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Airport security rules call for stepped-up food safety methods

Last year when chef Todd Richards was planning a new restaurant, One Flew South, he and his partners wanted to include a sushi bar. The bar would be a dining room showpiece, and its food would help accent the restaurant's "southernational" blend of southern and international cuisines.

Much to his chagrin, however, Richards learned late in the construction phase of the project that his sushi chefs would have to wear vinyl gloves when they worked the bar of the restaurant, which is located inside Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

"I've been in sushi bars all around world, and no one uses them," Richards said. "But in Clayton County, where we are, they require them. We struck our objections to that, but those are the rules we have to follow."

Not only do the gloves make sushi preparation difficult, finding the right type of glove for the job took more effort than Richards anticipated. The gloves had to be thin and durable as well as free of any chemical flavor

"When you're buying fresh fish at $19 a pound, you don't want it to taste like a vinyl glove," he said. "We had to find powder-free, non-scented gloves that wouldn't change the taste of the sushi. That meant we couldn't use latex, which definitely affects the taste of the fish."

A veteran chef who has worked in multiple states, Richards also thought he'd learned enough about HACCP plans, but the task of moving perishable food through airport security threw him a curveball.

Because of the costly insurance required by strict Homeland Security rules, purveyors don't bring food to One Flew South. Instead, a staffer drives a truck, picks it up from the purveyor and brings it to the airport. The fun really begins when the food then has to be inspected by airport authorities — with the same scrutiny given to passenger baggage.

"They go through every single box and bag," Richards said. "Not only does that take time, since a lot of our food is fragile, it could be torn."

Not to mention warm. Waiting for the inspectors and then the inspection itself can be a lengthy process. This is not a simple drop-at-the-back-door kind of delivery.

"When the truck arrives, [the driver] calls to tell us to come meet him," Richards said. "One of our guys has to bring a pan of ice for the fish and meats because we don't know how long the inspection is going to take. … We don't need ice for the produce; it doesn't take that long."

Despite the hassle, Richards said the inspectors do a great job and understand the need to perform their duties in a timely fashion. They've got other jobs to do as well, so it's expected that Richards' staff will be ready for them when they arrive.

"In a situation like this, you have to plan every single step of your day," Richards said. "Overall, you're sometimes more a logistics officer than a chef, but that's just part of what happens here."

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