Skip to main content

New Restaurant Food Safety Rules Require More Hand-washing

Chris Eversole

Mark Tamplin (352) 392-2030
Debbie Williams (850) 488-9263

GAINESVILLE—Gloves are out and hand-washing is in at some Florida restaurants.

State food safety rules that went into effect earlier this year give restaurant operators the choice of allowing employees to handle ready-to-eat food with protective gloves or their bare hands.

“If they’re going to work with their bare hands, food handlers must complete a rigorous new food safety training program that requires frequent hand-washing and use of hand sanitizers,” said Mark Tamplin, food safety expert with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences who is coordinating the statewide training program.

“It’s a major change for the state’s $17 billion restaurant industry thatserves some 40 million people annually, and it should improve food safety for consumers,” he added.

The new rules replace part of the 1995 federal food safety code, which prohibits food service workers from handling ready-to-eat food with their bare hands. When some Florida restaurant chains objected to the federal banon bare-hand contact with food, the Florida Division of Hotels and Restaurants approved alternative procedures.

Restaurant owners who chose the no-gloves option must train employees in a program such as the one being offered By UF in cooperation with the Florida Restaurant Association. Restaurants also must have a written operational plan on file for restaurant inspectors. Restaurant owners who break the rules face fines up to $1,000 per day or license revocation.

“Allowing the use of bare hands in exchange for more food safety training is a good trade off,” Tamplin said.

“Hand-washing can be a life-or-death issue when it comes to preparing food,” he said. “You could make people sick or even kill them. That’s thereality we have to bring home in our training programs.”

Up to 10,000 deaths and 40 million cases of food-borne illness occur eachyear in the United States because of unsafe food, he said.

“But the right technique for hand-washing is not as simple as it seems,” hesaid. “To keep food — and diners — safe, food service workers need to become compulsive about washing their hands and using antiseptic lotions.The use of sanitizers after washing is a big step forward.”

Tamplin said wearing gloves can provide a false sense of safety. “If you touch your face or a refrigerator door or a soiled cutting board with your gloved hand and then touch food, you can contaminate the food.

“What’s more, UF tests showed that more than 60 percent of the disposable gloves used in restaurants leaked. So you need to wash your hands before you put the gloves on. In fact, regular hand-washing and use of sanitizers could offer more protection than gloves, especially if those gloves are not changed frequently.”

The training is effective and will include more restaurant employees than ever before, said Debbie Williams, biological administrator for the Florida Division of Hotels and Restaurants in Tallahassee.

“Until now, only managers were required to have food safety training and pass a test,” she said. “We assumed that managers were training employees,but we found that managers were often just taking the course to pass the test.”

To reach diverse audiences, Tamplin and UF county extension agents around the state are offering training materials in Spanish, Creole and Chinese as well as English. “Many Florida restaurant workers do not speak English, and we have to communicate with them in their own language,” he said.

He also is training state food inspectors to improve their ability to spot safety hazards and is advising restaurants on how to avoid them. A new UF video is designed to make food-service workers more aware of common mistakes in handling food.

For more information on the UF food safety training program, call toll-free (888) 2EATSAF or (888) 232-8723.