Restaurant workers face food safety test deadline

June 29, 2011 7:05:30 PM PDT
Tens of thousands of restaurant workers from hostesses and servers to cooks and bartenders must pass an online food safety and sanitation test by Friday when a new state law takes effect. However, compliance may be difficult as many restaurant operators say they do not know about the new requirement and language may be a major barrier.

The online test, which costs $15, is available only in English, Spanish and Chinese. With so many other languages spoken in restaurants, additional versions in Vietnamese and other languages may be needed. However, they will not be available by Friday's deadline.

Good sanitation and hygiene are an obsession at restaurants such as the Michelin one-starred Alexander's Steakhouse in Cupertino. Executive Chef Jeffrey Stout says the new law is a good idea, but its implementation appears to be a problem. Stout says there has been no publicity about the requirement.

"I think most restaurants don't even know about this; it was a fluke accident that we even found out about it," Stout said.

About half of his employees in Stout's Cupertino and San Francisco restaurants have already taken the test, which takes about an hour to complete. A stated goal of the program is to keep customers from contracting food-borne illnesses from improper handling and procedures.

Stout recognizes bad practices when he himself goes out to eat.

"You see a lot of people smoking cigarettes, touching hair, wiping their hands like this, there are some issues involved," Stout said. "Of course, the most common thing is a staph infection or staph contamination and that's the most common thing and that can be prevented simply by washing hands."

Sixty-thousand employees at 6,000 restaurants in Santa Clara County will need to take the test. The county's Environmental Health Department will do outreach over the next six months to encourage compliance.

"Everyone who will be touching the food, whether it's the wait staff or the bus staff or the people actually preparing the food will be required to have this food handler's card," Environmental Health Department spokesperson Heather Forshey said.

Bartender Tom Kraiker said the exam was easy, but he thought it will serve as a good reminder of the importance of food safety.

"There's a lot of people, including myself, that need to be reminded of this kind of stuff," Kraiker said.

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