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. While 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.
In healthcare, when we replaced latex gloves, we used vinyl gloves. They are reasonable as a simple protective barrier. But what troubled me the most
was the failure rate causing me to need to double glove for higher risk examinations.
Vinyl gloves are optimally used by fast food limited servers for less than 2 hours.
The best glove for the food preparer for multiple reasons is the nitrile glove. The glove fits well on the hand giving the user the best feel of what they are working with. Because of the fit, this glove prevents sweat and bacteria spillage, and the failure rate is the best of the above three choices.
Recommendations, based on scientific studies, regarding the frequency of changing gloves, even in surgery let alone food prep, are limited. In one medical study, it was recommended that surgical gloves should be changed every 90-150 minutes. More on that in another blog post.
Nitrile gloves are the optimal choice for food preparers.
In conclusion, not all gloves are equal and the choice of glove matters depending upon:
- the service provided by the user
- the length of time the user will be wearing the glove
- the relative risk of contamination from the food being prepared
- the importance of dexterity and sensitivity to the user
My best advice when choosing gloves for food preparers or food servers is to seek out a glove expert who understands all the issues.