Contaminated Gloves Can Cause Food Borne Illness

In the last three blogs, I discussed what the movie “Contagion” can teach us about the anatomy of food borne illness epidemics, how proper gloves use is important in the prevention of food borne illness and not all gloves are equal. Now, let’s prevent cross contamination.

In healthcare, we put gloves on a certain way, protect the glove from touching anything that could be contaminated, watch for leaks and take the glove off so as not to contaminate ourselves. All techniques are applicable to food safety.

Handle the glove and put it on and use them so as not to contaminate the gloves.

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Not All Gloves are Equal and it Matters in Food Safety

In last blog I discussed the importance of using gloves when handling ready to eat food.

During my medical practice of nearly 40 years, I became very familiar with the use of gloves. Not all gloves are equal. Reflecting on that experience, it is clear to me that the choice of glove matters in food safety.

For most of my medical career, I used the industry standard powdered latex glove. But over the last decade of my practice, I developed a latex allergy, as have a significant number of other health care workers and the general public.


“According to the American Latex Allergy Association
8-17% of healthcare workers and … 1% of the general public in the US. … equals about 3 million people” (have a latex allergy).

 Most health care facilities have quit using latex gloves.

Powdered latex gloves should never be used in food preparation.

I have seen disposable plastic polyethylene gloves used in food service. imagesWhile they may be cheap, easy to put on and are a ‘one size fits’ all, there really is a very limited use for this type of glove. Primarily because of its easy fit, sweat and bacteria are not contained. Perhaps its most practical use is for a counter server who needs a single use protective barrier, picking up an item and immediately putting it on a plate or in a bag.

Plastic polyethylene gloves should optimally be used by food servers for single use.

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Proper Glove Use Will Reduce Food Borne Illness

The Critical FDA Food Code item #9 that is associated with an increased risk of food borne illness is failure to use gloves when preparing ready to eat foods (RTE).

How do you feel when you notice the cook or server is touching your RTE food without gloves?

A turn off, isn’t it? It also increases the risk of transmitting disease.

Imagine a dentist putting his/her hands in your mouth without using gloves. Would you ask him/her to put on gloves? When food service workers touch RTE foods without using gloves, they are literally putting their fingers into the customer’s mouth. Just like dentists, food service workers are entrusted with the public health. Glove use when serving RTE foods is critically important to reducing
food borne illness.

restaurant plating

“The spread of germs from the hands of food workers to food is an important cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in restaurants and accounts for 89% of outbreaks.”

 Are food preparers or food servers then required to wear gloves?

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The Movie “Contagion” Can Teach Prevention of Food Borne Illness

You should see the movie!

It is a chilling reminder of how rapidly infectious diseases can spread and the devastation that can occur.

The story is about a virus that spreads across the world killing billions. Food borne epidemics are occurring all the time. Over the last decade, there have been nearly 1000 food borne illness outbreaks in the USA every year. Two thirds of the time we don’t even know what caused the epidemic.

Graph Outbreaks

Usually there is a single source. Poor hygiene spreads the infectious agent.  Without spilling the bottom line, “Contagion” highlights these critical facts.

Two major issues contribute to any kind of disease epidemic:

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How Safe is Bed & Breakfast, Motel or Hotel Breakfast Food?

 

On a recent cross-country auto trip, we stayed in several nationally known motel chains. Alternately we often will stay in a Bed & Breakfast and/or independent motel or hotel that is highly rated by fellow consumers on travel websites.

I frequently wonder how many of the server staff have had food safety training. I assume that most national motel chains have training courses as part of their orientation. But what about the bed and breakfast or the independent motels? I would guess the standards may not be at the same level.

Research has shown that food safety standards in a typical home fail to meet recognized food safety standards. If the servers in the aforementioned have not had any food safety training, guests are at increased risk of food borne illness.

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How Safe is Grocery, Deli, Convenience Service Station Food?

Perhaps you read the heartbreaking story of a father who ate nacho cheese from a gas station and died from botulism. 

Clostridium botulinum is the technical name for the bacteria that releases a toxin causing botulism. It is an uncommon, almost rare form of food poisoning. But is often universally deadly indeed.

Most of us have done it. We have grabbed a quick hot dog from a convenience store or gas station. We’ve picked up a quick salad from a grocery store deli. Perhaps we’ve grabbed some fruit from the grocery store and eaten it on the way home before washing it. All of these scenarios carry a risk of food borne illness.
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How Safe is Community Service Prepared Food?

You may have read the headlines.

(CBS News) A food poisoning outbreak from turkey served at the Denver Rescue Mission has sent more than 50 people to the hospital for treatment.

(ABC News) “Authorities believe food poisoning caused more than 100 people to become sick following a potluck dinner at a Mormon church in Nevada over the weekend.”

“About 50 people were taken to Salt Lake City hospitals Sunday night after reports of food poisoning at a homeless shelter.”

Well intentioned, kind and community spirited people offer their generous time, talents and monies to help others, but sometimes the lack of food safety knowledge, experience and/or attention to food safety practices can cause misery.

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How Safe is the Food Served in our Schools?

We all want our children and grandchildren to be safe when they attend school.

But news headlines cause concern: “Workers blamed for food poisoning at Waipahu Elementary School”, “Questions Remain over Hollister High School Illness Outbreak”, “Food Poisoning Outbreak at Stanford — Norovirus Suspected”, ”Investigation Continues into what Sidelined 58 Teachers in Catered Luncheon.

For school administrators, teachers, parents and grandparents the headlines raise doubt.

USDA
Source: USDA

What is the frequency of these outbreaks?

In a 2016 CDC report there were nine outbreaks in 2014.

In the most recent CDC report August 2017 there were 16 food borne illness school outbreaks with 622 illnesses. While the reports are based on data that is two years old this is an increase from the previous year’s report.

What are deeper root causes?

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How Clean Are Those Stadiums?

We had a first-time experience at the Denver Broncos stadium within the last month. It was fun. Getting there early, we had our first brat and lathered it with condiments at the condiment table. No problem. At half-time we ordered another brat but had to wait while it was thawed out and then cooked. OK. But the condiment table looked like a bomb had exploded. I passed on the condiments and ate the brat and bread dry.

I have to ask, have you ever wondered about food safety at the stadium?

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Why Bother Using a Food Thermometer When Cooking or Holding Food?

In the most recent data Annual Report from the CDC, published August 2017, the most common causes of food borne illness identified were related to improper cooking with:

  • “poor temperature control”
  • “insufficient time or temperature while cooking or heating”
  • “improper holding temperatures”
  • “eating contaminated raw, undercooked or under processed foods.

I conclude that to reduce the chances of getting your guests sick, be cautious about temperatures and use a food thermometer for cooking and holding. It really is quite simple.

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