What's REALLY On Your Waiter's Hands?

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Dirty_Waiter_Hands_slidePhotographed By Angela Pham.
Perhaps you’re familiar with this scenario: You fish through your wallet, hand over a crusty $20 bill to a bartender and watch in horror as she rifles through the register for change, tucks her hair behind her ear, and dips her bare hand into the lime-wedge container. The lime goes kerplunk and you drink your drink. There’s no telling where her hands have been and there’s only so much alcohol in that gin and soda to kill off whatever’s on them.

Many reported foodborne illness outbreaks originate in restaurants and food workers’ poor personal hygiene is a known contributor. In 1993, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended a bare-hand contact ban — currently in place in 41 states, but in California, restaurant workers are fighting for the right to bare hands.

Harmful bacteria such as E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella, as well as noroviruses (the most common cause of food-borne disease outbreaks) can be found on unwashed hands. The CDC suggests workers wash hands before preparing food, before putting on gloves to prepare food, after eating, drinking, smoking, coughing, sneezing, and blowing one’s nose, after prepping raw meat, after handling dirty equipment, and our personal favorite — “after touching body.” Of the 321 restaurants the CDC monitored, workers washed their hands in only 27% of the above activities. Ew.

But, is using tongs, spatulas, deli paper, or most commonly — single-use gloves — enough to keep our food safe? Unfortunately, no. Glove use has actually been shown to contribute to foodborne outbreaks. Research shows glove use may be counterproductive because restaurant workers may wash their hands less frequently with gloves creating a false sense of security. And, if there’s a small tear in a glove from long nails or rings, food can be subjected to microbes grown in the warm, moist conditions between latex and hand.

For the states who don’t yet have a written bare-hands ban (yet) — Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Wyoming, Tennessee, and South Carolina — we see both sides to the “keep your paws off my food” saga. Only time will tell if restaurant workers in California, or other states, will convince legislators that bare hands may be the safer choice. (Fox News)