Wednesday, January 15, 2014


It is well known that Americans have the weakest bellies in the world with food borne diseases affecting almost 50 million people annually. This must come as a surprise considering that this country is a leader as far as food safety management expertise and infrastructure are considered. Probably over obsession with hygiene and sanitation must have led to this situation where the immunity development process, especially during early childhood through exposure to multitude of microorganisms, is not allowed to proceed by over cautious parents and the society in general. No wonder American hygiene and sanitation industry thrives on this facet of lives of the citizens. Use of hundreds of chemicals as sanitary aids and over use/unnecessary use of antibiotics compound this problem further. The state of California which is the largest in the US has recently introduced a law that stipulates mandatory use of disposable gloves by any one handling prepared foods. This is indeed a revolutionary intervention by a state in the interests of its citizens and must be applauded. However the practitioners of food preparation and food vending community are reported to be unhappy with this intervention by the state as they feel that their culinary skills are adversely affected by this law. Here is a commentary on this latest development which can be a test case for other states and countries elsewhere in the world before considering enforcing any such regime in their own backyard.  

"Chefs aren't the only ones affected by a new food safety law that bans culinary workers from touching certain foods with their bare hands. Like chefs, bartenders have to wear gloves or use other utensils to make their drinks. No touching ice, fruit garnishes or anything else that goes directly into your glass. Changes to the California Retail Food Code that went into effect at the beginning of 2014 require disposable gloves or utensils such as tongs, paper or scoops to be used when handling "ready-to-eat" foods, which include sushi, bread, deli meats and fresh fruit and vegetables. Basically, nothing that won't be cooked or reheated before it goes out to diners can be touched with bare hands. "Technically speaking, these rules do apply to bars," says Angelica Pappas, a spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Assn. "It's been a common question we've heard ... so there may be more information to come on this in guidance documents from the health inspectors." Bartender Matthew Biancaniello says he has experimented with gloves in the past. "I felt really suffocated by it," he says. Biancaniello uses so many ingredients, garnishes and cooking methods for his drinks that he has been referred to as a "cocktail chef." "I'm always touching any kind of herbs from my garden, touching persimmons to feel for their plumpness or softness. "But the gloves thing, even when I go to buffets and see it, I flinch a little and think 'hospital.'" Chefs have reacted negatively to the new law, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown and went into effect at the beginning of the year. Many have called it ineffective and wasteful, and some -- in particular sushi chefs -- have said that it will be detrimental to their dishes. In an effort to educate restaurant operators and health inspectors, the law will undergo a "soft roll-out" during the next six months to a year, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. No points will be deducted when food handlers are not wearing gloves, but restaurant operators will receive a warning instead".

One has to concede that the new law is well intended  and has the welfare and safety of the citizens in mind. Probably America has no choice but to take such actions to protect the citizens who already have the lowest immunity against food borne infections. Before considering introducing such laws in other countries, most important consideration should be their practicality under the conditions existing in each country. For example such a law may be almost useless in a country like India where most eateries are in the unorganized sector and enforcement will be a nightmare. Putting such laws in the statute books has no sanctity if they cannot be enforced through professional personnel and a huge infrastructure. The impending compulsory licensing regime supposed to kick in India from February 4 this year under the FSSAI rules may be intended to keep a watch on the food handling industry as a whole but at best it can be a sterile exercise with dilapidated infrastructure, inefficient enforcement personnel and grossly understaffed work force in place at present. Hopefully things may improve one day when a more dynamic food safety chief and truly international standard infrastructure with adequate funding are forthcoming.   


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