No Bare Hand Contact Rule Confuses Oregon Restaurants

Oregon restaurants are all up in arms about a new health rule set to go into effect July 1. No bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods first surfaced in the FDA Food Code in 1993, when states and restaurant industry professionals worked together to apply a comprehensive approach to hand washing as well as limited bare hand contact with food, but it has taken until this year for Oregon to join the discussion. Many Oregon restaurants see this rule as unnecessary.

Bare Hand Contact Rule Confuses Oregon Restaurants

The 2009 FDA Food Code, the most recent version, doesn’t allow bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods, and Oregon restaurant operators don’t like it. They’re afraid it will cost more money and lead to more waste, and they’re right. However, the other complaints about how it will affect bakeries, bars and sushi bars in particular show a clear lack of understanding of the law and why it’s important.

The law only applies to “ready-to-eat foods,” not all foods. This means food that will be served without cooking or food that has been cooked can’t be handled directly by bare hands; for example, salads, breads, cooked meats, etc. So, when a bakery is preparing food that will be put into an oven or a cook is cutting raw beef, bare hands can be used. Also, utensils, deli tissue and many other options to avoid bare hand contact can be used in place of gloves to reduce glove use and waste.

The no bare hand contact rule comes as part of a fight to prevent the spread of viruses. No matter how often an infected person washes his or her hands, the person is still shedding it. The most active foodborne illness these days is norovirus. A food worker can have norovirus without knowing it, and if the worker handles food with bare hands, the worker can pass it to customers. Just ask California Pizza Kitchen in Walnut Creek. June 7 was apparently the day of norovirus exposure for 20 customers. A couple of employees tested positive for the virus. The Contra Costa County Health Department closed the restaurant so it could effectively be cleaned and sanitized. The cost of implementing glove use in a restaurant kitchen is high, but the cost of a closure and possible lawsuits from sick customers is exponentially higher.

I’ve been working with restaurants for 9 years implementing cost-effective and practical ways to comply with the no bare hand contact rule. There are many actions in the kitchen that need direct handling, requiring gloves to be used, but once employees start using gloves, they build habits and eventually get used to it. Sushi bars are no different. In my experience, sushi chefs seem to complain the most, but I know many who have changed their habits and glove use isn’t a problem anymore.

The no bare hand contact rule is a solution to a public health problem of food workers spreading viruses. If the restaurant industry doesn’t think glove use should be a requirement, then find another solution to the problem. It is one of the most hotly debated and contentious issues between public health officials and the restaurant industry. This is an example of where innovation is needed from the restaurant industry to come up with an alternative to wearing gloves when direct handling is needed.

As for the Oregon restaurant industry, its complaints are actually going a long way. Politicians have intervened and postponed the rule’s implementation until the beginning of next year. They apparently need more time to research the issue. There are plenty of outbreaks traced back to sick employees handling food and infecting customers. Six months may not be enough time to get through all of them.

For more help complying with the 2009 FDA Food Code and the no bare hand contact rule, please contact me at dennis@resprofsp.com.

This article was originally published on 7.2.12

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