Today there are various types of gloves for the food industry and it is imperative that food handlers choose the appropriate type. “Use of gloves is the safest way to protect food from getting contaminated. At the same time, glove abuse can also pose serious food related concerns and interfere with employee hygiene and welfare initiatives,” warns Anil PC, Head-Food Safety & Hygiene of Diversey Learning and Innovation Centre.
Use of gloves must be monitored and prevented from being handled in ways that result in cross contamination. Various types of gloves are used in the food industry both to protect the food worker from occupational exposures related to product or process, as well as to prevent pathogen or spoilage organism transmission from the worker to the product.
Different types in Gloves
There are different types of gloves available to food establishments according to material type, thickness, internal treatments (powder or otherwise), elasticity, exterior texturing and coatings. Medical grade gloves do not automatically translate for use in food establishments. FDA regulations recognize that various grades of gloves are available for use by food facilities and consider them to fall under the two main categories of multi-use and single-use gloves. Material durability, strength and cleanability are key factors in distinguishing these gloves.
Multi-use gloves, most often used in food processing, are required to be durable, non-absorbent and resistant to corrosive sanitizers. At the same time, they need to have sufficient strength to withstand repeated washing and sanitizing treatments without damage, distortion and/or decomposition. Most of these glove types are multi-use in nature and should be cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis to prevent potential cross-contamination within a food operation.
Anil says, “It is usually better to use non-powder dusted gloves, to avoid the added risk of powder as a contaminant. Gloves must be ideally changed after every task and also after 30 minutes during the same task. It has also been frequently highlighted that relying too much on the usage of gloves has reduced the hand washing practices.”
Now, changing of gloves does not mean keeping them in the pocket and putting on new ones from the carton. The glove containers must essentially be protected from any dirt or filth and kept covered all the time. Anil further adds, “It is important to know that while removing the gloves, the hands should not be contaminated by the part of the gloves being used. The ideal way of removing the gloves in use is to turn wise draw them half way down, hold one inverted with another inverted and avoid any contact between hand and the used side of the glove. These gloves must be disposed off in the infectious waste or any segregated wet garbage.”
Gloves must be ideally changed after every task and also after 30 minutes during the same task. It has also been frequently highlighted that relying too much on the usage of gloves has reduced the hand washing practices
It is not recommended by any manufacturer to re-use any gloves after sterilization by steam, etc., as this enacts with hardly any success in maintaining the barrier efficiency of the gloves to both the hands and the material handled. Like wearing gloves to prepare and serve food does not prevent cross-contamination of food and food-borne illness.
Anil cites some reasons that can be accounted for this:
- When the glove wearer continues to touch various surfaces in their surroundings, he is actually contaminating the surface of the glove with microorganisms. In many instances, because of inadequate training, personnel wearing gloves may assume it is unnecessary to change gloves.
- Body oil and sweat adhere to gloves and promote the subsequent adherence of microorganisms.
- If people do not wash their hands and fingertips at all or adequately after using the toilet or touching highly contaminated items such as raw meat and poultry products, before putting gloves on, pathogenic microorganisms can contaminate both the inside and outer surface of gloves.
- It has been reported (by Makulowich) that gloves are porous and can allow the entrance of viruses. Hence, it can be concluded that the porosity of gloves will also allow the exit of viruses carried on hands within gloves (e.g., hepatitis viruses, Norwalk, et al).
- It has been found (by Korniewicz) that when a total of 480 examination gloves were stressed at the highest stress level, 63% of 60 vinyl gloves leaked a selected bacteriophage, compared with 7% of 60 latex gloves. Gloves may get punctured during use and (the inner side of the glove) gets wet with perspiration, encouraging an increase in bacteria on the skin surface. When gloves are removed, hands must be washed thoroughly to reduce the growth of microorganisms.
- It must be emphasized that as gloved hands touch as many contaminated objects and surfaces as ungloved hands, and must be changed or washed frequently.
- Some people develop ‘contact dermatitis’ when they wear gloves. The causes have been traced to allergic reactions to powders within the gloves and the chemical composition of both latex and synthetic gloves. The sensitivity of some people to latex is recognized by the medical profession. Latex allergy is a Type-I reaction to natural rubber latex proteins with clinical manifestations ranging from contact dermatitis to fatal anaplylaxis. A recent report has also traced adverse allergic reactions on those who consumed sandwiches and salads prepared by food handlers wearing latex gloves.
- Persons with infections on their hands should be discouraged from handling ready-to eat food. However, if they continue to work in the retail food industry in the preparation, production, or service of food to the public, an antiseptic should be used on the infected area, which should then be covered with a bandage. A glove should be worn over bandaged area. The gloved hand, in turn, must be washed along with the ungloved hand to keep it clean, or changed each time the ungloved hand is washed. Another reason for wearing a glove over bandaged hand areas is to keep the bandage(s) from falling into food.
Hand hygiene and disposable glove use
It has been vividly discussed that usage of disposable hand gloves is an elemental aspect of personal hygiene and can determine a very high magnitude of protection and prevention from transfer of various pathogenic diseases. It is also very important to remember that glove use is not a replacement for effective hand washing, and the two should work together to protect the wearer and others. Key requirements are:
- When using disposable type gloves, your hands should be washed and dried thoroughly before putting the gloves on;
- A fresh pair of disposable examination-style gloves must be worn for each procedure and must be disposed off between procedures to avoid cross-contamination. Never wash and re-use disposable gloves;
- If you need to stop work temporarily, e.g. to answer a phone, always remove and discard the gloves you are wearing and replace them when you continue working;
- Always wash your hands after glove removal – gloves are not a replacement for hand washing; and,
- Moisturising hand cream, applied after hand washing, can help prevent skin drying after frequent washing. Such products should never be relied upon as a physical barrier to protect the skin from infection.
While no one glove type works for every food application, it goes without saying that as strength and durability increases, risk profile decreases. Studies taking place in food environments have shown that when gloves are worn beyond their capabilities, negative consequences can ensue. It is imperative for food handlers to choose the appropriate type of glove.