California restaurant operators are now required to use gloves or utensils when handling ready-to-eat foods under a change to the retail food code that went into effect Jan. 1, but health officials have agreed to a soft rollout for the first six months.

Concerned that operators would be caught unaware of the new rules, the California Restaurant Association pushed for a soft rollout. The California Department of Public Health and the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health agreed to note violations as a warning on inspection reports, educating restaurant operators about the specifics of the new rules during the soft rollout period.

Most states have already adopted similar bans on bare-hand contact with food, and the rule change was expected in California, said Angie Pappas, communications manager for the CRA. However, the state health department didn’t issue guidelines on enforcement until mid December.

Previously, the California Retail Food Code attempted to minimize bare-hand contact with prepared food, but the new rules go a step further to ban such contact, except in specific situations where the restaurant seeks an exemption from their local health officials.

The rules apply to any ready-to-eat food that will not be cooked or reheated. Affected dishes include sushi, bread, baked goods, salads and garnishes like parsley, lemon wedges and pickles.

Under the new rules, such foods must be handled with single-use gloves or utensils like tongs, forks, spoons, bakery or deli wraps, wax paper, scoops, spatulas, or dispensing equipment.

As mandated previously, foodservice workers must also thoroughly wash hands with soap and warm water before entering a food preparation area, before putting on clean gloves or between glove changes.

Hand washing is also required before preparing or dispensing food, after using the restroom, after touching any bare part of the body, or coughing, sneezing, blowing nose, smoking, eating or drinking. Foodservice workers must also wash hands during food preparation to prevent cross-contamination or when switching between work with raw ingredients and ready-to-eat foods.

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