Bravo to the state of Oregon in their recent decision to discontinue the use of disposable gloves in food service operations!! Hopefully it is just a matter of time for the remaining States to follow suit.
Gloves have got to be one of the most misused commodities in the food service industry. They provide a false sense of food security to the wearer and the customer alike. The butcher has on gloves, unwittingly cross contaminating the ground beef with chicken as he moves from one species to another without changing gloves. No medium burgers with that ground beef. Better cook it to an internal temperature of 165˚F for 15 seconds to kill any salmonella that may have inadvertently been added to the ground beef.
What is the rationale for glove use in a food service establishment? The answer: to prevent bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods. That’s it. Bare hands may harbor bacteria, therefore the glove works as a barrier between the bacteria and the ready-to-eat food.
An obvious example, Anna is preparing a deli sandwich wearing disposable gloves because she is handling the bread, lunchmeat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato – all ready-to-eat foods. She washes her hands before putting on and after taking off the disposable gloves. Bravo to Anna for proper glove use.
Juan is preparing a baked chicken sandwich, starting with a frozen chicken patty. Does Juan have to use a gloved hand to remove the frozen patty from the box, place it on a baking pan, and put it in the oven? No. The chicken patty is not ready-to-eat. It will be heated, thus killing the bacteria that may be on the chicken patty. Juan does have to wash his hands before handling the frozen patty. In practice 9 times out of 10 I see cooks using gloves, a poor choice in the use of resources.
My all time favorite misuse of gloves is when food isn’t handled at all. Dining staffers are preparing plates of food using scoops and tongs while wearing gloves. I don’t get it. What are they protecting, the tongs?
To reduce the risk of food borne illness via contamination the FDA recommends food service workers suffering with diarrhea and/or fever should not handle ready-to-eat foods with bare hands. Ya think!?! They should be home in bed. The FDA goes on to say a three pronged approach to decreasing food borne illness by the common fecal/oral route (gross) is to restrict sick workers from handling food, washing hands, and using disposable gloves. So let’s make it easy, if you’re sick with diarrhea and/or fever stay home. If you use the bathroom, thoroughly wash your hands (especially fingernails) before leaving the bathroom.
My message to the food service workers of Oregon: use proper hand washing techniques, use tongs or tissue paper to handle ready-to-eat foods (minimizing bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food), and stay home if you’re sick. The country will measure your success by the recorded outcomes. In a year we will look at the statistics to discern if the cases of food borne illness increased after the elimination of disposable glove. I’d place money (saved by not buying gloves) on no significant increase in food-borne illness.
For the rest of us, continue to use disposable gloves when handling ready-to-eat foods. Don’t forget to wash your hands before after putting on and taking off the gloves. Try to refrain from using gloves when handling food that requires cooking, when handling plates, scoops, or tongs.
Overuse of disposable plastic gloves does not make food safer. It negatively impacts the bottom line, wasting thousands of dollars on unnecessary disposable gloves. It negatively impacts the environment by adding plastic into our landfills. Today, more than ever, we cannot afford to waste any of our resources.
US Food Code 2009. Preventing Contamination by Employee, 3-301.11 Preventing Contamination from Hands. Food and Drug Administration:2009. Accessed 8/25/2012 http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/RetailFoodProtection/FoodCode/FoodCode2009/ucm189211.htm