Gloves vs Bare HandsThursday, October 14, 2021
An acquaintance went to a popular fast food franchise for lunch and was quite distressed upon observing workers assembling the sandwiches without gloves. This led to the conversation about gloves versus bare hands for food service workers.
Human hands can be a source of contamination and are often referred to as the vehicle. In fact, multiple food-borne illness outbreaks have been associated with cross-contamination from food service workers' bare hands. This has resulted in the use of gloves being instituted as either mandatory or encouraged, dependent on the food regulations of each country. As with any aspect of food safety, an assessment must be done using a risk-based approach. A result of this is a “no bare hands” policy when handling ready-to-eat food; this includes the use of gloves and utensils such as tongs to reduce bare-hand contact.
The topic of gloves versus bare hands is one that must be taken into context. Part of the context is the acknowledgement that gloves are a barrier, reducing the chance of contamination. In the same breath, it is important to note that contamination is linked to a number of factors, including proper glove use. Unfortunately, the wearing of gloves sometimes gives food service workers a false sense of confidence. Meaning, the care that must be taken in carrying out tasks so as to prevent food safety risks is sometimes not exercised. This is because workers have the misunderstanding that when wearing gloves the same level of hand hygiene is not as necessary as when not wearing gloves. This is a myth that must be dispelled. Therefore, if gloves are improperly used then the risk of contamination is the same as with bare hands. Additionally, the wearing of gloves to cover up jewellery and false nails must be discouraged as they can damage the gloves thereby reducing their integrity.
Where a “no bare hands” policy is instituted then the following are important:
1. Single-use gloves must be worn; employees must be provided with sufficient supplies to encourage them to discard gloves once soiled or when taken off; for example, to go to the restroom.
2. The fit of gloves is very important; gloves must be the right size.
3. Gloves must be durable to reduce the likelihood of tearing and leaking.
4. Hands must be washed and dried properly before putting on gloves, including when changing gloves.
5. A fresh pair of gloves must be used when changing tasks.
6. Include the proper use of gloves as part of training programme.
7. A single pair of gloves must not be worn for the entire day; this increases the risk of contamination.
The point to be stressed in the gloves versus bare hands discussion is that of proper hand hygiene. Whether gloves or no gloves, due care must be taken to ensure that the hands of food service workers are not posing a food safety risk. Bare hands, wash them. Using gloves, wash them.