Loopholes in food handlers card law
Under the new Food Handler Card Law employees of Ame don't need to have a card, but they will be required to at Terra in St. Helena. Photos by Michael Maloney and Jon Bonne/The San Francisco Chronicle
It’s another case of our mysterious legislators at work. Two weeks ago I wrote about the fact that last September CB 602 was signed into law, requiring anyone who works in a restaurant to have a Food Handler Card. The law took effect July 1, but the problem was that no one officially told the restaurants. The word trickled out, and the state and instituted a grace period so the regulation won’t be enforced until January. After that, all restaurant workers have to have a card or face the wrath of the county health inspectors.
However, if you look closely at the bill, you’ll see why it’s critically flawed. I can get behind the idea that anyone who handles food should have training. It could be very helpful in preventing food poisoning and contamination, so what’s the harm? I took the test and learned a few things, and I’m sure anyone probably would. The training is minimal, but it at least makes workers stop and think about how they handle food.
Turns out only a narrow band of people who work with food actually will be required to take the test. If you work in a food truck, pop-up restaurant or school cafeteria, or you prepare food sold in a grocery store, you don’t have to have the card.
Another exemption: If you’re covered by a collective bargaining agreement — i.e., a member of a union. What that means is that at Terra in St. Helena all employees have to be card carrying food handlers, but if they work at Ame, its sister restaurant in San Francisco’s St. Regis Hotel, where employees are unionized, they get a pass.
After my last blog about this law, I received an email from Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association, saying he’d be willing to discuss the situation and give some of the background. In our phone conversation he told me that the idea of the bill was contentious for about 10 years and didn’t get much traction until the You Tube video two years ago that showed two employees mishandling food. The video went viral and it was picked up on many national news shows.
Condie said the original bill was comprehensive but over time its scope was narrowed to retail sales. “I can’t explain away all of them,” he said. “Through (the legislative) process, a lot of these exceptions occurred over time.”
He continued: “When you have sensitive food populations- hospital, schools and aged populations there’s even more of a rationale. The hospitals and schools made points they go through training. They were making these arguments individually, and the unions also made a case that if you’re a card- carrying member of the union working in the food service industry, there’s education that goes along with that.”
I called the office of State Sen. Alex Padilla and talked to Taryn Kinney, his press deputy and legislative aide. In an email she wrote: “In drafting SB 602 and 303 Senator Padilla paralleled the scope of SB 1420 (menu labeling) signed in 2008. Both bills applied to restaurants.” That bill deals with restaurants with multiple locations, while food handling practices should deal with every level of food service, but that’s not the case. I asked Kinney what type of training hospital workers and union employees get to allow the exemptions and she said she’d get back to me. Her email, however, didn’t cover that aspect of the bill so I began to call the various unions.
I talked to Joan Ortega of the Hotel Restaurant Labor Management Education Fund in San Francisco. She works with both the unions and hotel management to give training in sexual harassment, sanitation and other issues confronted by union works. She said that all union chefs and sous chefs have to go through a sanitation program to be certified (independent restaurants also have to have someone on staff who holds a sanitation certificate). However, there are no requirements below that level. She only gives training when the hotel calls for the service. Many do, but again there’s no policy that you have to have training before you join the union.
She also couldn’t talk about hospital and school cafeteria workers because they belong to a different union. From what I’ve witnessed, at least in some nursing facilities, the standards are lax.
In our phone conversation, Kinney said grocery stores were exempted because they don’t prepare food. It’s true that some don’t, but many do and even opening packages and displaying food require knowledge of good sanitation practices. Why temporary restaurants are exempted was never explained.
Even former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenner was disappointed with the loopholes in the bill, but called it a good first step, according to Condie. So while Sen. Padilla touts that 900,000 workers will be trained, I’m more concerned about the hundreds of thousands who don’t have to get the card. http://insidescoopsf.sfga...food-handler-card-law/