There’s an interesting debate going on in Oregon about the best way to ensure food safety in restaurants and other eateries.
Oregon restaurant owners and chefs recently earned a small victory, delaying by several months a new state rule that could make dining out more expensive, create waste and, despite its good intentions, do little to protect public health.
The rule, initially set to take effect [last] Sunday, would require cooks to wear gloves or otherwise avoid touching food with their bare hands. But restaurant owners argued the requirement won’t prove safer than the state’s current rigorous hand-washing practices — and the science seems to back them up.
“The idea that using rubber gloves is going to stop people from getting sick is ludicrous,” said Andy Ricker, chef and owner of Pok Pok restaurants in Portland and New York. His New York locations already comply with that state’s no bare-hand-contact rule.
“For it to be safe, every time you touch something, you’d have to take your gloves off, wash your hands, and put on new gloves.” Ricker said.
Wearing gloves has been found to reduce the number of times people wash their hands, while warm, moist conditions create a hothouse for bacteria to grow. A 2005 report from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center that analyzed grilled tortillas found more staph, coliform and other harmful bacteria on the samples prepared by workers wearing gloves.
“Gloves lead to a bulletproof-vest feeling,” said Bryan Steelman, owner of the Mexican eatery Por Que No? and among the restaurateurs leading the charge against the new rule. “Cooks think, ‘I have a glove on. I don’t need to wash my hands.'”
“Effective” hand-washing being the key, of course. I have to admit, this isn’t something I’d thought much about, but it’s a big deal. The annual cost of food poisoning is $77 billion, with one in six Americans affected, and 3,000 deaths. It’s also largely preventable, and doing a better job of it would no doubt help keep health care costs under control. There’s more to it than hand-washing or glove-wearing, of course, but this is the low-hanging fruit. As the story notes, both methods are effective as long as they are implemented properly. Anyway, I thought this was worth highlighting. Read the whole thing and see what you think.