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California reconsiders food glove law

  • Javier Rodriguez uses his bare hands to make chicken tacos at the Hock Farm restaurant in Sacramento. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers are beginning to back away from a new law that bans bare-hand contact with food in restaurants and bars, with the Assembly Health Committee voting unanimously Tuesday to repeal and revisit the regulation.

The vote follows opposition from chefs and bartenders who say they were taken off guard by the new regulation.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last year requiring restaurant workers to wear gloves or use utensils when handling ready-to-eat food, including the rice in a sushi roll and the mint in a mojito.

It allows for exceptions if eateries show good hygiene practices, but food industry representatives say local regulators were granting them inconsistently.

California is among the last states to adopt a bare-hand contact ban, already in place in 41 other states and recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more than 20 years ago.

Regulators say bare-hand contact by kitchen staff is a leading cause of foodborne illness. But independent and high-end restaurateurs say the law is restrictive, wasteful and undermines existing hygiene practices.

"We already have laws governing sanitation, and it's called washing your hands," Sacramento restaurateur Randall Selland told lawmakers Tuesday.

Multiple restaurateurs raised public health concerns about cross contamination from gloves that aren't changed regularly, leading to a false sense of security.

A representative of California Restaurant Association, which did not oppose the bare-hand contact ban when it was proposed, told lawmakers the regulation is "well-intentioned," but the implementation turned out to be confusing and inconsistent for members.

Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, said the pushback from the food industry surprised him because the law sailed through the legislature as part of a food-code update without opposition. He told fellow lawmakers Tuesday that the update was supposed to contain only widely agreed-upon provisions.

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