Should Professional Chefs Be Allowed to Cook With Bare Hands?

In Depth

It’s an old saying in the restaurant industry that the entire purpose of the Health Department is to accomplish nothing productive other than making people who work in the industry miserable.

Now some restaurateurs in California are asking as to the feasibility of a new law requiring all chefs and bartenders to wear gloves (or use tongs) at (basically) all times. The law, which passed in January, won’t be enforced until July, and owners like Randy Paragary aren’t happy about it:

“To higher-end restaurants such as Hock Farm, the mandate came as an irritating surprise. Sacramento’s dining scene emphasizes using fresh, locally grown food as part of the farm-to-fork movement. And Paragary, the Hock Farm owner, says gloves would undermine the transparent kitchen-to-plate step his customers observe.
“You’ll feel like there’s a doctor back there preparing your food,” he said.”

Forty-two states currently have some version of the California legislation, though most, if not all, allow for various exceptions to the rule. At least two more, South Carolina and Tennessee, are going to be examining similar legislation soon, and the rest all encourage minimal hand contact with food. So, that being said…should professional chefs be allowed to cook with their bare hands?

First, let’s be honest about something the article itself also makes perfectly clear: restaurants violate Health Department codes CONSTANTLY. You do things differently when the Health Department isn’t there, and then break out the proper procedure when they show up. This may sound horrifying to those outside the industry, but so many Health Department regulations are based on impractical, Byzantine bullshit that you don’t really have a choice.

At the same time, the first thing taught in any decent culinary school is how to properly wash one’s hands. There’s no excuse for not doing so, and any chef worth his or her salt won’t need to wear gloves, because they already know how not to have the hygiene of a freaking five-year-old. Besides which, latex allergies are common enough that you’re trading one risk for another if you’re wearing gloves constantly. Non-latex gloves aren’t generally cheap enough to be economically feasible for most restaurants.

Personally, I see a middle ground wherein Health Department inspections and a history of no violations are taken into account when determining which chefs and restaurants must wear gloves and which can use their hands while cooking. Whether that will happen is anyone’s guess, but it seems the most viable long-term solution.

Image via AntonioDiaz/Shutterstock.

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