Sushi chefs hope gloves come off in food safety debate
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A high-end restaurant is calling for changes to the state's new food safety rules. Sushi chefs at Morimoto Waikiki don't want to wear gloves. The restaurant's general manager also believes the requirements for an exemption are unreasonable.
"There's a lot of frustration. They're trying really hard to feel the rice, the dab of wasabi, the texture of the fish," said general manager Chad Yang.
New health department rules prohibit bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods. Chefs and bartenders must now use utensils or gloves. Critics complain the disposable gloves slow down workers and create more trash. Morimoto Waikiki plans to seek an exemption, but that requires detailed documentation of handwashing.
"It would be impossible when we start getting busy in mid-August. There will be too much handwashing. It will be like every other minute or 30, 40 seconds," said Yang.
California repealed its glove law last month after strong opposition. Now some are hoping Hawaii is next.
"I do encourage other sushi restaurants to come so more voices get out there and I think there's going to be a sense of urgency," Yang said.
Other concerns about glove use include cross-contamination and a false sense of security.
"You've got a great environment - perfect environment - for bacteria to grow. It's nice, warm, and moist," said Tom Frigge, president of TOBE Co. Food Safety. "The other thing is you can't feel when the gloves are dirty. When your hands are dirty, you can feel it and you know you need to wash them."
Hawaii's health department is trying to cut down on cases of food borne illness. A spokesperson said there are no plans to change the rules. The restriction on bare hands is part of the Federal Food Safety Code and has been adopted by most states.
Only two restaurants have applied for an exemption so far, according to the health department. Inspectors are working with establishments to clear up any confusion about the new rules.