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Why Is My Bartender Wearing Gloves?

by Mike Rothschild

February 17, 2014

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Donate New Year’s Day 2014 brought hundreds of new laws into effect in California. Everything from new gun regulations to laws on fracking and hands-free texting for teens went on the books. Tucked among them was AB 1252, which codified Section 113961 of the California Retail Food Code. The new law requires any food worker who touches raw, cooked or “ready-to-eat” food, from a master sushi chef to a prep cook to the guy cutting a lemon to put in your vodka and tonic, to wear disposable gloves. This is similar to laws in many other states, but none as big as California.

It’s not a surprise that many restaurant staffers and chefs were upset about it. Many spoke freely about how the law would impede their ability to cook and present food the way they’re used to. Some complained about their tactile contact with food being impeded. Many bartenders were especially upset, feeling that wearing disposable gloves will ruin the burgeoning cocktail renaissance going on around the state. Even though the state has allowed a six month roll-out of the law, it’s clear many people feel it’s unnecessary and potentially harmful.

But change is upsetting, even if it’s positive change. And certainly, everyone wants to do everything within reason to prevent food-borne illnesses. And if wearing gloves saves people from sickness and possible long-lasting harm, isn’t it worth it?

When faced with a new piece of legislation related to a scientific or medical matter, it’s important to be skeptical, but not just for the sake complaining about it (though that can be quite cathartic).

And good skepticism means asking the right questions about it. Is the law necessary? Is it a solution to a problem that’s not a problem? Is it scientifically sound? Does solid research back it up? Was it passed with the right intentions, or to satisfy a certain interest group? Who benefits and how?

Again, let’s start with the baseline that food-borne illnesses are bad. And using gloves when handling food is helpful, when done in tandem with good hand washing. But laws that are pointless, confusing, not needed and/or based on bad science are not good. And in the case of AB 1252, it’s not clear that any answer to any of the above questions merits the law’s existence. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the law will do more harm than good, and exacerbate the very problem it was written to solve.

For one thing, a host of difficult issues come with it. The law is incredibly confusing and lacks clarity on who should be following it and why. It seems written mostly for fast food workers, yet other language makes it uncertain if it applies to anyone except those serving “a highly susceptible population.” It promotes massive waste, forcing restaurants to go through box after box of environmentally unfriendly single-use gloves. There aren’t clear guidelines on who needs to wear gloves and who doesn’t. It’s also going to be virtually impossible to enforce, unless California is keen on sending health inspectors into every place of business that sells food on a moment’s notice.

But the biggest problem with AB 1252 is that it doesn’t really do anything to stop food-borne illness that kitchen best practices already don’t. Anyone who touches food should already be vigorously washing their hands with hot water and soap, as well as keeping raw meat or chicken away from raw vegetables or fruits.

The vast majority of prep cooks, chefs and bartenders at reputable restaurants are doing this, not because it’s the law, but because it’s the hygienic thing to do. Likewise, anyone who cooks at home should also be doing this, and almost half of all food poisoning comes from home cooks making themselves sick. No law can do anything about that.

In fact, if you wanted to reduce the likelihood of food poisoning or illness, forcing food handlers and cooks to wear disposable gloves might be one of the last things you’d want to do. A 2010 study from the Journal of Food Protection says as much, stating in its abstract that:
[W]hen properly used, gloves can substantially reduce opportunities for food contamination. However, gloves have limitations and may become a source of contamination if they are punctured or improperly used. Experiments conducted in clinical and dental settings have revealed pinhole leaks in gloves. Although such loss of glove integrity can lead to contamination of foods and surfaces, in the food industry improper use of gloves is more likely than leakage to lead to food contamination and outbreaks. […] Occlusion of the skin during long-term glove use in food operations creates the warm, moist conditions necessary for microbial proliferation and can increase pathogen transfer onto foods through leaks or exposed skin or during glove removal. The most important issue is that glove use can create a false sense of security, resulting in more high-risk behaviors that can lead to cross-contamination when employees are not adequately trained.
It’s absurd to expect that food handlers are going to be able to change their gloves for every meal they prepare, especially at peak dining times. And those gloves are going to carry food particles from plate to plate and meal to meal, creating a mass transit system for microbes. In addition, gloves get hot and sweaty, and when they puncture or tear, contamination becomes likely.

Also, food preparation itself isn’t the only source of food contamination. Unclean utensils, improper cooking temperatures and contaminated food itself sicken as many people as poor hygiene does. And this new law doesn’t address any of those.

AB 1252 passed the California State assembly and senate unanimously, and it doesn’t appear there was any particular lobbying done for it. It’s not a power grab by Big Glove or the globalist controllers. It’s a law meant to protect people, and tries to do so in good faith. But it also appears to be unnecessary, inconsistent, confusing and potentially harmful. Given the findings of reputable research, along with the law’s seemingly arbitrary nature, it’s reasonable to think it won’t end up protecting anyone. Assuming it’s followed to the letter (which it won’t be), it might actually make more people sick.

Not all laws warrant skepticism, but this one does. And the more I look into it, the more skeptical I get. From a scientific point of view, AB 1252 simply seems like a solution that creates more problems.

by Mike Rothschild

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