Studies have shown that personal hygiene is one of the leading causes of foodborne illnesses, due primarily to food-handling employees not washing hands properly or often enough. One aspect of personal hygiene that has come into much discussion in ServSafe classes is whether or not to use disposable gloves when handling food.
I take the surprising position of no, with exceptions. If I owned a restaurant, I would not make my kitchen employees wear gloves. However if they were to handle food in front of my customers, I would enforce the use of gloves, due to the public thinking: “How gross – they are touching my food with no gloves on!” I believe gloves are not used properly because they give a false sense of security. Food-handlers might take out the trash, handle money, and then continue to handle food, thinking they are safe because they are wearing fresh gloves.
Glove-wearing is never a substitute for hand washing! Proper hand washing entails using at least 100°F water and soap to scrub your hands and wrists for a minimum of 10-15 seconds and drying with a single-use paper towel. If you do not wash your hands, you will contaminate your gloves the instant you put them on with dirty hands. In addition, by wearing gloves, the wearer loses that tactile sensation that tells them when their hands are dirty or slimy, and need to be washed.
Maryland State regulations require the wearing of gloves when serving ready-to-eat foods if utensils such as tongs, spatulas, deli tissue or automatic dispensing equipment are not used.” COMAR 10.15.03.09F. In addition, if a food handler is wearing fingernail polish or has artificial fingernails, gloves are required. COMAR 10.14.03.14(H)(2).
Gloves can be used as an extra precaution to ensure food is not contaminated.
But, keep in mind that:
1) gloves are to be worn for one task only;
2) the same gloves are not used while working with ready-to-eat food and raw food; and
3) gloves must be discarded when they are soiled or damaged, an interruption occurs in the operation, or after 2 hours of continuous use. COMAR 10.14.03.14(J).
I recently heard yet another compelling reason to use disposable gloves with caution. One of my best friends, Debbie, was recently at the Jersey shore and had just eaten tilapia at a seafood restaurant that makes their own Catch of the Day. She enjoyed the fish, but within 10-15 minutes was presenting with symptoms of skin redness, tingling, rash and swelling, heart palpitations and difficulty breathing. Her mother took her immediately to the emergency room, where she was treated for anaphylactic shock. Her sister confirmed with the restaurant that they used latex gloves to prepare the fish, as Debbie already knew she had a latex allergy, which becomes worse with each exposure. As a result of the restaurant visit, she now has to carry an EpiPen with her, in case it happens again.
I always knew that latex gloves were a concern in dental practices and the medical world. For example, Johns Hopkins does not use latex gloves at all. For this reason I’ve always suggested to my ServSafe students that they refrain from using latex gloves, not only to avoid allergic reactions for their employees, but also theorizing that traces of allergens will effect the food.
There are circumstances where food-handlers need to protect themselves with gloves. If a food-handler has a cut, then disposable gloves are necessary to cover bandages or band-aids over clean hands so customers are protected from bloodborne pathogens and from any hidden surprises in their food. In order to avoid allergic reactions to latex for their employees and customers, food operators can use Nitrile gloves. Nitrile gloves are completely latex-free and do not contain allergy-causing proteins. They provide an excellent alternative for people who experience latex sensitivity, as well as eliminate the potential for adverse allergic reactions associated with latex protein.