Blog Find: Fussy Little Blog

Daniel Berman’s well written and well-thought blog, titled Fussy Little Blog,  is ostensibly a regional food blog covering the Albany, N.Y area, but don’t let that description fool you. Sure, he covers the regional food scene and does it as well as anyone, but his themes are often more universal and he is rarely anything but spot on with his assessments. Take for example this post from yesterday, January 5th entitled “Smell the Glove.” Daniel states quite eloquently the case against mandated use of gloves by food handlers. It’s very much worth the read, typical of his posts.

Is there a biologist in the house? The past few years have required the assistance of chemists, and miraculously they appeared. But 2012 is already headed down a much different path.

Really I need a microbiologist to make me smarter about bacteria.

Although I would have been fine just leaving the subject of dangerous micro organisms to Danger Milk, -R went and made the following comment, which really got me fired up:

All it takes is one careless swipe of an ungloved hand, and poof – E. coli or salmonella for the masses. I actually find it rather amazing that we don’t see more outbreaks of food poisoning, especially given the lax hygienic standards adhered to by most food distributors and eateries. A short review of Albany County’s DOH Restaurant Inspection site, shows how even the most upscale places have more than the occasional unwanted pratfall.

-R’s overall point was that risk exists everywhere, and that should not stop us from eating tasty food. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. Where we part ways is on the importance of gloves and the relative danger of “an ungloved hand.”

Forget for a moment that we are talking about disposable gloves here that clog up landfills and can end up polluting our oceans. And disregard just how many of them are required by local governments all over the country in a misguided effort to keep us all safe.

Now try to ignore the facts about how much E. coli and salmonella are already in food thanks to lax regulator oversight, inhumane and crowded conditions for animals, and big agricultural businesses that prioritize profits over safety.

Gloves are not magic bacteria reducing devices.

I really liked this story from Memphis that details some common health code violations of restaurant workers who are actually using gloves. They are:

* NOT WASHING HANDS BEFORE THEY APPLY GLOVES
* NOT WASHING HANDS WHEN CHANGING GLOVES
* USING THE RESTROOM, THEN DONNING GLOVES WITHOUT WASHING HANDS

Gloves are a problem in and of themselves. When people put on gloves, they think they are clean. Here is how the matter was explained by registered environmental health specialist (whatever that means), Michael Dodd in an ostensibly pro-glove post.

When people work with food using their bare hands, they immediately notice when juices get on their hands and will most likely wash their hands before continuing with their next task. This is not necessarily the case when people are wearing gloves. They may not realize it is time to wash their hands.

But the issue isn’t just with the wearer. When consumers see gloves, they get the mistaken impression a restaurant is clean.

So in a sense gloves are simply a marketing gimmick that in some very serious ways are dirtier than hands. And if you think this isn’t at least in part about consumer perceptions, then I encourage you to take a look at the New York State Department of Health Q&A on hand washing and the use of gloves.

Here’s the question: Must I change my gloves after touching money with gloves on?
It’s a good question. Money is filthy stuff.

The answer is that it’s not illegal, but that really you should. Why? Because despite the fact that, “Food outbreak investigations have not identified the handling of money as a cause of illness” the DOH has found, “Many patrons complain to the local health department if they see food workers using the same gloves to prepare food and handle money.”

And do you know one of the kinds of food that cannot be touched with bare hands according to the NYS DOH? Fruit or vegetables for mixed drinks.

When is the last time you saw a bartender anywhere in New York put on a pair of gloves before reaching into the garnish tray for a lime? Sure, there may be some places that stab garnishes and plop them in the drink. But you can’t put a lime wheel on the rim of a glass with tongs. That’s crazy talk.

Seriously, someone is getting rich off this and laughing themselves all the way to the bank.

The answer to keeping harmful bacteria from restaurant workers out of the food is good old-fashioned hand washing and a little bit of common sense. There is no magic in plastic. But if you are truly concerned about the safety of your food, you have a lot more to worry about than whether or not the guy at the pizza shop was wearing gloves.

Re-posted with permission of the author, Daniel Berman and Fussy Little Blog.


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