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New Calif. Law Making It Hard for Sushi Chefs to Do Their Job Right


"...still it really feels... something different."

A new state law in California meant to protect public health could have unintended consequences on a cuisine where touch and feel is very important -- sushi.

sushi Those handling raw food that won't be cooked before being served to customers are required to wear gloves per California's new law. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Sushi chef Ken Uechi, who has been crafting the raw dishes for eight years, told KCBS-TV about the importance of touch in the food-making art that frequently features uncooked fish.

“It’s about putting life into a piece of sushi, we want to be able feel the rice, control the texture, but with gloves, it’s kinda hard to,” Uechi said.

The law, part of an update to the California Retail Food Code, requires those handling raw food that won't be cooked to wear gloves or use utensils to prevent their hands from touching the item. The measure meant to prevent the spread of germs was enacted at the beginning of this year and is in its soft rollout, meaning restaurants not abiding by the law have six months to come under compliance before they're fined.

Toshi Sugiura is another sushi chef less than thrilled about how this could impact his raw culinary creations.

"Looks OK to me," Sugiura, owner Bar Hayama in Los Angeles, told NPR after preparing sushi wearing a glove. "But still it really feels...something different. I've been doing 30 years making sushi, and it's never been using gloves."

[sharequote align="center"]"I've been doing 30 years making sushi, and it's never been using gloves."[/sharequote]

Sushi fans hold similar angst against the glove-wearing requirement.

“I think it’s ridiculous. I’m paying a trained professional that needs to feel the rice that needs to touch the fish,” Bill Burrs told KCBS.

Sushi chefs and their loyal fans aren't the only ones annoyed by the new law. It also applies to bartenders touching the lime slice or orange garnish being added to cocktails.

"I felt really suffocated by it," bartender Matthew Biancaniello told The Los Angeles Times earlier this month, adding that the gloves also give off an unsavory stigma that can make people think "hospital."

Experts say glove wearing isn't a cure-all for preventing the spread of bacteria and viruses. According to NPR, Christine Bruhn, director of the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California- Davis, said "gloves are not the barrier you would think they are." They don't replace a good, old-fashioned hand-washing.

NPR noted that restaurants can apply for exemptions, but the rules for what could grant such an exemption is not clear.

Featured image via Shutterstock.

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