gloves in the kitchen

Should You Use Gloves In The Kitchen?

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A Guide To Implementing A Glove Policy

The use of gloves in the kitchen is a controversial debate in the food safety industry. This can be seen by the split opinion by experts on this topic.

The trend in the industry has been to encourage the use of gloves in the kitchen for the handling of ready to eat foods. This is in an effort to prevent potential cross-contamination during handling. We at HygieneFoodSafety believe that gloves can be useful. But should have limited use.

Why is the use of gloves in the kitchen being encouraged?

The perception is, that gloves are more hygienic than bare-hands touching ready-to-eat foods. This can be true if the food handler does not wash their hands between tasks. Check out our hand washing article here.

This is somewhat misleading because the food handler actually needs to wash their hands twice (before & after gloves) when using gloves. And food handlers should be washing their hands in any case regardless of glove use or not.

It’s a matter of public perception

The major reason for the use of gloves is public perception. The customer seems to feel more at ease when gloves are used, rather than the other way around. A study conducted showed that 85% of customers who observe gloved workers felt that this was more hygienic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 36% of food-borne illness can be traced to poor personal hygiene and that food-borne diseases cause about 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalisations and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year.

From the numbers one can understand why the glove industry is doing so well.

What are the other benefits for the use of gloves in the kitchen?

  1. Creates an extra layer over bare hands from pathogenic organisms.
  2. Adds addition protection when a food handler cuts their fingers.
  3. Protects sensitive hands.
  4. Improves hand grip.

What are the problems with glove usage?

There is no scientific evidence that proves glove usage is better than hand washing. Especially in the prevention of cross-contamination. The reality is that gloves give you a false sense of cleanliness. You cannot feel dirt or greasiness on a gloved hand. Which means that you change gloves less often than you would wash dirty hands.

The next concern is that gloves are not changed often enough to show any benefit to preventing cross-contamination. This also means food handlers also do not follow a proper glove policy and usually don’t have the correct size glove for a variety of hand sizes. Hands actually need to be wash before putting a glove on and after taking a glove off. So, in an industry where normal hand washing is still a problem.

This creates addition steps to a system already at a strain.One has to wonder why the idea of gloves become so popular. One of the concerns seen in the food service industry is that hand wash basins are hidden from public view and you never actually see a chef was their hands. It is almost as if hand washing whilst handling food is an embarrassing practice.

Consider public restrooms. If you see someone walk right past the hand basin without washing their hands, you see them as being unhygienic. We teach our children the importance of handwashing in preventing the spread of germs. Why then, do we look down on visible hand washing in a kitchen environment?Chefs and kitchen managers always complain that the number one problem when it comes to food safety training in the kitchen is how often hands should be washed.Check out our hand washing videos for tips on how to improve this.

For us at Hygiene Food Safety, we know that proper hand washing and good personal hygiene is the only way to ensure safety from cross-contamination from food handlers. Yet, gloves are important in the following instances:

  1. When a chef cuts a finger, a plaster and glove should be used.
  2. Handling raw meats, in an effort to minimise the bacterial load.

There really is no other benefit to the use of gloves in the kitchen. The alternative is to educate the customer on food safety, by displaying frequent hand washing and taking every opportunity to explain the risks of cross-contamination in glove usage.

The only possible exception for gloves in the kitchen is for Delicatessens and the like where a case may be made for the very thin, completely disposable clear plastic gloves, which are religiously discarded after each use. To some extent, this is to placate customers who are ignorant of the risks mentioned in this article, and who equate glove-wearing with hygiene.

These are disadvantages of wearing gloves:

  1. The wrong sized glove could tear or puncture leading to food contamination due to exposure to skin.
  2. Contamination from the gloves themselves can cause cross contamination if the glove had touched any other surfaces.
  3. Can create illusion of false security in mind of the food handler.
  4. Are not changed frequently enough
  5. Increases business costs to gloves and additional, unnecessary hand washing.
  6. Are incorrectly or inappropriately used.

As mentioned, even food safety experts are split on the benefit of glove usage. If we haven’t convinced you, below are the guideline to proper glove usage in the kitchen:

  • Hands must be washed and dried thoroughly:
  • Before wearing gloves
  • When changing to a new pair of gloves
  • After removing the gloves
  • A new pair of gloves must be worn:
  • When changing tasks (e.g. when moving to a new work station, after handling raw meats, before handling ready-to-eat foods such as sandwiches, after cleaning duties, etc.).
  • After covering mouth during sneezing or coughing, blowing nose, or touching hair (again, hands must be washed after gloves have been removed).
  • As frequently as possible.
  • A pair of gloves should not be worn for more than 4 hours. Prolonged use of a single pair of gloves can result in excess perspiration on hands, which provides ideal conditions for bacterial growth on the skin.
  • Gloves are also more likely to leak or tear if worn for extended periods.
  • Disposable gloves should only be used once.
  • Durable reusable gloves must be washed and sanitised between tasks and stored carefully after removal to prevent contamination.
  • Gloves should always be worn by employees:
  • Who have cuts, sores or rashes on hands
  • Who wear orthopaedic support devices on the hands that cannot be adequately cleaned, such as casts and braces
  • Who wear artificial nails or fingernail polish (although in terms of personal hygiene, this should never be the case)

Need help writing up a glove policy for use of gloves in the kitchen?

We’ve already created one for you.

Get a copy of the glove policy here

You may also want to read our article on personal hygiene and hand washing in the kitchen.

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