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.

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

vinylglovewas the failure rate causing me to need to double glove for higher risk examinations.

vinyl gloves failed 12% to 61% of the time.” That failure rate has led some investigators to recommend changing this type of glove after 2-3 hours of use.

 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. Sensitives_BoxThe 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.

“…nitrile performed significantly better, with failure rates of only … 1% to 3%…”

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.


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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