Nebraska health board recommends no bare hands for restaurants

The No. 1 cause of what people often call food poisoning is not spoiled food. It is a flu-like illness called norovirus that comes with diarrhea and vomiting.

handwash_south_park(2)And the No. 1 cause of norovirus is people who have the virus on their hands touching food without gloves.

To help prevent outbreaks of the virus, a health-related advisory group to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department has recommended the city tighten restaurant rules, seriously limiting when staff can touch ready-to-serve food with their bare hands.

The City Council likely will hold a public hearing on the no-bare-hands policy April 11. The Health Department advisory board approved it in early March. 

The idea behind the policy is that once food is cooked, no staffer should touch it before a customer eats it, said Scott Holmes, manager of the Environmental Health Division with the local health department. 

The proposed rule does allow some exceptions.

Staff can touch ready-to-eat food before it’s cooked, garnish beverages and wash fruits and vegetables with bare hands.

Some eating establishments already follow a no-bare-hands policy, including those that serve vulnerable or high-risk populations — people in custodial care, assisted-living facilities, hospitals, nursing homes and senior centers, for example.

And many chain restaurants already have such policies, Holmes said.

The local proposal follows a national model, with some exceptions. The committee that developed the Lincoln policy eliminated a few of the rules, ones that created the most controversy in other communities.