Gloves are relatively inexpensive and convenient making them a staple in most kitchens.
They are also effective for reducing cross-contamination, which occurs when disease-causing organisms called pathogens transfer from one food or food-contact surface to another.
However, to keep food safe from cross-contamination, you may wonder when you must wear them.
This article explains when you should wear gloves as a food workers, how to properly don and doff them, and more.
When you must wear gloves
Gloves are primarily useful for serving as a barrier between your hands and ready-to-eat (RTE) foods.
RTE foods don’t require any further processing or preparation — they’re ready to eat.
Examples of RTE foods include:
- cooked fruits or vegetables for hot holding
- cooked hot dogs, burgers, or pizza
- bread, cakes, cookies, and pies
- sandwiches and salads
- washed raw fruits or vegetables
- spices, seasonings, and sugar
By wearing gloves, you prevent the transfer of bacteria and other food hazards that may be on your hands to the food you’re working with or serving.
Even with proper hand washing, it’s impossible to remove all the bacteria that may be on your hands.
Another common use for gloves is to prevent cross-contact — the transfer of food allergens from one surface or food to another.
Alternatives to gloves
Unless it’s a policy set by your workplace, there is no law or regulation that requires you to wear gloves (1).
This means you can use other barriers when handling RTE foods or preparing a special order for someone with a food allergy.
Alternatives to gloves include:
- deli tissue
Depending on what you’re assembling or serving, these alternatives may be better for the job.
Because many food workers view gloves as magical, using these alternatives may actually do a better job a preventing cross-contamination and, consequently, foodborne illnesses while also reducing opportunities for food safety citations or deficiencies.
You must wear gloves or use an alternative barrier to prevent bare-hand contact with RTE food. Another common use for gloves is to prevent cross-contact when preparing allergen-free orders.
How to don and doff gloves
Putting gloves on (donning) and taking them off (doffing) sounds easy, but there are steps you must follow to prevent contaminating them in the process.
Here are the steps to don gloves properly:
- Wash your hand, and then select the appropriately-sized gloves.
- Hold one glove by the cuff and insert all fingers of your other hand into the glove.
- Pull the cuff over your wrist until it’s properly in place (avoid blowing into or rolling the gloves to make the process easier).
- Check to make sure there are no holes or tears.
- Repeat steps 2–4 for the other hand.
Here are the steps to doff gloves properly:
- Pinch one glove at the cuff and peel it down away from your wrist, turning it inside out.
- Hold the removed glove in your gloved hand.
- Slide two fingers under the wrist of your gloved hand without touching the outside of the glove.
- Pulling away from your body, peel off the second glove, turning it inside out with the first glove inside.
- Throw the gloves away, then wash your hands.
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Don’t forget to wash your hands between glove changes.
Know the steps to don and doff gloves properly to prevent contamination in the process.
When to change gloves
Gloves serve as an effective barrier between your hands and the food you’re working with or serving.
However, many food workers tend to view them as magical in that they can handle different foods and touch different surfaces without having to worry about cross-contamination.
For example, a food worker could handle raw chicken while wearing gloves and then think it’s safe to handle lettuce with the same gloves.
But, you must remember that gloves, like you’re hands, are a food-contact surface and they can become contaminated.
Therefore, just like you must wash your hands whenever they become contaminated, you must change your gloves whenever they become contaminated.
Here are instances in which you should change your gloves:
- if they rip or tear
- when changing tasks, such as switching from handling RTE foods to washing fresh produce
- when an interruption occurs while you’re preparing or handling food
- after you sneeze, cough, or touch your face or other non-sanitized surfaces
- when preparing a special order for someone with a food allergy
You should also change your gloves at least every four hours when working on the same task, such as assembling sandwiches, since four hours is long enough for bacteria to grow to harmful levels.
Also, remember that gloves are single-use only — never wash or reuse them.
Gloves are no different from your hands — they can become contaminated and spread pathogens around. Therefore, you must wash your hands and change them whenever they become contaminated.
Types of food-safe gloves
Food-safe gloves contains materials that are generally considered safe for use in foodservice.
There are four types of food-safe gloves:
- Polyethylene: These are very thin and useful for light-duty tasks such as assembling sandwiches or handling other RTE foods.
- Latex: These are durable and provide a strong barrier against pathogens, but they can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive food handlers and customers.
- Vinyl: These are a good alternative to latex glove since they offer the same utility but are latex free, but they contain harmful chemicals that can migrate into food upon contact, causing a chemical hazard.
- Nitrile: These are highly versatile and durable, and may be a better latex-free alternative than vinyl owing to the growing safety concerns of vinyl gloves.
Regardless of the type of glove available to you, make sure to choose the right size and change them when they become contaminated.
There are four types of food-safe gloves: polyethylene, latex, vinyl, and nitrile. Each has advantages and disadvantages when compared with other types.
The bottom line
There should always be a barrier between your hands and RTE foods.
This barrier is commonly gloves, but it can also be a pair of tongs, spatula, or deli tissue.
Glove are also useful for preventing cross-contact when preparing a special order, but only if you change them when you’re supposed to.
To prevent them from becoming contaminated in the process, know how to don and doff gloves properly.
There are four types of food-safe gloves, so it’s helpful to know which type your operation uses and its advantages and disadvantages.
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