Foodborne illness. No restaurant operator wants those words associated with their establishment. To ensure their food is safe, many hours are devoted to employee education and ongoing training. Hand hygiene and disposable gloves are an important part of safe food handling.
Restroom Germs and Cross-Contamination
A critical component to safe food handling is proper gloving and hand hygiene. “Restroom germs” such as E. coli, Staphylococcus, Giardia, Hepatitis A, Norovirus, and Shigella can be transmitted from hands to food. Cross-contamination can also occur, transferring pathogens such as salmonella. Restaurants offering gluten-free foods have the added concern of gluten being accidentally transferred.
The problem of foodborne illness has real consequences – both for customers and food service establishments. In 2009, a McDonald’s location in Illinois was linked to a hepatitis A outbreak that resulted in a class-action lawsuit. And in New York City alone, dining out was linked to 3,500 hospitalizations in 2008 for food-borne illnesses and some 1,300 cases of salmonella.
But even if employees were always diligent about washing their hands, hand washing alone is not enough to prevent food-borne illness. Routine hand washing does not remove all bacteria, and it only takes a small amount to make someone sick. An additional barrier, such as a disposable glove, is needed.
FDA Food Code 2009
To help make food safer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released an updated Food Code in 2009. Here are some of the food handling rules:
- Employees may not touch ready-to-eat foods with bare hands, except when washing fruits and vegetables, or when otherwise approved. They must use a barrier, such as deli tissue, spatulas, tongs or gloves.
- Wearing gloves is not a substitute for proper hand washing. Gloves can fail, and allow bacteria and viruses through, so employees must wash their hands before donning gloves to work with food.
- Gloves should be changed often. Gloves should be changed when they become damaged or soiled, after 4 hours of wear, or after handling raw foods.
- Glove should be worn for a single task. A food service employee should never handle money, take out the trash or perform other tasks and return to handling ready-to-eat food without changing their gloves.
Gluten-Free Food Handling
Restaurants such as Subway that are starting to offer gluten-free foods are giving special attention to hand hygiene and proper gloving and food handling. And rightly so. An employee that handles regular gluten-containing bread and then handles gluten-free bead without changing gloves has just cross-contaminated the food. While this may not affect a customer with a non-celiac gluten intolerance, it spells real trouble for a customer with true Celiac Disease.
Glove Selection Considerations
Restaurant operators or managers selecting gloves for employees are necessarily concerned with cost. But the cheapest gloves may not be the best choice. Considering the following criteria will help ensure the right glove is purchased for the right job.
- Proper Fit – For the safety of the employee, properly fitted gloves are essential. Gloves that are too loose can result in serious bodily injury. Glove that are too tight lead to hand strain.
- Proper Material – Consider the dexterity needed for the tasks the employee is performing. While a poly glove may be suitable for assembling a sandwich, a more form fitting nitrile glove is better suited for tasks like slicing and chopping.
- Comfort – A comfortable glove that provides adequate grip and tactile sense will increase employee compliance and safety.
- Allergens – Allergens and chemical sensitivities should be considered. Employees concerned about latex sensitization should be offered a non-latex alternative, like nitrile gloves. Please note that some individuals may be sensitive to the chemicals commonly found in non-latex gloves. If this is the case, accelerator-free nitrile gloves like FreeStyle1100 are now available.
By carefully educating employees about hand hygiene and providing gloves that are suitable to the task and comfortable to wear, restaurant operators can be confident they are doing their part to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.