By Benjamin Raymond
Under new California Retail Food Code food handlers must wear gloves when touching food. This means bartenders when they mix a cocktail to sushi chefs rolling up a spicy tuna roll. News articles are filled with quotes suggesting chefs, cooks, and other food workers are not enthusiastic about the new law. The law is designed to provide an additional layer of protection against food handlers contaminating food. So wearing gloves should reduce rates of foodborne infection due to workers contaminating food, right? The answer is, as always, kind of and it depends.
Going back a few years to my undergrad days, I spent some time waiting tables at a few different restaurants. I worked at locally owned upscale spot, big chain type place, and a local club. When the restaurants were very busy, hygiene started to slip. Removing gloves, washing your hands, and then putting on new gloves would not have been at the top of the list when the kitchen is slammed. Have you ever tried to out on gloves with anything but the driest of hands? It’s impossible! It sounds absurd, but those wasted seconds are important and I will go on the record and suggest that compliance with glove use laws will not be stellar, and may even backfire altogether. All of this, and there’s still risks like tears and holes in gloves with the moist warm environment for growth in the gloves. Add a tear to the equation and you’re (possibly) dripping pathogen laced sweat into food(Michaels et al., 2004).
I don’t think you will find much pushback when suggesting properly washed hands coupled with proper glove usage will reduce transfer of bacteria or virus particles from humans to food and vice versa(Montville, Chen, & Schaffner, 2001). However, the false sense of security gloves give the wearer may make them less likely to change out the gloves when needed(Lynch, Phillips, Elledge, Hanumanthaiah, & Boatright, 2005). I have seen glove wearing food handlers move from raw meat to cooked product or the register, without changing their gloves. This is hardly an improvement. I would suggest it is more important to ensure proper hand washing at the proper times and to remove sick workers from food preparation. Gloves can be a good addition, but if we still struggle with hand washing compliance, why would gloves be the magic fix?
Do you think laws requiring glove use by all food handlers will improve food safety?
Lynch, R. a, Phillips, M. L., Elledge, B. L., Hanumanthaiah, S., & Boatright, D. T. (2005). A preliminary evaluation of the effect of glove use by food handlers in fast food restaurants. Journal of food protection, 68(1), 187–90. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15690825
Michaels, B., Keller, C., Blevins, M., Paoli, G., Ruthman, T., Todd, E., … Michaels, B. (2004). Prevention of food worker transmission of foodborne pathogens : risk assessment and evaluation of effective hygiene intervention strategies. Food Service Technology, 4(prevention), 31–49.
Montville, R., Chen, Y., & Schaffner, D. W. (2001). Glove barriers to bacterial cross-contamination between hands to food. Journal of food protection, 64(6), 845–9. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11403136
Photo Credit: http://www.masslive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2012/07/off_the_menu_7-26.html