Under new food safety law, bartenders have to wear gloves

Bartender Matthew Biancaniello garnishes a hops-infused-gin cocktail with a sprig of rosemary.
Bartender Matthew Biancaniello garnishes a hops-infused-gin cocktail with a sprig of rosemary.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

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.

“Maybe I’ll work a lot with tweezers for adding flowers, dehydrated garnishes and things like that,” Biancaniello says. “I’m OK with that. I think there will be some good that comes out of this. Maybe someone could design some special gloves.”


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