Some chefs and bartenders in California are miffed about a new regulation restricting them from handling ready-to-eat foods with their bare hands. At the beginning of January, language in the state’s food code changed from directing food employees to “minimize bare hand and arm contact” to strictly requiring them not to:

“Except when washing fruits and vegetables … food employees shall not contact exposed, ready-to-eat food with their bare hands and shall use suitable utensils such as deli tissue, spatulas, tongs, single-use gloves, or dispensing equipment.”

The “no bare hands” rule is pretty common on a national level. In fact, it’s included in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s model food code, which many states have already adopted. Even though the new regulation is not dramatically new, California’s chefs have been speaking out against it, and bartenders are signing a petition to have themselves exempted. Charlotte Biltekoff, an assistant professor in American Studies and Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis, said she’s not surprised that Californians are particularly irked by the new regulation. “California food culture and California cuisine are characterized by an ethos of connection to food,” she told Food Safety News. “For example, menus often inform diners about where their food comes from by naming the exact farm, or farmer, who grew the peaches or pork on the plate. But connection to food is also interpreted quite literally in terms of both tasting and touching food.” Emphasizing a removal of barriers can increase a sense of responsibility and sustainability for the food system, Biltekoff said. “The experiences of pleasure, knowledge and responsibility are seen as intimately connected and (through the lens of California cuisine) pleasure depends on a direct sensual connection to food – exactly the kind of connection that rubber gloves threaten,” she said. Some of the arguments out of California about the rule are that single-use gloves are not environmentally friendly, that they can interfere with food preparation and that they won’t necessarily limit cross-contamination. That last one is certainly not a new concern among food safety experts. “When properly used, gloves can substantially reduce opportunities for food contamination,” explained the authors of a 2010 study in the Journal of Food Protection. “However, gloves have limitations and may become a source of contamination if they are punctured or improperly used.” “Hand washing is not a perfect intervention,” said Rutgers professor Don Schaffner. Eliminating bare hand contact and opting for utensils or gloves is probably more effective, but gloves are “also not necessarily a perfect intervention.” Microorganisms may still be transmitted through gloves if food workers don’t wash their hands before putting on the gloves. And, because gloves provide a warm, moist environment for microbes to proliferate, they could increase transmission during glove removal or if there’s a puncture in the material. Of course, cooks wearing gloves still have to watch out for cross-contamination if they’re working with both uncooked and cooked foods. “If you’re wearing gloves and you handle meat and then you don’t change those gloves and you go and handle ready-to-eat lettuce, the gloves haven’t done anything except serve as another vehicle to transfer the organisms,” Schaffner said. “In the food industry improper use of gloves is more likely than leakage to lead to food contamination and outbreaks,” stated the authors of the 2010 study. As for the arguments about the environment and ability, Schaffner said they’re valid points. “I guess I would answer the chefs’ complaints with an alternative question to them,” he said. “Given that we know that contamination from hands can cause disease, what would the chefs propose as an alternative? What can they do in their work habits to avoid cross-contamination?” To help restaurants adjust to the new rule, California health officials have agreed to give restaurants six months when they’ll hand out warnings rather than violations on inspections. The law also provides for individual retail food facilities to apply to their local environmental health agency for exemptions.

  • flameforjustice

    When you notice a food handler not replacing gloves after touching things that are NOT your food. Request they wash their hands and use a new pair of gloves hopefully done in your presence like fast food places and/or where you can visibly see the food being prepared and/or packaged. I always request a fresh handing washing and new pair of gloves when ever it’s time for my order.

  • flameforjustice

    When you don’t see proper hand hygiene notify the manager, owner and corporate headquarters and ask for a return call.

  • foodlover

    Your points are valid; however, proper training and active managerial controls would effectively solve this problem. Teaching staff how to use gloves properly, or where utensils can be used instead of gloves, would take care of the concerns regarding bare hand contact and your concerns regarding contamination.

    • Michael Callahan

      Foodlover, the same thing can be said for not using gloves — proper training and magerial supervision solves the problem. All food service managers are required to have a higher level of training than their staff. And in California, every food service worker is required to have basic certification. People know what to do — adding another layer of useless regulations will not prevent cross contamination. Proper training and vigalent supervision is the only prudent solution.

  • flameforjustice

    Personally I would want hand washing, gloves, hair nets and disposable face masks on persons handling food and in all aspects of my food preparation. And everyone be trained on rewashing their hands and getting new gloves to avoid contamination and cross contamination. When you observe pizza makers behind the glass in Costco where the pizza are premade for you to cook at home they all wear face masks, disposable gloves and they’re near a very visible sink. This is how my local Costco does certain things. I can’t speak for all Costco’s.

  • flameforjustice

    If chefs washed their hands and avoided cross contamination as they should just maybe some people wouldn’t mind them not using gloves. I’m not one of those people.

  • flameforjustice

    Many bartenders handle the money, the lemons, limes, cheeries, olives, onions etc little umbrella that go into drinks and never wash their hands unless they’re washing a few glasses behind the bar. That’s not hygienic at least for me.

    • J T

      They will be doing EXACTLY the same thing, except they will be wearing gloves while they do it. They will handle money and touch people’s dirty napkins, and then they will prepare your drink while they wear the same set of gloves. Nothing has been solved, only made worse, because now they will be even LESS likely to wash their hands.

  • Michael Callahan

    I agree Neev! People tend to get very lazy with gloves. It should be up to management to monitor proper hygiene and food handling in their establishments in order to prevent cross contamination and the spread of pathogens

  • Integrated Food Service Consul

    As we all know there are very few quick fixes in life. Sure gloves are an integral part of food safety but not the final solution. What the industry needs to focus on is developing a food safety culture as part of every food establishments way of doing business. A good Food Protection Manager Certification program like ServSafe, Prometric, and National Food Registry can be the start for smaller businesses to understand and implement such a culture.Proper cleaning and sanitizing and a personal hygiene program combined with active managerial control is a start to a food safety culture. More importantly to gain this culture management must lead by example.

    When it comes to bartenders having to wear gloves during service I take some exception. A bar should not be overlooked when it comes to food safety. Ice = food and must be treated as such, and lets not forget bar fruit, fresh herbs, milk, juices, etc. Bartenders should wear gloves when they are prepping their bar. If they used pre-skewerd garnishes and/or proper size tongs for handling other garnishes along with their ice scoops I cannot think of any other situation where they would need to wear gloves. And for good measure let’s throw in some good cleaning and sanitizing of the bar before, during and after service.

  • chefswife1975

    In Europe, they don’t use gloves because they give a false sense of security. Employees use gloves rather than washing hands. Watch people with gloves. They touch their noses, put their hands through their hair, take cash, and a million other things that they would never do if they were bare handed. This has nothing to do with training. It has to do with the false sense of security that keeps being pushed. “If you wear gloves, no more germs!”

  • Jennifer Johns

    I have to agree with the people on here saying that gloves are not really the answer people think they are. As an inspector I have run into too many untrained staff that thinks they can put on a pair of gloves and they do whatever they want in that pair of gloves for their entire shift. I am a HUGE advocate for using utensils whenever possible, as well as, proper and frequent training on proper glove use for those time when gloves are the best/only option.