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Gloves – Maintaining Food & Hand Hygiene Standards

Food Processing industries or any other industry dealing with food have now begun using hand gloves in order to protect hands, maintain hygiene and avoid contamination. Moreover, any cuts or lesions of the skin in the process of handling food are possible sources of bacteria and viruses.

Speaking on the need for hand gloves in the food sector, Anil PC, Head-Food Safety & Hygiene of Diversey Learning and Innovation Centre, says, “Hand hygiene is an important factor in personal hygiene because man as a dexterous being uses hands to touch oneself and also things he or she is working with. Hands thus become carriers of poor hygiene or ill health to the things touched barehanded. This causes the spread of pathogens in the food products while they are man-handled in their respective manufacturing units.”

Hand hygiene means different things to different people. There are important parts of the hand that are typically missed during the hand washing process. Areas like thumbs, palms, spaces between fingers and fingertips, including the fingernail are where contamination is most likely to remain. Hence, the use of a right glove and right practices can help keep contamination at bay.

Choosing the ‘Right Gloves’

Hand gloves are a proven source to prevent direct contact with food and microbiological contamination. So when selecting gloves, manufacturers and processors should make sure the glove materials meet Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards for food contact. Although OSHA does not certify gloves for specific applications, most glove manufacturers and distributors can make recommendations.

However, the best Practice comes with an added responsibility of education as to when and how to use gloves. In fact, no regulatory act mentions it as a mandate that gloves be worn. It only states that the food which is served or packed for sale or the one which is being processed and will not undergo any further heat processing to eliminate the hazards of cross-contamination , must not be handled by bare hand contact. The best possible solution to this is to use proper hand gloves. This leads to another question, what is a proper hand glove and how to use it properly?

Some gloves have distinct colours so that a user can easily verify that they are using the right glove for quality critical processes. Poultry and other food processing industries, for example, prefer gloves with a conspicuous blue colour that will be easier to identify if glove particles should contaminate the product. Colours on the cuff not only indicate glove size but also facilitate glove size selection.

However, the first and foremost step is to select the type of glove that suits the type of work to be performed and the hazard to be controlled. For example, a boxing glove can help protect bone or jaw injuries but would transfer all the microbes in the ambience to the food if used in a kitchen. Similarly, no one would suggest using highly professional looking whitest of butlers’ cotton gloves to a surgeon in the operation theatre. Below is a representation of the type of gloves and the respective purposes they are meant for. However, disposable gloves to be used in any food industry must be made with component materials that comply with FDA food regulations and European legislation (89/109/EEC).

The 1997 FDA Food Code recommends the following:

If used, single-use gloves shall be used for only one task such as working with ready-to-eat foods or with raw animal food, used for no other purpose, and discarded when damaged or soiled or when interruptions occur in the operation.

Gloves and Comfort

Comfort is probably another most important factor when selecting hand protection products to promote worker safety. Several factors contribute to glove comfort, including fit, flexibility, dexterity and tactile sensitivity. Advancements in materials and glove manufacturing processes have resulted in hand protection products that are lightweight and ergonomically correct. Some coated gloves are dipped on forms with curved fingers that conform to the actual shape of the hand for improved ergonomics and greater comfort.

Ravindra Kumar Gupta, Production Manager of Parag Milk Foods Pvt Ltd, says, “Tight-fitting gloves can increase perspiration and lead to hand fatigue and resulting injuries. They are also more vulnerable to tears. Conversely, gloves that are bulky or too loose impair the worker’s dexterity, slow productivity and can be hazardous when worn near certain equipment. Gloves that are too large are also more likely to fall off the worker’s hands.

“Comfort and fit are especially important when workers are double- or even triple-gloving for certain tasks. An employee who is deboning meat in a cooler may wear three pairs of gloves: a poly/cotton glove worn next to the skin for warmth, a cut-resistant glove to prevent cuts and abrasions, and a vinyl, nitrile or latex outer glove to protect the hands from moisture.”

The correct glove for the task often will be designed specifically for the application. For example, gloves are available with special patterns or embossed designs to improve worker grip on wet, smooth or slippery objects such as poultry, raw potatoes, fish, knives, sharpeners and glass. Grip can reduce the pressure required to cut products, which, in turn can reduce hand fatigue. Gloves that are designed for better dexterity can also improve worker performance.

In the end, the gloves are to protect from exposure to blood borne viruses for the duration of the tasks being undertaken. This may mean having to change them safely mid task if they become damaged and/or having to wear a combination of more than one type of glove to provide additional physical protection. For example, in a laboratory it is likely only to require disposable medical gloves (also known as medical examination gloves, exam gloves and surgical gloves). In certain circumstances, double gloving (double donning) may be required to provide additional protection. This allows for removal and replacement of the outer gloves, if contaminated, while still retaining skin protection.

Anil says, “Allergies are becoming common with prolonged use of latex gloves, and the use of nitrile or vinyl gloves is recommended to avoid becoming sensitized. It is recognised, however, that within certain work environments, latex gloves are still used in large numbers due to its efficacy and relatively low cost. If latex gloves are worn, then powder free, low protein content materials must be chosen to help prevent latex allergy. Powdered gloves should be avoided as they can increase skin irritation and the likelihood of allergy development. Where latex gloves are in use appropriate health surveillance should be implemented.”

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