April 4, 2007
Dining Out Won't be as Sparkling

The most enduring if thankless task in the restaurant kitchen is going away. The fine craft of "dishwashing" is disappearing down the drain, to be succeeded by the more embracing "warewashing." As of July 1, that's how California public-health officials are to start referring to a chore that for generations has been called dishwashing.

It's one of many minor and major changes dictated by the new California Retail Food Code (CalCode), which on July 1 is to succeed the old California Uniform Retail Food Facilities Law (CURFFL). The intent of the regulations remains the same, to prevent foodborne illnesses.

Most of the new requirements won't be apparent to restaurant guests because they address food-handling issues in the kitchen. The upshot of one new regulation, however, will be apparent immediately to diners who enjoy the exhilaration of seeing candlelight blaze on upright wine goblets, glint off polished silver tableware, and flow in silken streams across bone-china dinnerware when they walk into a restaurant. Eating out often is likened to attending the theater, in part because just the way the stage is set can fire up the audience's anticipation. Some restaurateurs, however, are liable to be fretting that this new directive will tie their hands unreasonably as they manage the stage design.

The regulation will require that tableware that is set out before guests are seated - the frequent protocol in white-tablecloth restaurants - be protected from potential contamination by being wrapped, covered or inverted. If it isn't, it is to be removed and replaced with new as patrons are seated. In other words, utensils are to be wrapped in a napkin, not arranged openly and tidily. Wine glasses are to be set upside down or maybe sealed in plastic pouches. Plates are to be inverted, or not be put out at all beforehand.

The intent of this requirement is to prevent plates, forks, glasses and the like from being contaminated via touching by other guests, explains Alicia Enriquez, program manager in the environmental-health division of Sacramento County's Environmental Management Department.

I can see the reasoning of public-health officials; I just can't recall that a contaminated bread plate ever has been implicated in any kind of foodborne disease, unlike contaminated spinach and contaminated beef.

So the appearance of table settings in several upscale restaurants in about to undergo a revision. It could be worse. A regulation could be adopted to prohibit the lighting of the candles. Global warming.

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