Yes, Saturday is the day it all begins.
No, not the Democratic National Convention. This is the day North Carolinas new food code goes into effect.
That brings the new rare burger regulation many people have been anticipating. Under the new rules, if a restaurant displays a warning to customers that eating undercooked meat might make them sick, the restaurant will be allowed to serve a burger thats cooked to less than medium or well-done.
While thats exciting and, ahem, timely for visitors from other states that already have the disclosure rule its not the only thing affected by the new regulations.
The new code covers everything from new holding temperatures for food dropping from below 45 degrees to below 41 degrees and even whether the person who makes your lunch can wear fingernail polish or a watch.
Lynn Lathan, the environmental health supervisor for Mecklenburg County, has been working with the estimated 3,300 businesses affected, helping to explain what they have to do. And of course, thats happened at the same time as security measures for food service surrounding the DNC.
Its a bit of daunting task, she said recently.
The new state code is based on the federal regulations from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. It incorporates the latest findings in food handling and focuses on the things that are most likely to cause food-borne illness.
For North Carolina, adopting a new code thats based on the federal code has advantages. It gets the state access to the newest research. It also helps businesses that hire restaurant workers from other states. If theyre already familiar with the federal rules, they can be trained more quickly.
A lot more glove wearing
A lot of changes affect things the customer probably will never notice. For instance, lowering the cold-holding temperature from 45 to 41 will allow restaurants to keep refrigerated food a few days longer, reducing waste. But its such a big change that restaurants wont get points taken off inspections for six years, to allow time to replace refrigeration equipment that can cost several thousand dollars.
Restaurants will now have to have a manager on every shift who has passed an accepted food-handling course. And it puts the responsibility on restaurant workers to notify employers when they have certain illnesses, so they dont handle food while sick.
Other things will be a little more noticeable if you look. For instance, there are now rules against using bare hands to touch food that wont be cooked before the customer eats it. Workers need to wear gloves or use tools like tongs or scoops.
People handling raw food also cant wear fingernail polish, false nails, or jewelry other than a plain wedding band. That includes watches, diamond rings and even medic-alert bracelets. (Medic-alert necklaces are OK.)
Lathan expects a lot of workers to complain about that.
Theres going to be a lot more glove wearing or theres going to be some people who will have to change their mindset, she said.
Some places wont change
Now, about those burgers. The disclosure arrangement also covers things like eggs over easy and sushi. Restaurants dont have to cook burgers below medium, but if they choose to do it, they have to display a disclosure about the risks in a place that is visible, such as printed on a menu, on a table tent or on a wall.
A spot check by the Observer on Friday found that some restaurants, such as Pinkys Westside Grill, dont plan to change, while others plan to change eventually.
Others are making a party out of it. At The Liberty on South Boulevard in Dilworth, chef-owner Tom Condron is so delighted, hes offering a special all weekend: Half off a rare burger. It has to be rare, not medium-rare, he said:
Youve got to be all in.
Observer writer Helen Schwab contributed to this story.