Fighting food-borne illness in the kitchen: Will it require gloves?
Posted: July 5th, 2012 - 10:20am
Source: Oregon Live
Nobody questions the cunning of the norovirus. Every year in the U.S. the food-borne pathogen survives heat and chemicals and delivers stomach cramps and diarrhea to more than 20 million people, 70,000 of whom require hospitalization and 800 of whom die. Norovirus, which thrives in human stool, accounts for more than half of all food-borne illnesses.
Oregon has seen its share. Who can forget the 2010 outbreak among several girls on a Beaverton soccer team who ate cookies carried in a resusable grocery bag that was contaminated? Thankfully, everyone survived.
Now comes a new state rule requiring all Oregon restaurant workers to avoid direct contact with food that's about to be eaten. For many, it means snapping on rubber gloves. The idea is to block the passage of food-borne pathogens, notably the norovirus, by preventing bare hands from touching, say, the pastrami headed from Kenny and Zuke's prep counter to the hungry lunch customer.
Restaurateurs are upset. They have strict handwashing protocols followed by kitchen staff, and a move to gloves could be an expensive burden for businesses already operating on thin margins. Those opting not to use gloves, meanwhile, would have to use tongs, scoops, spoons, spatulas, wax paper, tissue and other implements as barriers. Good luck making sushi.
Most kitchen staff would wear gloves under the rule, but research showing that gloves consistently reduce illness outbreaks in food establishments is lacking.
More needs to be known. New York enforces a similar provision against direct contact between preparer and food. But regulators there say it's okay for a gloved cook to handle money and to return to food-handling wearing the same gloves -- this because illness outbreak investigations have not identified money-handling as a culprit. Thanks, but we'll pass on that pastrami sandwich.