April 19, 2007
Tabletop Proposal Gets Tweaked

White-tablecloth restaurateurs likely won't have to change the way they set their tables after all. As reported in an item posted here April 4, a provision in the new California Retail Food Code, to take effect July 1, would require restaurateurs to wrap, cover or invert tabletop utensils, stemware and plates to prevent their contamination before guests are seated.

However, an urgency measure now making its way through the legislature - SB744, passed unanimously by the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday - would substantially tweak that requirement, along with several other provisions of the original legislation, all of which are intended to help prevent foodborne illness.

The revision would allow restaurateurs to continue the common practice of setting tables with exposed flatware, glasses and the like. Under the new proposal, restaurateurs would have the option of either removing utensils and so forth not expected to be used by guests as they are seated or removing and cleaning them with all other table settings at the end of the meal. Basically, that's the current practice, says Alicia Enriquez, program manager in the environmental health division of the Sacramento County Environmental Management Department, responsible for food safety at dining facilities.

Sen. George C. Runner, R-Antelope Valley, introduced the revisions. He also proposed the initial regulations, backed by the California Retail Food Safety Coalition, a group of state and local environmental-health officials and representatives of the retail food trade, including restaurateurs and grocers.

How did the original tabletop proposal get as far as it did before being revoked and retooled?. "It was an oversight," says Becky Warren, spokeswoman for Sen. Runner, noting that the original bill was around 150 pages long and that it isn't uncommon for subsequent cleanup legislation to reshape regulations. She expects the legislature to pass the revisions and the governor to sign them before July 1.

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