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Do all food workers have to wear gloves?

food safety gloves salad

Question:

We are nuts about enforcing the glove law, especially after losing points on an inspection because of a bartender cutting garnish without gloves. But I feel like the rules aren’t enforced in fine dining. Are there different standards?

– Environmental Health Manager, New York City

Answer:

While not every municipality has a regulation that gloves or another barrier (tongs, spoons, single-use paper, etc.) must be used when handling ready-to-eat foods, yours does. You are right to be scrupulous about making sure a barrier is in place.

There is only one health code in New York City—it applies to foodservice establishments at all levels from the finest fine dining through the most casual. And the rules regarding barriers (often called the glove law) apply everywhere. There are indeed numerous instances of top fine-dining restaurants losing points and paying fines for this very violation: “Food worker does not use proper utensil to eliminate bare hand contact with food that will not receive adequate additional heat treatment.” That can be anything from sprinkling some parsley to garnish a dish to pulling a slice of pizza out of the oven without gloves or a utensil.

From a practical standpoint, your perception that fine-dining restaurants seem to have a little bit more leeway when it comes to the enforcement of all the rules seems to be borne out in the research, though it is less clear whether this is because of the quality of the operation itself (low turnover, highly trained employees, budget, prevalence of open kitchens), amount of scrutiny from the health department, lack of consumer complaints related to relatively lower volume or good practices, or the actual enforcement by inspectors. And, of course, fine-dining operators feel they are under plenty of scrutiny!

My advice is to set aside your concerns about how other restaurants are treated and focus on maintaining the best possible practices at your operation, as you seem to be doing already. More on the glove controversy here.

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