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Mar 13, 2009 12:51 PM

Bamboo steamers against health code in California?

The Chowhound Team split this discussion of California food code from the Los Angeles board. If you'd like to comment on the food at Din Tai Fung, please redirect to this original discussion:

From my understanding, it is due to health standard in U.S. DTF in Taipei obtains fresh (Unfrozen) pork daily, and they are allow to use the traditional bamboo steamer basket. In U.S. it would be difficult to obtain unfrozen pork, and also the health standard does not allow DTF in Arcadia or any restaruant to use bamboo steamer basket to serve customers. Next time note what the steamer basket is made of. Of couse the unfrozen pork versus frozen pork meat will impact the taste far more than bamboo versus stainless steel steamer basket.

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  1. I didn't know about the bamboo steamers (though they're used in New York so it would have to be a local rule), but it is not difficult at all to get unfrozen pork, restaurants do it all the time.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Das Ubergeek

      Indeed, unfrozen pork is so prevalent that if it were a health code violation just about every hot dog stand would be shut down.

    2. "and also the health standard does not allow DTF in Arcadia or any restaruant to use bamboo steamer basket to serve customers."


      Source of info?

      The attached picture of red bean dumplings from DTF sure looks like they are in a bamboo steamer.

      11 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        i've been to DTF @ 6x (damn out of towners making me go, bah!!) and all the xlb were served in stainless steel steamers.

        1. re: wilafur

          Maybe meat can't be cooked/served in bamboo steamers? I remember hearing something to the same affect as poster mochamoto's entry on bamboo steamers - I think it was an LA Times article a few years back on health inspectors v. SGV eateries.

          1. re: wilafur

            I've only seen stainless steamers at DTF too. If they use bamboo, they weren't there when I was.

            ipse, source of info: the California Retail Food Code see the section on food contact surfaces. Page 60, Chapter 6, Article1, Section 114132


            1. re: Professor Salt

              Wow - great research, Professor. After reading that section of code, I can now understand the great fracus that the health inspectors must have created when they started to come down on bamboo steamers in Chinese restaurants.

              1. re: Professor Salt

                Thanks for the cite Professor.

                This is curious, because I have seen bamboo steamers at both DTF and at places like J&J and MLV.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  I don't know how much room for interpretation City health codes allow for. After going through an extensive home remodel, I've found that building inspectors have their own interpretations of the same code - inspector A says this bracket requires all 16 predrilled holes to be filled with the appropriate fasteners is needed to meet code. Inspector B comes along and says a formula can be used to determine how many fasteners are required to meet code - "you only need 12 fasteners to meet code - 16 might be excessive." This kind of inconsistency relative to guidelines would lead me to guess that maybe certain inspectors might allow some wiggle room on certain issues like this? Or maybe certain restaurants are just taking the initiative to continue using this age-old method unless/until it's brought to the attention of The Man?

                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    Consider Bamboodles -- that new noodle joint that uses bamboo sticks to make noodles.

                    And check out the picture in this link. It is a rice and spare ribs dish served in a bamboo platter!


                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      I think the code mentioned that it's okay to use certain solid wood utensils and bowls in the preparation of things like pastries - I'm assuming doughy things - as well as salad bowls.

                      The part of the code that gets a little sketchy is at the bottom of p.60/top of p.61. When you read section 114132, section A specifies, "Except as specified... as a food-contact surface." Then continue on to section B, "Hard maple or an equivalently hard, close-grain wood... when manually preparing confections at a temperature of 230 or above..."

                      Technically, if the bamboo steamers are utilized in the traditional method, the food comes in contact with e.g., parchment paper, lettuce or cabbage leaf - not the wood surface - maybe a steamed bun might come in incidental contact with the inside wall of the steamer, unless it is lined as well.

                      All health inspectors may or may not know that bamboo is at least as hard and close-grained as maple. If they do, then bamboo passes this hurdle.

                      Water turns to steam at around 212 degrees at sea level. 235 is the stated minimum threshold for code. Does this mean that an inspector would pass the bamboo method if the kitchen's steamers hit that temp?

                      Another mentioned oddity is using cedar planks for fish. I would think that if the city allowed fish to come in direct contact with wood during its cooking time and process, then any other potential animal protein coming in contact with a solid wood surface would be the equivalent, as long as safe temps were achieved. And how many places in LA actually grill or bake seafood on cedar planks relative to how many places would prefer to use bamboo steamers? That provision is pretty dated/useless.


                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        Easiest way to interpret and enforce the rules?

                        Slip the inspector a couple of Alexander Hamiltons ...


                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Do they still do that (staring at computer with wide doe-eyed look of innocence)?

                          It's obvious that the LA code needs updating to meet the techniques and equipment of this particular cuisine. Based on my personal experience of dealing with LA City, not in our lifetimes...

                          1. re: bulavinaka

                            The answer is a resounding YES.

                            And it's not even an "open secret" ...

          2. A bamboo steamer should not affect the taste or the cooking of the dumplings. Dumplings are never cooked directly on bamboo or metal. They are always cooked on paper or vegetables to prevent them from sticking.

            If bamboo steamers are prohibited, it would probably be because metal steamers are easier to clean. I doubt it, though. After all, the health code still allows for wooden chopping blocks and other wooden utensils for cooking.

            Fresh pork is not prohibited in the U.S. As long as it is properly refrigerated, it is allowed. We had fresh pork all the time at our restaurant. God knows I made enough wontons with them.

            Since the 1980's, American farmers have bred successively leaner pigs because of change tastes ( Chinese eaters tend to prefer fattier cuts than those currently available in the U.S. I hate to admit it, but fattier cuts taste a lot better.