A line cook at a bar and grill is preparing a hamburger. He puts on food service gloves and grabs a handful of raw ground beef and forms a patty. Without changing gloves the worker proceeds to top the grilled patty with lettuce, tomato and onions. After sending out the burger the line cook starts the process over without changing his gloves. This is just one example of food service glove use gone wrong. The problem is that this scenario is probably not uncommon and is just one of the many ways food can be contaminated through improper glove use.
The Food Service Glove Problem
Food service gloves can provide a false sense of security for employees and customers. Once the gloves are on people feel as though the food being handled is safe and not being contaminated by the server’s hands. This can be true if the server closely follows the right protocol but the majority of the time the gloves are not helping and in some cases they are hurting the situation.
Studies have found that improper glove use can be a bigger problem than poor hand hygiene. This is true for a few different reasons. Gloves do not provide the level of protection that many people think they do and still require hand washing. Also workers tend to become more careless and take more risks when wearing gloves.
The Journal of Food Protection studied food service glove use in 2007 and 2010. The journal reported that hand washing was less likely to occur when employees were wearing gloves. This is a frightening trend for restaurateurs because these gloves will not fully protect food from being contaminated when the hands they are covering are not clean. In fact, gloves can act as a breeding ground for bacteria and actually raise the risk of food contamination. In their 2010 study the Journal of Food Protection concluded that the warm, moist conditions inside a glove are necessary for microbial proliferation and can increase pathogen transfer onto foods through leaks in the gloves, exposed skin or just by taking the gloves off.
Using food service gloves in a restaurant on a daily basis can also be very wasteful. Most of these gloves are disposable and pairs can be discarded a dozen times an hour just by one employee. These numbers start to add up fast. This is wasted money for your business and more trash in the environment.
During food prep a server or line cook can be handling several different types of food at the same time. If one of these foods is raw meat then the server is required to change gloves before picking up a different piece of food. Or if the worker opens a refrigerator, sneezes, coughs, handles money or touches any other contaminated surface they are required to change gloves. If servers are changing gloves as often as they are required to, which most of the time is not the case, they will be using a large amount of disposable gloves and slowing down the food preparation time.
Having said this there are some positive reasons to wear food service gloves. One situation where glove use can be important is when preparing sushi. Because these workers are handling raw fish they need to take certain precautions to ensure customer safety and gloves make it easier to do so. For example, if a sushi chef is preparing a roll with shellfish and a customer orders a different roll and is allergic to shellfish, gloves make it easy for the chef to switch materials safely.
Food service gloves also create a positive customer perception about the cleanliness of your business operation. This as mentioned before may be a false sense of security for the customer but either way they have a positive outlook about the restaurant.
Types of Gloves
Latex gloves are frequently used in the food industry. They can withstand exposure to high heat, feature a tight fight and good dexterity. The main problem with latex is that some people are severely allergic to the material and use of these gloves has been banned in 3 states.
Nitrile gloves are durable with good dexterity. The problem with this material is these gloves often contain DEHP. DEHP is a potential carcinogen and could be harmful to customers and servers.
Polyethylene gloves are the cheapest of the group. These gloves may be affordable but are far from durable because they tend to tear easily and can not be exposed to heat.
Vinyl gloves tend to be considered an acceptable alternative to latex but they have problems of their own. These gloves have been described as “infection control nightmares” by Food Safety Magazine. This is because they can begin leaking sometimes as soon as they are donned by the worker.
The Centers for Dieses Control and Protection (CDC) recommends that instead of requiring businesses to use food service gloves it would be better to revise food prep methods to reduce the number of times an employee needs to wash their hands. This can be done by limiting the number of times the worker has to handle raw meat or other contaminating materials.
The issue of food service gloves and their safety is important because it can directly affect the public’s health. Food borne illnesses can be very dangerous and detrimental to diners’ health.
As a restaurateur you are in a position to positively impact this issue. Whether you decide it is better for your servers to use gloves or practice regular hand washing it is important to commit to making sure your food is safe. This can be done by training the staff on the correct way to use food service gloves and on maintaining proper hand hygiene. Make all of the necessary equipment readily available to make this easy for your employees. Do this by always having a supply of gloves near the food prep area or by always making sure your sink is stocked with enough soap and towels.