Gloves aren’t just for medical professionals, they’re for food handlers too.
Gloves provide a barrier between your hands and food, preventing potentially harmful bacteria known as pathogens from contaminating food.
Unfortunately, many food handlers don’t know how to properly use gloves, and consequently, make food unsafe.
This article explains everything food handlers need to know about gloves to keep food safe.
Gloves serve as a barrier
Gloves are useful to prevent bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat (RTE) foods.
As the name suggests, RTE foods are ready to eat — they don’t require any further processing or preparation.
Examples of RTE foods include:
- cooked hot dogs, burgers, or pizza
- washed raw fruits or vegetables
- cooked fruits or vegetables for hot holding
- spices, seasonings, and sugar
- bread, cakes, cookies, and pies
- sandwiches and salads
There must always be a barrier between your hands and RTE foods when working with them (1).
This is because, even with proper handwashing, it’s impossible to remove all bacteria that may be on your hands.
By wearing gloves, you prevent the transfer of these bacteria and other food hazards to the food you’re working with or serving.
The gloves you use must be approved for use with foods (food grade).
Polyethylene, latex, vinyl, and nitrile are all appropriate materials for food-grade gloves.
Gloves provide a barrier between food and the bacteria and other contaminants that may be one your hands.
When to change gloves
Many food handlers see gloves as “magical” in that they can touch anything without having to worry about transferring harmful bacteria known as pathogens or other contaminants to food.
However, gloves can spread pathogens too.
In one study, 42% of food handlers from 385 restaurants were observed using the same gloves to handle raw ground beef and cooked ground beef (2).
This can transfer any bacteria from the raw beef like harmful strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) to the cooked ground beef and make people sick.
To prevent cross-contamination, it’s important to change them whenever they become contaminated.
Here are instances in which you should change your gloves:
- if they become ripped or torn
- when changing food preparation tasks, such as switching from working with RTE foods to washing fresh produce
- when you are interrupted and must quickly change tasks, such as answering the phone
- after sneezing, coughing, or touching your face or other non-disinfected 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 preparing salads. This is because four hours is long enough for bacteria to grow to harmful levels.
Never wash and reuse gloves — they are single-use only.
Gloves are not magical, you must change them anytime they become contaminated, including every four hours when working on the same task.
How to don and doff gloves
Putting gloves on (donning) and taking them off (doffing) sounds simple, but there are steps you need to take to do so properly.
When putting gloves on, it’s important that you don’t contaminate 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.
When it’s time to take gloves off, there are likely contaminants on the surface, so it’s important to doff them properly to avoid spreading them.
To doff gloves, follow these steps:
- 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.
Download these glove-use posters for FREE!
Know the steps to don and doff gloves to keep food safe.
Alternatives to gloves
Gloves are the most common barrier when working with RTE foods.
However, there are alternatives that you can use, including:
- deli tissue
Depending on what you’re assembling or serving, these alternatives may be better suited than gloves.
For example, tongs could be better for assembling a hamburger, especially when working with multiple RTE ingredients.
Using these alternatives can also help reduce waste and costs.
Because many food handlers don’t change gloves when they’re supposed to, using these other tools may also improve food safety while also reducing opportunities for citations or tags by food inspectors.
Deli tissue, spatulas, tongs, and skewers are alternatives to gloves that you can use as a barrier to avoid bare-hand contact with RTE foods.
The bottom line
Gloves provide an important barrier between food and the bacteria or other contaminants that handwashing cannot remove from your hands.
However, gloves aren’t magical — you must change them anytime they become contaminated.
Make sure you know how to don and doff gloves properly to avoid spreading bacteria.
Other barriers you can use when working with RTE foods include deli tissue, spatulas, tongs, or skewers.
These alternatives may be better suited for certain tasks, can help reduce costs, and may be more effective for keeping foods safe.
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