AP’s Fenit Nirappil weighs in on the polarization of California’s no barehand contact rule and reports that while McDonalds and other chain restaurants have picked the I’m glovin’ it policy, others are voicing opposition. The arguments have been well established on both sides of the so-called glove rule with common themes revolving around enforcement issues; reducing the quality of the food output; and, as friend of the blog Don Schaffner points out, improper use.
Eating requires a lot of trust. Whether processed on by a foreign company, raised on a local farm or made in a neighborhood coffee shop, I’m trusting in someone to make good food safety decisions. While a company’s food safety program might be set up by a head chef or microbiologist, the folks on the front lines are the real decision makers – they choose whether to show up to work ill or follow correct hand washing behaviors.
No barehand contact may get in the way of food production but if used safely, utensils, paper barriers and gloves become an extra hurdle between dirty hands and food. The law isn’t a guarantee of safe food – the responsibility for safe food lies with the industry.
Nirappil quotes a Sacramento restaurateur, Randall Selland, who says the law is an unnecessary infringement on highly regarded establishments, “If people get sick at my restaurant, they are going to stop coming. You have got to give restaurants some trust.”
I’m not fond of blind trust – I want to buy food from, and eat at, places that have preventative risk-based food safety systems that focus on behavior. I don’t want food from somewhere that relies on not being linked to illnesses as verification that their system works.
According to Nirappil, Ravin Patel, executive chef at Ella near the Capitol, said he didn’t notice much difference in kitchen procedures after moving in 2009 to California from New York, which has prohibited bare-hand contact since 1992. But that doesn’t mean the kitchen staffs in New York restaurants are always wearing gloves. “It just becomes common practice that you don’t touch food as much,” said Patel, adding that New York restaurateurs found ways around the requirement. “When the health inspector comes, you slap on a bunch of gloves.”
Similarly, many New York bartenders still work barehanded, dropping limes into gin-and-tonics but keeping a pair of tongs handy for visits by inspectors, said Aaron Smith, executive director of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild. Smith also is managing director of the bar 15 Romolo in San Francisco. He says law-abiding employees cannot find an easy work-around for some mixology steps, such as fusing mints and herbs into his bar’s signature, pricey drinks. “They are trying to get expressive oil into the flavor and smell of the cocktail, and you are lacing that with the smell of latex and powder” using gloves, Smith said.
Even gloves can spread contamination if they are not changed regularly, said Don Schaffner, a food scientist at Rutgers University.
“The bigger picture is whether businesses know what the risk factors are and how to control them,” said Ben Chapman, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University who has studied restaurant hygiene. “Having a policy doesn’t mean it actually works … Prove to a patron that your people wash their hands all the time and the right way.”