California Law Requires Chefs to Wear Gloves

A California law (Section 113961 of the California Retail Food Code) that went into effect on January 1, 2014 prevents restaurant workers in the state from handling ready-to-eat food. (NBC Los Angeles, Inside Scoop SF)  The law was previously only a suggestion in the food safety code, and has now become a requirement.  (Inside Scoop SF)  This makes it difficult for establishments in the industry, such as delis and those serving sushi.  Additionally, the law impacts those cooks who work with breads, fresh fruits, vegetables, and any cooked parts of meals that must be put together for diners.  The law itself requires “chefs to wear single-use disposable gloves while working with prepared foods,” unless the establishment has attained previous approval from the local enforcement agency.  (NBC Los Angeles) Angelica Pappas, the spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association, opined that the law was not unexpected, and that other states have similar rules, and California is simply catching up.

The purpose of the legislation that Governor Jerry Brown signed into law is to “curtail foodborne illnesses.” (LA Times)  However, this has caused many chefs in the state to say that the law is “confusing, ineffective, bad for the environment, and can compromise a final dish.” (LA Times)  In fact, Neal Fraser a chef based in the state, believes that the law could actually have the opposite impact of promoting food safety.  The Chef believes that the glove requirements will lead chefs to “not wash their hands” which then might increase food-related illness rather than to prevent it. (LA Times)  Jordan R. Berstein, an attorney who has been providing general counsel for restaurant clients, has attacked the law for its lack of clarity calling it a law that was intended to regulate fast food chains, but is now being applied to fine dining establishments. (LA Times, SCPR.org)

On the other than, not all chefs have such a problem with the law.  Niki Nakayama, who makes sushi at her restaurant, stated that “for the most part I use gloves through my whole preparation process and I have no problem wearing gloves for plating something.” (LA Times)  She too, however, stated that she did not know whether the cleanliness of the gloves would remain consistent, and whether it would actually achieve the law’s ultimate goal.  Aditionally, Mary C. Fitzgerald of Safe & Sound food safety consultants is in favor of the law and had stated that “it both raises awareness and raises the bar that everyone’s responsible to prevent foodborne illness.” (LA Times)

Like many restaurants, the law too will have a soft opening over the next six months meaning that restaurants who are not complying with the law will get only warnings rather than harsher violations on their inspection reports.  (LA Weekly, Inside Scoop SF)  The application for exception requires restaurants to show that they are not serving a “highly susceptible population.” (SCPR.org)  Despite this, no one at the Los Angeles County health department was available for comment regarding how specifically the department would seek to enforce regulations and afford exemptions.  (SCPR.org)

The new California law is yet another very interesting example of how the law has the power to impact our daily lives.  Though it is brand new, and therefore yet to be seen what impact the law will have on California restaurants and consumers, it is certain that the law has the potential to impact elements of the law, public health, and economics of the state.

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