Study: Gloves No Substitute For Hand-Washing When It Comes To Food Prep

If seeing your food cooked and handled by someone sporting a pair of latex gloves gives you a sense of security, the results of a new study in the Journal of Food Protection might give you pause.

From FoodSafetyNews:

The authors say that, contrary to common knowledge, even gloves used properly in food preparation can’t by themselves adequately protect against food contamination. And gloves may actually pose a number of unforeseen risks because the confidence they provide may encourage risky behavior.

The authors suggest that even the best gloves are no substitute for regular, thorough hand washing.

Apparently, microbes are fans of the warm, sweaty interior of the gloves, and all it takes is an errant fingernail or sharp ring to poke a nearly invisible hole in the glove.

The likelihood of a tear increases the longer the gloves are worn, as does the number of icky little things inside the glove.

Even more than ripped gloves, the study says that improper use of gloves is the bigger risk to consumers:

The authors note that studies in the United Kingdom have concluded that compared to bare hands, gloved hands can contribute as much if not more bacteria to foods and food-preparation surfaces, so gloves can be a cause of cross-contamination. Gloves should be changed or sanitized when cooks move from working with raw meats to preparing vegetables and other foods.

The study says that the most important thing in food prep is still thoroughly washing hands with hot water and soap before putting on gloves or changing into a new pair.

Gloves Alone Aren’t Enough for Food Safety [Food Safety News]

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  1. outis says:

    Ever seen your sandwich maker pick his nose while wearing vinyl gloves? I’m sure glad they were keeping one of us safe :)

    • doctor.mike says:

      Ever see your sandwich maker make a sandwich, handle the money, then go back to the sandwich counter to make YOUR sandwich? Gloves are only (marginally) protecting the employee, not the customer.

      • SunnyLea says:

        My sandwich maker usually takes off the gloves to ring folks up, and puts on a fresh pair to make the next order.

        I don’t believe I’d eat somewhere that did it differently.

  2. obits3 says:

    My first job was at BK. I was always bothered by customers who had a problem with us not wearing gloves. We would wash our hands constently, but these people seemed to think that gloves were so much better…

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Agreed(with you). Your body naturally fights bacteria, and you are more likely to wash/dry your hands when you get goo on them w/bare hands vs. gloves.

    • Hooray4Zoidberg says:

      When I worked at McDonald’s back in the 90′s two women came in one time to order and then one of them said “Eww gross they’re not wearing gloves” and they both turned around and left. I was surprised because at the time I’d never seen any restaurant, fast food or not using gloves. I’m not sure why they expected any differnt.

      Anyways gloves are stupid for the reason mentioned in the article and also because most people don’t bother changing them after handling money, mopping etc, whereas us non glove wearers would wash our hands after anything. Personally I always though the gloves were gross, I don’t want powdery latex touching my food.

  3. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    IIRC, the vinyl gloves that many use for food handling aren’t anywhere near as impermeable as latex/nitrile. What even freaks me out more is that while our hands contain conditions that many bacteria won’t live for long on, the plastic/rubber of the gloves is a breeding ground. It’s one of the reasons I avoid plastic cutting boards, b/c they can encourage bacteria growth.

    I also recall from the jobs I did handle food, that you were supposed to change gloves whenever you went from one food to another. Even as a line server, we were supposed to change gloves from when we served with another spoon from another tray.

    But I firmly believe the best defense is a good offense, so I try to maintain my immune system by challenging it/giving it a work out now and then.

    • jeepguy57 says:

      Quite the opposite, my friend. Plastic is non-porous, thus provides better protection against bacterial. Wood actually absorbs bacteria. Plus, you can put a plastic cutting board in the dishwasher.

      I use a wood cutting board for fruits, vegetables, bread, etc. and a plastic one for meat.

  4. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Whenever I go to Chipotle, I happen to go at a time in which one or two of the main cooks are starting work – the sink is right off the kitchen and it’s in full view. There is always soap and paper towels and I always see the cooks who are starting work as I get there wash their hands. I think keeping it in full view of patrons helps cut down on the temptation to skip washing hands. I also see cooks put on gloves and take one off if it rips.

    • fs2k2isfun says:

      I remember the good old days of Chipotle where no one wore gloves, including the ladies putting cheese/lettuce on the burritos.

    • BytheSea says:

      That’s why it’s there. It’s a health regulation that sinks have to be in view of customers.

  5. theblackdog says:

    At my last restaurant job my bosses refused to use gloves for some of these reasons. We instead had it drilled in our heads to wash our hands all the time. It seemed to work as we never got into trouble for food poisoning.

  6. AllanG54 says:

    Hello, I worry more about food not being cooked to the correct temps more than I worry about getting germs from someone. I guess not a lot of people in the business world shake hands and then go eat if they have to worry about every single germ.

    • TorontoConsumer says:

      Both are important, but final food prep (after cooking) can be a big factor in whether or not a given food item is going to make you barf. If that food service worker happens to be suffering (or just carrying) any of the germs that can make you sick, he can pass it on to you even if the food item was properly cooked by improperly handling it after.

  7. framitz says:

    Ever seen sweat drip out of the gloves?
    It is beyond disgusting.

    I do think clean hands are less risk to consumers than dirty,sweaty glove clad hands.

  8. TorontoConsumer says:

    Finally! As a public health inspector this ranks among my biggest pet peeves, and incidentally, has been well-known for a long time now. I’ve seen gloveless food workers do horrible things and gloved workers do horrible things, but those who use gloves don’t tend to know HOW to use them properly more often than not. Very glad to see this up there!

  9. smo0 says:

    I wonder how this applies to subway… granted… I see them change their gloves between sandwiches… but they are still touching the outside of the gloves with bare hands as they are putting them on.

    • ellemdee says:

      At the Subway I go to, they wash their hands immediately before putting the gloves on, so I don’t think there’s much of a chance of germs getting on the outside of the golves as they put them on at that point. They also wipe down the counter and wash all of the knives right before they make my sub to avoid cross-contamination. Granted, they take these extra steps because they know I’m a vegetarian and I know not all stores may be this good about it, but I’m pretty confident about eating there.

      (…except for this one time when they were cutting my bread and I saw a very large insect baked into the bread. I stared at it in disbelief for a few seconds before the employee noticed it. I don’t really blame the store itself since I’m pretty sure the bread arrives pre-baked and they just finish baking it in the store & it was obvious that this little fella had been baked into the raw dough. Still, eww.)

  10. Gail says:

    As someone who has worked in a lot of restaurants, fast food and otherwise, I greatly preferred to go gloveless. When you wear gloves, its really easy to forget what you are touching, or touched last. They also tended to stay on forever, probably well past the point where I’d wash my hands.

    Once, whiel I was in college, I was working in a supermarket deli that happened to have an “Mexican Express”. I generally wore gloves, just because everyone else did. One day, I had just finished some prep work – on my way back from taking off the gloves and washing my hands, a customer appeared. Not, thinking, I’d made up his order – you know, with my very clean hands. He didn’t say anything, but came back some time later, perturbed that I had made the order with my bare hands.

    At that point, I had gloves on again, and I apologized and remade his order. Of course, those were gloves were much dirtier than my freshly washed hands – I had walked around with them on, gone into the cooler and reorganized things, etc. So the guy ended up worse off.

    Plus, honestly, in any kitchen where you aren’t seeing the cooks, they probably don’t have gloves on.

    • caradrake says:

      In the kitchens I’ve worked in and around, anyone working on a stove or grill were forbidden to wear gloves. Something about burns being worse when they happen.

      • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

        Right. Any sort of skin-covering can easily make a burn worse, because it holds the heat source against the skin; and plastic is especially bad because it can melt in such away that it can stick to skin, but even cloth gloves can present a hazard.

      • outis says:

        Besides, that food is about to be cleaned with fire.
        And yes, the only time cooks wear gloves in a closed kitchen is when they’re handling something icky to them (raw meat, cleaning a drain, bleach) or when there is a health inspector physically in the room.

        • TorontoConsumer says:

          We don’t look for glove use! We discourage it! I don’t know who perpetuates this myth! Unless your jurisdiction is way backwards to most others, this isn’t the case.

          • outis says:

            It was the sous chef’s call. Literally the first words out of his mouth when he heard the inspector was there were “everyone get gloves on, now.” Even the dishwasher.
            Every point we lost was on his station btw. He was fired after a couple months.

  11. Tim says:

    I completely agree, but don’t most health codes require food handlers and cooks to wear gloves?

    • outis says:

      Here, only if you’re working on ready-to-eat items. Ie, salads and sandwiches yes, but food that is going to be cooked after handling, no.
      Perception means a lot though. I worked at a pizzeria/restaurant in college that had an open window. People would freak out that the raw sausage was being handled glovelessly before being put into a 550F oven but not the least concerned that their salads were being handled the same way.
      I might also point out that the person making salads never washed her hands, even right after smoking a cigarette, but the workers handling the raw meat were constantly washing up. Again, perceptions of what’s clean.

    • Salty Johnson says:

      I actually just checked California health code, and it requires that you minimize bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods by using gloves, tongs, spoons, paper, etc, UNLESS you follow proper handwashing guidelines required by the section two lines above it. So the health code basically says that as long as you’re following health code, you don’t EVER need to use gloves.

      (See CA Health Code sections 113953.3 and 113961)

  12. stanner says:

    And of course one of the best way to clean your fingernails is to knead dough. Can’t do that with gloves on can you?

  13. TerpBE says:

    That’s why we only use latex gloves at our restaurant. They’re less prone to tears than vinyl. Plus, by recycling them from the local hospital, there’s no additional cost!

  14. the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:

    I don’t believe in gloves in food preparation AT ALL. I always wash my hands when moving between raw meat and anything else.

    The only things gloves are good for in food preparation is increasing cost and having a placebo effect on a customers sense of well being. This is also the reason I’m not for food prep areas open to the customers view. The only person judging the cleanliness of your kitchen should be the owner/managers and the state. Too many customers know too little about cooking to have an informed opinion.

  15. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    So, how long until a food-prep glove manufacturer provides anti-bacterial (aka superbug-cultivating) vinyl gloves?

  16. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    I’m sorry, what? Whoever said that gloves were a substitute for hand-washing in the first place? You’re not supposed to stop hand-washing just because you’re using gloves and you’re supposed to be changing your gloves.

    WTF people?

    • Firethorn says:

      At the point you’re washing your hands enough, your hands are as clean or cleaner than the gloves, and are actually LESS likely to contaminate something, assuming you don’t have wounds or open sores.

      It’s like how I recently heard that while wood cutting boards can get cut up quicker than plastic ones, and will harbor bacteria quicker, the difference is that a plastic board will transmit bacteria between contacts – with a wood board the bacteria tend to not transfer.

      Basically, gloves are mostly a placebo, especially the cheap ones most restaurants use.

  17. Newto-Rah says:

    I never understood the point of gloves for food preparation, mostly for these reasons. Your hands should be washed anyways, so why would the gloves matter? I doubt most food prep people are taught how to put them on and take them off without touching the outsides with their bare hands anyways. (yay for lifeguarding, I got into the habit and now people look at me funny when I take off an disposable pair of gloves)

    Gloves are for protecting yourself from what you are touching, not the other way around (unless you’re working in a clean room where skin cells and hair could damage things, but there are always special cases).

  18. Daverson says:

    Gloves are no substitute for handwashing. I do use gloves occasionally in the kitchen, but it’s to protect my hands from the ingredients (like when I’m mixing meatloaf by hand, for example) not to protect the food.

  19. Vogue007 says:

    It amazes me to see sandwich makers at Bruegger’s Bagels rushing through the lunch line preparing someones sesame seed bagel with peanut butter handing it off …then onto another persons order with topings consisting of lox & onions (and a pickle on the side where they reach under the counter into an open swampy bucket full of pickles) ALL while wearing the same gloves… this is like a death trap if you have certain food allergies.

    • Mary says:

      Yeah, at the place where I worked we basically would tell people up front that if they had a severe food allergy they shouldn’t eat our food.

      Our customers wanted their service far, far too fast for us to be able to really properly prevent cross contamination. It was hell on wheels for me just to manage to keep the meat apart for the vegetarians, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only person that tried. But we just didn’t have the space or the equipment to really be CERTAIN the food was free of one ingredient or another, and none of us wanted to tell a customer something was fine to find out the chef had randomly ended up not changing gloves or using the same spoon or something.

  20. tungstencoil says:

    I really, really hate how plastic gloves became the de facto standard of visible food prep oh, sometime around the mid- or late-nineties. They’ve *always* grossed me out for exactly the reasons listed. I’d go so far as to replace “Aren’t Enough for Food Safety” to “Has No or a Detrimental Effect on Food Safety”.

    I remember being in the French Quarter, in front of Cafe DuMonde, where a small crowd was watching a woman make pralines with her bare hands. Someone yelled – through the glass – “Why aren’t you wearing gloves?!” and the woman replied back, “I wash my hands.”

  21. SG-Cleve says:

    They touch the outside of the glove with their bare hands when they pick up the gloves and put them on, so the outside of the glove is contaminated by whatever is on the hand anyway.

    I’ve had sandwich makers at Subway handle money with a gloved hand, then make a sandwich. Everyone knows how clean money is.

  22. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Used to work in a sandwich shop, and along with very frequent hand washing, we had a sanitizer unit near the food prep area. ALWAYS it was drilled into us to use the sanitizer, especially if you had to do the register thing and then make someone’s food. If you did not use it, other workers would tell you to use it and it was a writeup if you did not. In the four years I worked there, we never had anyone come in and say the food made them sick.

    I’m not saying no one ever got sick; I’m just saying it never happened while I was there.

  23. sprocket79 says:

    Once when I was at a big arena for a concert, I saw a food service worker in the bathroom. She had just come out of a stall after doing her business. She was still wearing her gloves. She then went to the sink and washed her hands with her gloves on. It was so disturbing. I really wish I had said something to her, but I was too shocked to do anything.

  24. Big Mama Pain says:

    When prepping, I only use gloves to protect MYSELF from gross bacteria (like salmonella, which can enter your blood stream via cuts and sores); line cooking, forget about it. I’ve worked in restaurants that misguidedly try and enforce glove rules and as a result saw many a cook work with their fingers coming out through the tears in the gloves, melted latex into burns, and dishwashers going to the bathroom with them on. There’s just a lack of understanding on how to properly use gloves; people think they are magic bacteria repellents or something. It’s far easier to train how and when to wash hands (and use utensils to handle food as much as possible)

  25. Mary says:

    When I was wearing gloves for a job, the thing that got me was that because there was no size that fit me properly (medium was too small, large was too large) I had to go with the mediums because the large would fall off or get in the way and tear.

    But the mediums were so tight that they would make me sweat and combined with the powder and everything else, they made my skin peel off in sheets. It was disgusting. But customers wouldn’t want to wait for me to go through a thorough hand washing in between gloves (they barely wanted to wait for me to change gloves even when I found it absolutely necessary) so I have no idea how much contamination there might have been.

  26. thisistobehelpful says:

    Can we please just have both?

  27. The Marionette says:

    It’s common sense that you should wash your hands after wearing gloves, of course the ones who don’t have that common sense think it’s a bad idea to wear them.

  28. Kensuke Nakamura says:

    Hope this changes procedure, I think it’s so wasteful to use a new pair of gloves with every customer. This is food prep, not surgery. I would much rather the wash their hands every 20 minutes and whenever there is a contamination than waste gloves.

  29. Jerem43 says:

    I could have told you that…