosmetic issue that do nothing to increase food safety and constitute theater only.

  • XM||

    It's legal to eat sushi (or sashimi to be more precise), which is a RAW piece of meat sitting on top of a rice. But it's somehow a health risk for sushi chef to handle sushi with bare hands.

  • Vapourwear||

    The rice is what makes it sushi. Sashimi is just hunks of delicious fish.

  • AnnEstes||

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  • RAHeinlein||

    Of all the issues plaguing restaurant over-regulation, glove use is low on the list.

    The National Restaurant Association's forcing ServSafe (BTW - the NRA operates ServSafe) training via state legislation is my current top item, new regulations requiring HACCP plans for restaurants, built-in grease traps (versus grease avoidance, or low-cost undersink units). Warewashing requirements that require sink/sanitizer overkill lead to far more waste via use of disposable cups/utensils than gloves.

  • Josh Walker||

    I'm completely unsurprised that gloves actually lead to more food borne illnesses. I worked for several years at a Subway, and most of my co-workers seemed to think the gloves had some sort of magical property that repelled germs. They would do nearly anything with them on and then go right back to making food. I recall seeing the manager going immediately into dressing a customer's sub after tying off a trash bag with gloved hands.

  • SiliconDoc||

    unanimously passed, unanimously repealed

    ah it appears they know what they are doing

  • patskelley||

    well hell guys, we gotta increase rubber gloves usage if we're going to stop burning oil for fuel we have to conjure up creative uses...cause drilling sure as hell isn't going to stop. Some won't be happy till we're all wearing full body rubber suits 24/7

  • Alan@.4||

    That isn't the only dumb rule that belabors N.Y.C.

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson||

    It there any way to create a national ballot initiative that simply says, "Fuck the Hell OFF!"

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Not without invoking Rule-7.62!

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    It is imperative that chefs/cooks wear gloves when picking up that steak they just dropped on the floor and putting it on your plate.

  • Undercover Libertarian||

    Yup, as some one who lives in NYC and worked several summers in a food service kitchen, I know first hand how a lot of these laws are stupid and don't actually do anything for health safety and make it hard to prepare certain foods. But what do you expect from a city (Of which I am a born and raised native) that has DeBlasio as mayor put a bunch of statist loons who are owned by Labor Unions in charge of the city council.

  • dchang0||

    Funny thing is, the glove law does nothing about fast food workers dropping food on the floor and then serving it right up. Nor does it do anything about dirty cutting boards or food prep surfaces that harbor much more bacteria than bare hands.

  • IMissLiberty||

    I watch gloved hands handle broom handles, doorknobs, sponges, faucets, food, and utensils. I've seen gloved hands scratch heads, and open trash cans.

    Face it: they think the gloves are to keep their hands clean.

    I always use a straw in a restaurant, because the rims of all glasses or cups have been handled, but I don't try to fool myself that a germ-free environment is possible or even desireable. On the whole, I'd rather they could feel when they need to wash.

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