A key member of the California State Assembly has introduced "emergency legislation" that would undo the newly-enacted law that angered the restaurant and bar industries by requiring that food preparers use gloves or utensils when handling ready-to-eat food.
Assemblyman Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, said AB 2130 would replace the language in the state health code that took effect Jan. 1st that barred sushi chefs, bartenders and others from handling ready-to-eat foods with their bare hands.
Pan's bill would permit some bare hand contact, stipulating that preparers must "minimize bare hand and arm contact." The chef or bartender would also need to wash his hands in accordance with current state health regulations.
The new law also lays out a series of regulatory and bureaucratic steps food establishments must take to get an exemption from the no bare hands rule. AB 2130 would remove all of those requirements.
Pan told KPCC that once the new rules took effect on Jan. 1st, the effort to implement them "was not turning out the way that those of us who helped work on the legislation thought" it would.
There is "tremendous variation" among health departments across the state in how they are handling the new rules, he said. Some are working off of "a fairly strict interpretation," and are requiring all food handlers to wear gloves. Others "are having difficulties developing an exemption process," added Pan.
Pan's bill is co-authored by Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), Brian Maeinschein (R-San Diego), and Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont). "We thought we should re-set the conversation" and "roll back this provision," said Pan.
"The ultimate goal is to make sure our food is safe," he added. Pan expressed hope that AB 2130 could become law before July 1, when the penalty phase of the current glove law takes effect. If that happens, Pan wants to have discussions with the restaurant and bar industries and public health experts on the best way to guarantee the safety of ready-to-eat foods.
In addition to California, concern about food-borne illnesses has led to laws prohibiting bare hands from touching food in commercial establishments in Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada and New York.
Here is the current language about handling ready-to-eat food in the state health code, Section 113961:
(b) 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.
AB 2130 would replace that section with this language:
(a) Food employees shall minimize bare hand and arm contact with nonprepackaged food that is in a ready-to-eat form.
(b) Food employees shall use utensils, including scoops, forks, tongs, paper wrappers, gloves, or other implements, to assemble ready-to-eat food or to place ready-to-eat food on tableware or in other containers. However, food employees may assemble or place on tableware or in other containers ready-to-eat food in an approved food preparation area without using utensils if hands are cleaned in accordance with Section 113953.3.