Michael Jackson, O.J. Simpson and Ozzie Smith are renowned in the realm of glove ware.
Michael performed “Beat It” in a glittering white glove, O.J. allegedly misplaced one of his gloves, while Ozzie’s leathery mitt served as a virtual magnet for baseballs.
In recent years, pizza makers have been slipping their hands into disposable gloves designed to safeguard food from bacteria.
Some like them.
Some are compelled to use them.
The prohibition of bare-hand contacts or mandatory glove rule first surfaced in the 1993 Federal Drug Administration’s Food Code. The Food Code is neither federal law nor regulation. It is designed as model legislation for state and territorial agencies that regulate safety standards.
It would be impossible for the FDA to monitor every restaurant. That’s why local inspectors and licensing agencies take on the job of food safety surveillance.
Nearly all facets of the food chain are regulated in some way by federal and state agencies. The intent of these regulations is to make certain food offered to consumers is safe, unadulterated and honestly presented.
Not every locality interprets and employs the Food Code in similar fashion. Not only do states vary in their use of the Food Code, but neighboring counties and communities often conflict in regard to regulatory strategies.
Local health departments tend to exercise the most control over food safety inspections in food service facilities. They’re responsible for issuing permits, providing information and advice on all aspects of food safety, conducting periodic food safety and sanitation inspections, and enforcing the state or local code.
The Food Code suggests food service employees should prepare ready-to-eat food with the least possible bare-hand contact and, to the extent possible, handle the food only with utensils, such as spatulas or tongs, or with deli tissues or disposable gloves used for only a single task.
That phrase “to the extent possible” creates ample wiggle room.
The National Restaurant Association, founded in 1919, has been actively involved with regulatory agencies in seeking methods of improving safety standards via research and the FDA’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, a pro-active process control system by which food quality is ensured.
Several types of gloves are utilized by food handlers, including mesh for cutting, rubber for dishwashing, and disposable plastic for food handling. Most disposable gloves are made from natural rubber latex, vinyl and nitrile.
Latex gloves are most common. They come in a variety of sizes and provide excellent elasticity. One drawback with latex, however, is that some people are allergic to its chemical proteins. Vinyl gloves aren’t quite as flexible as the latex models, but fit snugly and don’t contain proteins.
Nitrile gloves, more expensive than the other two, are tougher, offering better protection from potential puncture, abrasions, snags and cuts.
Are these gloves essential to food safety?
Poor personal hygiene and direct hand contact can cause foodborne outbreaks of hepatitis A, Norwalk-like viral infections and other communicable diseases.
There are three basic types of hazards in food safety – biological, chemical and physical. Biological refer to bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. Chemical include naturally occurring toxins and accidental contamination, while physical hazards refer to foreign objects that are inadvertently placed in food.
The majority of foodborne illnesses are caused by biological contaminants.
Approximately 30 million Americans battle influenza each year, and the populations at high risk for foodborne illnesses are the elderly, pregnant women, young children and people with weakened immune systems.
According to experts at the National Center for Infective Diseases, the washing of hands is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection.
And they’re not talking about a cursory splash and dash. Exposed portions of the arms as well as hands should be scrubbed with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
Special attention should be paid to areas under fingernails. Food handlers should finish by rinsing off the soap and drying hands with disposable paper towels or an automatic hand dryer.
Most people claim to wash their hands on a regular basis. But studies have proven fewer than 70 percent of adults in public restrooms take the time to wash their hands.
While gloves can help prevent the transfer of contaminants to food, the NRA believes the ultimate solution to reducing poor hygiene and the subsequent contamination of foods is the development and implementation of intense training programs on hand-washing.
Gloves are not intended as replacements for tongs, scoops, spoons, or utensils. Managers shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security just because his workers are using gloves.
Hands should be washed prior to putting on the gloves and when changing into a fresh pair. Gloves should be replaced at least every four hours during continual use and more frequently when necessary. They also should be removed whenever they become soiled or torn.
While some restaurant owners are skeptical about the value of gloves and carp about the costs, the alternatives are more appalling. Consider the financial fallout in the event of an outbreak. One single report of a foodborne illness could shut down an operation indefinitely.
And what about public perception? Does the image of a clean, well-groomed worker wearing disposable gloves make an impression on customers?
The answer is yes.
Any restaurant owner or manager knows customer approval is paramount to success. Industry studies reveal that when patrons observe the use of disposable gloves in the preparation of food they assume management is trying hard to be sanitary and cares about their health and the food they’re being served.
According to a recent independent study sponsored by FoodHandler Inc. entitled “Wearing Gloves – What Your Customers Think,” 82 percent of consumers gave a very high approval of establishments where foodservice workers wear gloves, 77 percent prefer a restaurant using gloves over one that relies on bare hands, and 70 percent are willing to pay more to visit a restaurant that uses gloves.