AB 2130 – Gloves Off?

In January, AB 1252 went into effect in California, requiring food employees in contact with “ready-to-eat” food to wear gloves. From the outset, this seemingly minor change to California food safety law generated ripple effects felt throughout the state beverage industry, as the law requires bartenders and tasting room employees to wear gloves when handling edible garnishes or cheese plates. Citing inefficiency, waste and a tenuous relationship to public health, the industry went on the offensive to get the word out about the unintended consequence of the new law. The backlash to AB 1252 was not limited to the restaurant and bar industries. As reported by NPR, local health departments had a difficult time interpreting and implementing the legislation. AB 1252 provided an exemption to the glove requirement for establishments that satisfied certain health department standards. But local health bureaucracies struggled to define the criteria for the exemption process.

Now, emergency legislation known as AB 2130 has been introduced in the California legislature to effectively repeal the onerous requirement of the glove law. The new legislation would permit food employees to handle “ready-to-eat” foods with their bare hands as long as they minimize contact with the food, use an approved food preparation area and make sure their hands are cleaned in accordance with California code.

Bartenders and tasting room employees aren’t out of the woods just yet. The grace period for violations of AB 1252 ends on June 30, and offending establishments may be penalized thereafter. Unless AB 2130 goes into effect by that date, the gloves may very well have to come back on for the state beverage industry.

AB 1252: Sanitation Overkill?

New legislation effective January 1 in California banning food employees from touching “ready-to-eat” food with their bare hands is causing an uproar in the bartender community. Ready-to-eat food must now be handled with “suitable utensils,” effectively requiring bartenders to wear gloves when making drinks that contain something edible, including cocktail basics such as lime and mint. As of January 28, over 9,000 people have signed the petition on change.org to exempt bartenders from this requirement. However, limiting the exemption to bartenders does not go far enough. Wine and beer tasting room employees will also be required to wear gloves if they serve food in addition to drinks at the tasting room, which is common practice at many locations. While larger brewpubs and wineries often have commercial kitchens with staff that prepare food for guests, many smaller operations do not. For example, under this law leanly staffed establishments may now have to require their tasting room employees to don gloves between pours in order to prepare a cheese and cracker plate ordered to accompany a tasting unless there is a dedicated employee for food service that is properly outfitted. This requirement is not only esthetically irksome, but wasteful and unwieldy.

It is not a foregone conclusion that bartenders and tasting room employees will be wearing gloves in the immediate future. As reported by NPR, California Assemblyman Richard Pan stated that "the purpose of the law was not to force everyone to wear gloves, as much as to ensure that we have cleanliness and food safety in restaurants." Indeed, the requirement can be avoided by applying for prior approval from the appropriate regulatory authority (usually local health agencies), and maintaining documentation regarding food safety procedures, health policies and special training for food employees. However, applying for this exemption is no small burden for bars and tasting rooms - and local health agencies will no doubt be inundated with exemption requests.

While we have been informed that no penalties will be issued for six months while proprietors adjust to the new requirements, it will be interesting to see how health department and other regulators enforce the new requirements in establishments that are not primarily in the business of serving food. Right now the ABC does have the authority to enforce (and does enforce) the health laws in establishments that serve alcoholic beverages. Check back for updates in the near future.

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