By Don Thompson
The Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Restaurants and vendors could sell Asian rice noodles at room temperature without fear of being shut down due to health concerns, as long as they follow provisions in a bill approved Monday by the state Senate.
Sen. Leland Yee sought the bill after the state Department of Public Health cited San Francisco’s Kun Wo Food Product Inc. in July for not immediately refrigerating steam-cooked noodles before delivering them to more than 100 restaurants throughout the Bay Area.
“Two health inspectors came and gave my dad a notice saying it’s dangerous, it’s hazardous. They wouldn’t even let customers come in,” said Willa Liu, daughter of one of the company’s owners, Zi Cheng Liu. “We were trying to tell them that once we put it in the refrigerator, it won’t really be edible. It will break into chunks. It will ruin the texture of the noodles.”
Department spokesman Ron Owens couldn’t provide details or comment.
Yee (D-San Francisco) said the company was a victim of a cultural gap and overzealous inspectors who have cited other noodle-makers in San Francisco and Los Angeles without shutting them down. There are eight manufacturers in San Francisco alone serving the Asian community, Liu said.
“It’s a staple for Asians,” Yee said by telephone after his bill passed 32-0 and now goes to the Assembly.
“Here is a legitimate industry that has been doing this for thousands of years, and all of a sudden, you get an overly aggressive public health inspector coming in and shutting these businesses down.”
The manufacturers ran afoul of state regulations that say food must be kept below 41 degrees or above 140 degrees to prevent health problems. The law already makes an exception for Korean rice cakes if they are held at room temperature for no more than 24 hours.
Yee’s bill, SB888, would similarly exempt the Asian rice noodles if they are labeled with the date and time of manufacture. It must contain a statement that they are to be eaten within four hours of manufacture. The bill would let restaurants sell the noodles if they have been kept at room temperature for no more than four hours.
There has been no opposition and plenty of support. Several vendors flew up from Los Angeles at their own expense to attend a committee hearing where nearly 50 people spoke in favor of the bill.
Liu said the bill may come too late to help her father’s 25-year-old business, which laid off three of its nine employees.
“We lost a lot of business because of this situation,” she said. “It might be hard to regain because of the economy.” ♦