Tougher food handling rules coming soon to restaurants

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is changing food safety regulations and some smaller Grand Strand restaurants may find it tough to comply.

The rules require no "bare hand contact" with ready to eat foods, along with hair and beard restraints for food preparers.

Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches, which has a company policy requiring its employees to wear fresh gloves and keep their hair tucked under a cap when they're preparing food, says it won't have any trouble complying with the new regulations.

"If anything, we might incur a few costs on new hats, just to keep everybody looking sharp," said Justin Zant, manager of Jimmy John's Conway restaurant.

But Zant, who's been working in restaurants for 14 years, says some locally-owned restaurants might have a bigger problem going along with the rules.

"Working in the mom and pop kitchens, especially here in South Carolina, we weren't required to wear gloves for a lot of food prep. I think if we start implementing hair nets and gloves, it would definitely be a bigger cost," said Zant.

Chef Eric Wagner at Horry Georgetown Technical College says the new rules also require more stringent food temperature controls.

He says there will also be a requirement for food handling equipment to be certified by NSF, a public safety organization formerly known as the National Sanitation Foundation.

"I've heard from a couple of chefs that they may have an under the counter refrigerator that they may have to replace because it's not NSF," Wagner said.

But Wagner, who teaches future chefs, approves of the new regulations and says they'll help South Carolina catch up to the rest of the country.

"I believe every state should be equal. We're one country, so we should have the same rules everywhere," he said.

DHEC says the new regulations are based on the most current science-based concepts and practices, and will align the state with the federal food code.

The regulations will go into effect January 1, 2015.