Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Misguided Development

A few years ago an influential barista made a public statement about his objection to baristas’ bare hands touching the rims of a cups. His statement has influenced the speciality coffee industry, such that it is now an offence for which WBC judges will reduce a competitor’s score. That makes it an official industry standard faux pas. And it has not stopped there. In a recent competition performance I was criticised by judges for cutting a passion fruit in half without using a barrier such as gloves. Now a passion fruit’s skin is thick, and is not eaten. One only eats the inner flesh.  I fail to see the logic of such criticism.

What is the driver for this development regarding aversion to baristas’ bare hands touching things? I presume it is hygiene, and I think I would be understandable for baristas who have not received training and qualifications in food safety & hygiene to assume that gloves would be better than bare hands.

But this assumption would be false.

A barista has the same responsibilities regarding food/drink hygiene as a chef. When a chef prepares food in a restaurant he/she uses his bare hands. In case you didn’t know, those hands touch your food. That is normal practice. Level 2 Food Hygiene & Safety training recommends using bare hands rather than gloves.

Gloves have several disadvantages:
1.   They give a false sense of cleanliness. Chefs and baristas should be encouraged to clean their hands frequently. If they touch their hair or face, they must wash their hands. If they go outside and then come back in, they wash their hands. Washing their hands is part of basic hygiene training. It should be a given that their hands are clean. All my staff are Level 2 certified and received formal training through a third party training company.
2.      2. Gloves are an additional hazard. They can be torn, exposing unwashed hands to food (because the hands were not washed due to the belief that the gloves would provide protection), or risking a foreign body appearing in food and drinks.
3.       3. Gloves make the hands warm and moist, providing a breeding ground for bacteria. Hands must be washed and dried before AND after using gloves. Is it likely that this happens in real life?
4.       4. Gloves need to be thrown away regularly. This makes them an environmentally unfriendly product, as well as an additional cost and time-consuming activity for a small business.

As baristas our responsibility is to have impeccably clean hands. Touching the rim of a cup should be avoided where possible, but it should not be an issue in the event that it happens, because of our adherence to personal hygiene training and cleaning procedures.  During a shift I may wash my hands 100 times. Making it an offence to touch the rim of a cup suggests that the barista community has a general lack of understanding concerning food safety risk assessment, possibly because it is not mandatory for coffee shops to train their staff or managers. We should be encouraging our staff to use bare hands, alongside good hygiene training and cleaning/sanitising procedures, not falling foul to misguided groupthink.