Update to food safety laws in Anchorage, Alaska

Anchorage, Alaska to impose new updates to food safety laws including no bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods for bartenders that handle sliced lemons and other like garnishes. Studies have shown that the rind and even the flesh of lemon slices harbor a plethora of microorganisms, either from the environment or the food handler. However, the true impact on public health has not been evaluated and there has been resistance from industry on the new proposed update.

Devin Kelly of Dispatch News writes

Anchorage bartenders and waiters may have to start using gloves or utensils to make mixed drinks with lemons, limes, olives or other garnishments if city health officials move forward with a recently unveiled update to local food safety laws.
Other proposed food safety law revisions, released last week, relate to wild game meat donations, wild mushrooms and the city’s growing cottage food industry. Health officials say Anchorage is trying to come more in line with state and federal regulations aimed at preventing foodborne illnesses.
This would be the most substantive update to the city’s food safety laws since 2010. Among the key changes:
* Elimination of an Anchorage law that allows bare-hand contact in bars and restaurants when it comes to garnishing beverages. Right now, Anchorage bartenders are exempt from state laws that require gloves or utensils to handle any kind of food that’s considered ready to eat.
* New regulations would exist for the sale in Anchorage of cottage food, or homespun, non-temperature-controlled products like bread, cookies, jams, pickles and relishes that weren’t acknowledged anywhere in city law until earlier this year. Officials say the changes reflect the booming popularity of farmers markets in the state. The revised update would create new licensing requirements, such as an Anchorage food worker card and recipe submissions.
* Freshly caught fish could be cooked at 125 degrees, about 20 degrees below the temperature recommended by federal authorities. Members of the Anchorage restaurant industry requested the change, hoping to cook more tender, flaky fish, according to DeAnn Fetko, deputy director of the Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services.
* Wild mushrooms would no longer need to be reviewed by a certified specialist, a rule that hasn’t been enforced because of the scarcity of those specialists, officials said. The state certifies mushroom producers, and Anchorage restaurants will be required to indicate on a menu that wild mushrooms are “not an inspected product.”
* Wild game meat could be donated to food banks and cultural programs, an old local law that officials say was inadvertently left out of the 2010 update.
* Businesses would be required to clean and maintain “grease interceptors,” or grease traps, at least every 30 days, and keep the records to show inspectors.

The rest of the story can be found here:


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.

Sandwich scandal? Temperature, ingredients sometimes questionable

Though it is nice to know your lunchtime sandwich is handmade, how many hands is that, exactly? Thousands of readers reacted with horror to some startling photographs in yesterday’s Mail taken inside a Nottinghamshire factory that supplies millions of sandwiches to British supermarkets.

sandwich.barehandThey were outraged that workers — an army of them — were smushing and smearing gloopy fillings with their bare hands onto slices of bread, chugging by on a conveyor belt.

Fingers, thumbs and palms all over your lunch, not least the factory workers’ sleeves taking a dip in what looked like chicken mayo. Yuck. No polythene food-safe gloves, no tongs, just the odd sauce-squirter shooting a blob of salad cream smack into the centre of the bread. Bullseye!

Factory owner Greencore, which supplies High Street giants such as Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Asda and Boots, insists that the use of bare hands is, in fact, a hygienic and safe way to produce the nation’s favourite lunchtime convenience food. We have to take Greencore’s word for it that strict hand-washing regimes are a better deterrent against cross-contamination.

But never mind the bare hands; what about the rubbish inside some sarnies?

The UK sandwich market is worth approximately £3.6 billion, with consumers buying an estimated two billion sandwiches each year. A survey last month of 2,000 office workers revealed that the nation’s favourite lunch was the humble cheese sandwich, with 32 per cent of those surveyed saying they’d had one for lunch every day for the past four-and-a-half years.

I do not know about the quality of the Nottingham factory’s ingredients, which may not be beset by the problems elsewhere. Greencore prides itself on operating to the highest standards. But I do know that we should be wary of convenience foods — and many of the shop sarnies found on the High Street today. We are often talking about food that is downright fake and overpriced.

sandwich.barehand2For example so-called meats that are actually a glued-together mush of pulped pork, starch, sometimes proteins made with animal blood plasma, water, (lots of) salt, preservatives and flavourings.

Meanwhile, the Belgian Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain was asked if it was acceptable from a food safety point of view to deviate from the legal storage temperature of sandwiches, in particular 13 °C instead of 4 °C or 7 °C, depending on the type of garnish and if an upward temperature fluctuation of 3 °C, measurement uncertainty included, can still be accepted.  

The Scientific Committee estimates that the additional food safety risk arising as a result of the storage of sandwiches at 13 °C during 3 hours is low if the sandwiches are kept thereafter maximum during 4 hours at ambient temperature. This risk estimation does not apply for sandwiches with fresh meat and meat preparations (including carpaccio, minced meat, steak tartare) or fresh fish which are inherently more susceptible to microbiological contamination and putrefaction or growth of pathogens under non-refrigerated storage conditions. For an upward temperature fluctuation of 3 °C, measurement uncertainty included, the food safety risk is estimated as low if it only occurs when this is necessary for the handling during the preparation, transport, storage, display and delivery of foods.

To glove or not to glove: the bare hand contact allegory

At one of the first food safety conferences I attended was organized debate on whether glove use should be mandatory or not. That was 2002.

The discussion, also known as the bare hand contact allegory, pops up a few times a year. Right now it is Oregon’s turn.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others have evidence that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has used to support why keeping assumed-dirty hands off of food is a good idea. The simplified discourse is that food handlers are dirty; handwashing compliance is typically low; and, an easy way to take poor hygiene out of the mix is to legislate that hands can’t touch RTE foods — except this creates another compliance issue.

According to Eatocracy:

"Last year, when Oregon Health Authority officials announced they would adopt the 2009 FDA Retail Food Code, restaurateurs suddenly faced a piece of legislation that would prohibit foodservice workers to touch prepared food with their bare hands. The gloves came off.

Among the complaints raised by food experts: gloves give foodservice handlers a false sense of cleanliness, create more plastic waste (especially since plastic bags are banned in Oregon) and add a supplementary cost for restaurateurs.

"While the regulation is being put into place to prevent norovirus contamination, the bottom line is that gloves alone will not prevent the problem without being used in combination with hand washing," says Mindy Brashears, a professor of food safety at Texas Tech University.

Norovirus is what laymen more commonly refer to as food poisoning." (uh, sort of -ben)

The gloves or no gloves argument sometimes misses the point as Mindy Brashears alludes to- outbreak data shows that some food service operators and food handlers take short cuts, regardless of the local rules. It’s clear to me from the evidence that not touching food reduces risk. While many fast-food companies have figured out how to take hands out of the process (as well as food contact surfaces), what’s not clear is which of the paths (glove or no-glove) is easier to skip for all food businesses.

"Adam Sappington, the executive chef at The Country Cat Dinner House & Bar in Portland, regards the now-void ban as "crazy."  "I got a little philosophical about the whole idea. It takes away one of the senses of cooking," he says. "It’s more likely that you’re going to wash your hands less, and moving from hot to cold, hot to cold in gloves, things are just going to fester."

See, it’s all about what system is less likely to be cheated.

Some folks have shown that compliance is low because the tools aren’t there or there isn’t enough time. Others have shown that food handlers may not know consequences. The more interesting discussion to me is how regs can affect the values of operators and food handlers. Whether gloves/tongs are required or not it, how to make commercial and volunteer food handlers value minimizing pathogen transfer is a bigger question.


Sticky Fingers: Oregon dismisses glove requirement for restaurant workers

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all show up at our first day of a new job as a 20-year-old and help create rock greatness – Honky Tonk Women.

Instead, most are told to wear gloves while participating in sandwich greatness something.
But in Oregon, they’ve decided to rethink the gloves thing.

Eatocracy reports that the no-bare-hands rule was originally supposed to go into effect on July 1, but Oregon public health officials delayed the decision because of public debate that these new safety rules were not actually safe.

The rule would have prohibited food handlers from contacting “exposed, ready-to-eat food” with their bare hands. Instead, any contact would have to be made with “suitable utensils,” including deli tissue, spatulas, tongs and single-use gloves.

Wednesday, regulators of Oregon’s Foodborne Illness Prevention Program announced that “…at this time, the ‘No Bare Hand Contact’ section of new food safety rules will not be adopted.”

Among the complaints raised by food experts: gloves give foodservice handlers a false sense of cleanliness, create more plastic waste (especially since plastic bags are banned in Oregon) and add a supplementary cost for restaurateurs.

Happy 50th birthday, Rolling Stones, especially the Taylor years.

We don’t need no stinking bare hand rule; Portlandia rebels

Taking smugness to a new level, which is a worthy achievement given the level of smugness already found in Oregon, restaurant owners and chefs have successfully delayed a new no-hands rule for food contact.

Michael Russell of OregonLive writes the rule could make dining out more expensive, create waste and, despite its good intentions, do little to protect public health and isn’t safer than the state’s current rigorous handwashing practices.

Except no one has validated whether those handwashing practices are actually followed or just sound smugly superior.

"The idea that using rubber gloves is going to stop people from getting sick is ludicrous," said Andy Ricker, chef and owner of Pok Pok restaurants in Portland and New York. His New York locations already comply with that state’s no bare-hand-contact rule.

"For it to be safe, every time you touch something, you’d have to take your gloves off, wash your hands, and put on new gloves." Ricker said.

At least a half-dozen recent studies have concluded the same: Counter intuitively, wearing gloves does little to prevent the spread of bacteria compared with effective hand washing.

But wearing gloves is not the same as a no-bare-hand contact rule. They’re called tongs (not thongs).

Wearing gloves has been found to reduce the number of times people wash their hands, while warm, moist conditions create a hothouse for bacteria to grow. A 2005 report from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center that analyzed grilled tortillas found more staph, coliform and other harmful bacteria on the samples prepared by workers wearing gloves.

Eric Pippert, a manager with the Oregon Health Authority’s Foodborne Illness Prevention department, said the measure was created to prevent the spread of norovirus, the most common cause of food poisoning. It’s often spread through improper hand washing by employees after they use the bathroom.

Norovirus spreads easily; a don’t work while sick rule would be more effective at reducing the spread of norovirus (ask Harvard or Heston).

In response to those who favor hand washing, Pippert points to a 2003 health authority survey in which restaurant inspectors found at least one hand-washing violation at nearly two-thirds of Oregon eateries.

"Anybody who tells you hand washing is so darned good, well, yeah, except when you’re not doing it," he said.

But restaurant owners argue that handwashing has since been drilled into cooks across the state. And they contend the rule — which will affect bakeries and barrooms, fine dining and food carts — would make gloves mandatory for many tasks, creating new headaches and new costs in a notoriously low-margin business. And those added costs might end up passed along to customers.

When asked for his thoughts on the new rule, sushi chef Bruce Lee at Hillsboro’s Syun Izakaya replied, "When’s that happening again, in January?"

For Lee, wearing gloves presents a concern beyond potential health risks.
"If you wear the glove, you’re not able to feel the rice tenderness, or softness," he said. "Even wasabi — you can feel how much you need with your fingers. But if you wear the glove, you’re never going to feel it.

"If I had a choice, I wouldn’t wear it."

And I wouldn’t want anyone temping food with their fingers.