Why wear gloves when handling food?

Why wear gloves? They can get contaminated.

They can and they do get contaminated.

BUT wearing gloves, when preparing food, prevents spread of disease.

No matter how diligent we are about washing our hands they are not sterile. If you magnify the skin, you see cracks, ridges of our fingerprints, grooves around the nails etc. Those areas trap bacteria. An NIH published study showed that when hands are washed for 15 seconds over 20% of bacteria remain and even after hands are washed for 2 minutes, over 10% of bacteria remain.

Let’s add to that a recent British study that showed 16% of cell phones are contaminated with stool bacteria even though 95% of the same cell phone owners claim they have thoroughly washed their hands.

Wearing gloves reduces spread of disease and by covering up the remaining bacteria on our skin left there after washing. That is why health care workers and especially those doing surgical procedures use gloves.

Once gloves are on, health care workers know that they need be careful not to contaminate them. Gloves should touch only sterile or clean supplies and instruments. In the surgical arena, gloves should never touch anything below the waist. A strong argument could be made for the same standard in a kitchen.

Extrapolating this to the restaurant, when gloves are worn, the food handler should only touch foods, cooking utensils or surfaces that have been periodically and responsibly sanitized. If the gloved food handler/preparer touches clothing, their face, their hair, cell phones, door nobs, money, the cash register, boxes, containers that have not been sanitized, etc. they should change their gloves. If the gloved food handler leaves the food preparation area, they should replace their gloves with clean gloves upon returning.

Finally, it is an FDA regulation is that there should be no bare hand contact with ready to eat foods. While it is ignored, it is still best practice.

To significantly impact on the spread of disease in the restaurant kitchen, employers and customers must demand hand washing AND use of gloves.


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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