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Luis Escamilla puts on gloves before working with food at the Hock Farm Restaurant in Sacramento, Calif. at the Hock Farm restaurant in Sacramento, Calif. Under a bill signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown, chefs and bartenders in California must keep bare hands off food going straight to the plate or the drink glass, and must use gloves or kitchen utensils such as tongs. California, where the law took effect Jan. 1 and will begin enforcement starting in July, will join 41 other states banning bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food. In February, after receiving a petition from bartenders calling for an exemption for the "disposable glove law" the law's author, Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, a pediatrician, has introduced a bill to repeal the new regulation and revisit the entire issue.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

A new California law meant to improve the safety of restaurant food is a great example of government's knack for taking a well-intended regulation and making a hash of it.

Last year, the Legislature unanimously approved and Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill prohibiting food preparers and bartenders from touching ingredients with their bare hands. Under the law, chefs must wear disposable gloves and/or use utensils to work with food. Federal agencies have recommended this approach to prevent contamination.

Now, though, an effort is under way to repeal the "glove law," led by some of the legislators who voted for it a few months ago.

They're right -- this time. The law should be reworked. This whole episode should make diners wonder whether their health is in good hands when they depend on the Legislature.

The law's main problem is its inflexibility, which sets it apart from similar laws in other states.

Some of the objections have come from high-end restaurant owners and chefs, notably sushi chefs. For many chefs, it's as important to feel the food they're preparing as to see and smell it. They fear the sight of chefs in latex gloves will spoil the scene in restaurants with open kitchens. And they worry about passing along the scent of latex to food and beverages.

Oddly, restaurant industry groups didn't raise red flags about last year's bill until it was too late.


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Of course, the aesthetic complaints could be dismissed, if requiring gloves were certain to prevent diners from being sickened by food-borne contaminants.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no such guarantee. What one state regulator called "an additional barrier to help protect the food" may be unnecessary if food preparers are taking the other precautions required, such as thorough hand-washing, sanitizing utensils that come into contact with food, and keeping sick workers home.

Some authorities think requiring gloves could even undermine health by encouraging complacency in the kitchen.

Legislators apparently thought that when the specific regulations were developed after the bill's passage, exceptions would be made for restaurants that demonstrated good hygiene. That was not the case.

A new bill, AB2130, has been introduced, authored by Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who is a pediatrician.

It would require that employees "minimize bare hand and arm contact" with ready-to-eat food but wouldn't prohibit it as long as hands are cleaned according to long-established laws.

Once again, a law passed unanimously by the Legislature may be repealed the very next year, which conjures memories of the energy deregulation debacle for us.

This case reinforces the truth of the old line about laws being like sausages -- it's better not to see them being made.