This past January 1, 2014, a new law has come into effect in California which requires those in the food industry to wear gloves when handling ready-to-eat foods. This new law has some in the food industry reeling. At first glance, the law seems simple and easy enough to follow. However, one problem is that for many who work in the industry, including sushi chefs and bartenders, this new requirement appears to go too far and has created an added burden for them.

California Health and Safety Code Section 113961 states that

(a) Food employees shall minimize bare hand and arm contact with nonrepackaged 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….

This new law applies to a vast and varied group of foods, including all foods that have been cooked, prepared fresh fruits and vegetables (raw and cooked), salads and all of its ingredients, fruits or vegetables for mixed drinks, garnishes (such as lettuce, parsley, lemon wedges, pickles), cold meats and sandwiches, raw sushi fish and sushi rice, and even breads (including toast, rolls, and baked goods).

For many, this new law seems particularly wasteful and not environmentally friendly. This is because the gloves must be changed often and may be used for only one task. The gloves must be discarded when they are damaged or soiled, when there are interruptions in food handling, and when the food handler is changing from one type of food to another. The gloves must also be changed every time the food handler washes his or her hands. These gloves will surely be an added expense to each of these restaurants.

Yes, that means that all bartenders must use utensils or single use disposable gloves when creating your mixed drinks. Yes, that also means that all sushi chefs must do so as well. If you have ever been out to a Japanese restaurant and watched the chefs make your sushi, you would know that nearly every sushi chef creates sushi by hand with no gloves. Since it is unlikely a sushi chef will be able to use a utensil when making your next California roll, the new law will require the chef to wear single-use disposable gloves. In essence, the new law makes clear that those working in the food industry can no longer use their bare hands to touch your ready-to-eat foods.

Interestingly, most bartenders and sushi chefs never wore gloves prior to the effective date of this new law. The next time you are out for a meal, take a gander at your bartender or your sushi chef. It will be interesting to see how this new law will affect the industry, the chefs, the prices, right down to the garnishing of our plated foods or our favorite mixed drinks.