Potential incidents such as tongue rings in salads or nose rings in sandwiches have Wyoming officials considering a ban on facial jewelry in the food-service industry.
The Governor's Food Safety Council of Wyoming is concerned about these possible health hazards and as a result is recommending that the Wyoming Food Safety Rules adopt a change for 2005 that would ban facial jewelry on employees preparing food in restaurants.
Wyoming would be the first state to pass such a ban.
Although a city health inspector said there were several cases of jewelry found in people's food in Cheyenne, Wyo., Jon Cecil of the Cheyenne Health Department said there have been no documented cases.
"We have had, however, a few cases where restaurants have changed their policies to address the issue," Cecil said.
The food safety council also has health concerns about maintaining a sanitary working environment. "People tend to play with their piercings and not wash their hands. They are considered open wounds, and staph infections may spread to the food," Cecil said.
The Governor's Food Safety Council met on Jan. 25 and voted 5-3 in recommending that the Department of Agriculture change the current food code.
Dean Finkenbinder, manager of Consumer Health Services in the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, will make the final decision after he sees the FDA's new food code in May.
"Before we update our food rule, I was going to see the FDA's decision, listen to the Governor's Food Safety Council and wait until all the facts are in," Finkenbinder said.
Finkenbinder said that if the FDA reaches findings similar to the council's recommendations, then the regulation would be open to public comment for 45 days. If it then passed with the governor's signature, the ban could go into effect the end of the summer.
Cecil said that old food codes banned all jewelry altogether on employees handling food. But since the 1990s, food codes changed to ban jewelry on wrists and hands only.
Todd Bourdelais, a psychology graduate student who works at Subway in the Lory Student Center, bears six obvious facial piercings, located on his nose, eyebrow, tongue and multiple earrings that he has had for the last four to five years.
Bourdelais feels that measures the ban would regulate are not legitimate.
"It is definitely a cover-up for appearance. You can't judge a book by its cover," Bourdelais said.
Bourdelais said that there is no way his facial jewelry would "just" fall out.
"It takes pliers to get these out. I think that people might be concerned if they aren't aware of facial jewelry, thinking it could easily fall out," he said.
The present appearance policy at the student center Subway is under the manager's jurisdiction. A co-worker of Bourdelais recently was allowed to keep his lip-ring in.
Bourdelais used to work next door at Villa Pizza, but switched employment to Subway this semester.
Steve Cook, the assistant manager for Villa Pizza for the last four years, said that a new owner took over in January and changed the policy to allow employees only one set of earrings. He feels that such a ban will not pass anywhere.
"It is discriminatory. It is a personal right for your appearance. I think you have to have a relaxed environment for people to be willing to work harder and longer," Cook said.
Krystal Peters, a junior accounting major who works the cash register at Villa Pizza, dons a nose ring. She said that she has never had a problem with her piercing falling out.
"As long as the piercing itself doesn't affect your performance, it shouldn't be an issue," Peters said.
Other changes forecasted for the 2005 Wyoming Food Safety Rules will restrict people with symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting from working for up to 48 hours and will reduce the hot-holding temperature from 140 to 135 degrees.
Bourdelais said that if a similar ban were implemented in Colorado, he would quit food service. Making sandwiches may be only a temporary thing for Bourdelais, but his piercings are not. His heart lies in being a musician, and he said that naturally piercings go with the territory.