SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California lawmakers are beginning to back away from a new law that bans bare-hand contact with food in restaurants and bars, with the Assembly Health Committee voting unanimously Tuesday to repeal and revisit the regulation.
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The vote follows opposition from chefs and bartenders who say they were taken off guard by the new regulation.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last year requiring restaurant workers to wear gloves or use utensils when handling ready-to-eat food, including the rice in a sushi roll and the mint in a mojito. It allows for exceptions if eateries show good hygiene practices, but food industry representatives say local regulators were granting them inconsistently.
California is among the last states to adopt a bare hand contact ban, already in place in 41 other states and recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more than 20 years ago.
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Regulators say bare-hand contact by kitchen staff is a leading cause of foodborne illness. But independent and high-end restaurateurs say the law is restrictive, wasteful and undermines existing hygiene practices.
Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, says the pushback from the food industry surprised him because the law sailed through the legislature without opposition.
Pan’s bill would bring back the food code’s original language asking restaurants to minimize bare-hand contact, while lawmakers revisit the issue with more debate and testimony.
Regulators and restaurant owners say a common ground may be spelling out specific exemptions, like for drink garnishing, in the law itself.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.