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Food handling gloves can play a huge role in the avoidance of cross contamination in the food industry. However, there is clear evidence to suggest that gloves do not always prevent pathogens from spreading.
Despite people’s beliefs, gloves can be a source of contamination just as bare hands can. Foodborne pathogens spread easily, and indeed, one study involving a comparison of gloved and non-gloved food handlers engaging with different foods found the bacterial counts were consistently higher in the foods involving gloved handlers.
Why does this happen? Firstly, food preparation workers typically touch a wide variety of surfaces which may themselves be contaminated. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, workers who wear food prep gloves can get complacent about following proper hand hygiene guidelines, leading to pathogenic bacteria in food spreading, and several types of foodborne illnesses potentially materialising as a result.
As an example of how easily cross contamination can occur, one study examined the microbial failure rates of surfaces touched by hands during food service, without hand washing, immediately before touching ready-to-eat (RTE) food. The research found that containers touched by hands 23% of times, had an 84% microbiological failure rate and bin lids which touched by food handlers 4% of times during food service had a 100% failure rate.
To make the best possible business decision, advantages and disadvantages of food service gloves should be seriously considered, and the limitations of each addressed:
In the UK, the number of foodborne illnesses cost an estimated £1.5 billion in 2011, and this number continues to increase. Regardless of whether food handling gloves are worn or not, proper hand hygiene is essential to help minimise the spread of these illnesses.