CNN’s Eatocracy covered differing health regulations in Oregon where they chose to opt out of the 2009 Food and Drug Administration Retail Food Code. A bill that prevents food handlers from touching “exposed ready to eat food” with bare hands, requiring “suitable utensils,” such as tongs, disposable gloves, and spatulas be used instead.
Oregon’s Foodborne Illness Prevention Program denied adopting the bill for restaurant workers in their state this past July, citing gloves facilitated a false sense of cleanliness, increased costs to restaurants, and created useless waste. As Eatocracy points out, glove use without hand washing is just as much of a concern.
“While the regulation is being put into place to prevent norovirus contamination, the bottom line is that gloves alone will not prevent the problem without being used in combination with hand washing,” says Mindy Brashears, a professor of food safety at Texas Tech University. Norovirus is what laymen more commonly refer to as food poisoning.
Portland, Ore. chefs Adam Sappington and John Gorham weighed in on the issue.
Sappington, the executive chef at The Country Cat Dinner House & Bar in Portland, regards the now-void ban as “crazy.”
“I got a little philosophical about the whole idea. It takes away one of the senses of cooking,” he says. “It’s more likely that you’re going to wash your hands less, and moving from hot to cold, hot to cold in gloves, things are just going to fester.”
“As much as people are fighting against the gloves, I spend a lot of money on gloves,” says Gorham, who says his staff does wear gloves when butchering and cleaning fish and shellfish.
“Most of the gloves are made out of a rubber product and they break down with animal fat,” he says, noting plastic’s potential to leach chemicals into meat.
“I’ll do what I think is best, but I’m not going to obey a law that will actually harm you,” he says.
These chefs are passionate about their craft; treating each ingredient and food item served as sacred. If anyone has earned the right to touch your food, it is these chefs. Food is a tactile experience, and for many, preparing food requires physically feeling the ingredients in order to treat them correctly.
Not all states agree when it comes to bare hand contact, however, with Nevada generally enforcing the ‘No Bare Hand Contact’ in casinos and high volume establishments. Although the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD) tries to minimize bare hand contact, they also provide an alternative procedure which allows clean, bare hand contact. This form can be submitted to acquire a permit, pending health authority approval.
There are three other states that have adopted the 2009 Food Code, roughly representing 2% of the U.S. population, while 21 states (39% of the population) enforce the 2005 Food Code. A 2011 change to the Food Code states that bare hands can touch food ”as they are being added as ingredients to a food that is to be cooked in the food establishment to a minimum temperature specified in the Code.”
The FDA protects and promotes health through regulation, law, and policy, attempting to create a uniform food system for mass amounts of consumers. It is no secret that the FDA’s name has been marred by scandals allowing Monsanto bio tech to sell GMO-tainted food sprayed with herbicide proven to cause human tissue death, tumors and birth defects. Along with our own government electing a former Monsanto V.P. as Deputy Commissioner of Foods as well as placing several other Monsanto former employees into positions of power at the FDA, EPA, and USDA. A more in depth list here illuminates the revolving door between the government and Monsanto.
In spite of the FDA’s transgressions they are a necessary evil.
This is how we can know as consumers through local officials where to avoid cantaloupe tainted with Salmonella, also accepting a larger government agency can then trace a food contamination to its source when it does happen.
At home plastic gloves are seldom used, that is not to say that home cooks are more safe from food contamination than chefs in a restaurant setting, only that both chefs and people make food without plastic gloves and do not make people sick. Just in the same way as disease can be prevented with glove use, glove use alone does not remove disease or contaminates because either food is spoiled or people mishandled it. Simply requiring gloves will not eliminate food contamination, it is a band-aid to address a more complex issue within our food system.
Food passes through many phases of production before it gets to grocery stores, restaurants, or at home on the table. The U.S. is involved in importing and exporting ingredients world-wide resulting in a myriad of food handling processes and practices.
Leaving states an option to choose which laws their agencies will enforce and adopt is where a checks and balance with our food system is suppose to occur. Local health officials are better able to evaluate how regulations will harm or improve safety conditions for food handlers.
For this, consumers and chefs should be grateful, but blindly accepting any law without question is where unsafe food practices can emerge, going against the common goal of presenting food safely, unadulterated and honestly.
When it comes to food, there is much debate about the proper way to make and serve it. In the best case scenario, chefs set the bar for how food should be treated, providing an example to our weary self-taught cooks, consumers, and health officials. Food is a meaty matter that should bring everyone to the table when discussing safeguarding sustenance for health in our food system.