What Is the No Bare Hand Law in San Diego and How It Affects Bars and Restaurants?

On January 1, 2014 California’s “ No Bare Hand ” law went into effect across the state. The law directly impacts restaurants, bars, delis, and anywhere else that ready-to-serve food is sold and/or served. If you own an establishment where food is served, or you work in one, it is imperative that you understand the new law to avoid a violation.

no bare hand law in san diegoThe purpose of the “No Bare Hand” law is to increase the safety level for the food buying public by putting a physical barrier between those serving food and those ingesting the food. In short, the law prohibits direct contact with bare hands while preparing or serving ready-to-eat foods.

The law focuses on ready-to-eat foods because those foods are not cooked after they are handled by food workers. According to the Environmental Health Division, or EHD, for the State of California, ready-to-eat food is defined as follows:

“Ready-to-eat food is food in a form that is edible without additional preparation to achieve food safety. In other words, it is food that is ready to be consumed, and does not require any additional preparation to make it safe to eat. Ready-to-eat food may be reheated for aesthetic, culinary, or other reasons. Food that should be cooked further, such as a rare hamburger, or a sauce containing raw eggs, can also be considered ready-to-eat provided the consumer has been advised of the potential risks.”

Some examples of foods that qualify as ready-to-eat and, therefore, can no longer be touched with bare hands include:

  • Any food that will not be thoroughly cooked or reheated after it is prepared.
  • Any food item that has already been cooked (e.g., a slice of pizza or a cooked ground meat patty).
  • Prepared fresh fruits and vegetables served raw or cooked.
  • Salads and salad ingredients.
  • Fruit or vegetables for mixed drinks.
  • Garnishes such as lettuce, parsley, lemon wedges, potato chips or pickles.
  • Cold meats and sandwiches.
  • Raw sushi fish and sushi rice.
  • Bread, toast, rolls and baked goods.
  • Ice served to the customer.
  • Dry fermented sausages, salt cured meats and poultry, dried meat and poultry products (e.g. jerky).
  • Thermally processed, low-acid foods packaged in hermetically sealed containers.

It is possible to apply for an exemption to the No Bare Hand law in San Diego if your establishment wishes to allow bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food. If the EHD is convinced that the food will be served to a low risk population and the plan submitted is sufficient, an exemption may be granted. Without an exemption, bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods is a violation of the new law and could result in hefty fines from the EHD.

If you are concerned about compliance with the new law, or wish to apply for an exemption, contact an experienced San Diego restaurant law attorney.

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