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No Bare Hands in Lincoln, Nebraska

No Bare Hands in Lincoln, Nebraska
March 24
19:15 2016
The Health Department advisory board in Lincoln-Lancaster County, Nebraska has approved a new rule for all local eating establishments: food handling staff must wear gloves when touching cooked foods.

This new rule comes after Health Department warnings that touching cooked foods with bare hands leads to “food poisoning.” 

What we think of as food poisoning is actually norovirus – a flu-like illness that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Norovirus doesn’t come from spoiled food. It comes from food that has been touched by an infected individual who was not wearing gloves.

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know just how dirty it can be behind-the-scenes. Even if you are told to do so, the last thing you want to do when you’re busy is wash your hands or put on latex gloves.

The City Council plans to hold a public hearing on the no-bare-hands policy on April 11th. It was approved by the Health Department advisory board early this month.

Environmental Health Division manager Scott Holmes says the main goal of the policy is that no customer will eat food that has been touched by someone’s bare hands.There are a few exceptions, however. Staff can still touch food before it’s cooked, wash veggies and fruits, and garnish beverages without gloves.

Some chain restaurants and establishments in the area already follow such a policy, including those in “high-risk” areas like assisted-living facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals.

shutterstock_132023225-smallerLincoln’s policy follows the national model, but with a few changes. For example, bartenders will not be asked to wear gloves when garnishing drinks.

“In the bigger picture, the vast majority of outbreaks are related to food,” says Holmes. “I’m not saying there has never been an outbreak from a bar situation, but percentage-wise it would be very small.”

Restaurants will have the option to opt out of the no-bare-hands policy, but Holmes doesn’t think many of them will. Some will opt out just for certain employees; for example, sushi chefs who must handle very delicate dishes.

Restaurants that choose not to adopt the new rules must provide safeguards including:

• Frequent hand-washing
• Requiring workers to report illnesses
• Barring sick employees from touching cooked foods.

“Rather than have to fill out a bunch of forms, establishments can adopt this policy and inspectors will confirm it and determine if it is adequate,” explains Holmes.

These rules allow for flexibility and increased standards, so there will be no compromise with food safety, says Jim Partington, executive director of Nebraska’s Restaurant Association. “We came up with reasonable compromises.”

Lincoln’s proposal is a modification of the 2009 Federal Drug Administration recommendation, which more than 40 states have adopted. But not Nebraska.

If the policy is approved, Lincoln’s rules will be more strict that state rules. According to Lincoln-Lancaster Board of Health chairwoman Heidi Stark, Lincoln tends to be at the forefront of such changes. “Perhaps the state will follow.”

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April Kuhlman

April Kuhlman

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