Foodservice Gloves: Facts and Myths

Potential risks associated with glove use as summarized in FDA’s White Paper, “Interventions to Prevent or Minimize Risks Associated with Bare-Hand Contact with Ready-to-Eat Foods; ‘Barriers/Gloves’ ” (Ross and Guzewich, September 1999):

“…the main purpose of wearing gloves is to prevent pathogenic organisms from being transmitted to foods via hand contact from food workers (Paulson, Food Quality, 1996). An intact vinyl or latex glove (i.e., one with no punctures, tears, or holes) will provide protection from transmission of contaminating microorganisms from hands (Paulson, Food Quality, 1996).

Ehrenkranz believes that glove use promotes a false sense of security among healthcare workers since contaminated gloves have led to patient-to-patient spread of nosocomial infections (Ehrenkranz, 1992). Considering the glove to be protective can promote poor handwashing practices and increased microbial growth on the hands (Fendler et al., Part I, 1998). According to Bardell (1995), it is not uncommon for gloves to be worn for long periods of time without being changed and it is not unusual for food employees to put gloved hands to their mouths or noses without changing their gloves. It is the opinion of one author that the wearing of gloves to prepare and serve food does not prevent cross-contamination since glove wearers continue to touch contaminated surfaces or raw foods, thereby inoculating the glove surfaces with microorganisms (Docket C-3). The use of gloves alone does not provide a sufficient barrier against transmission of pathogenic microorganisms from food employees to consumers (Fendler et al., Part II, 1998).

Handwashing was strongly encouraged prior to gloving (Snyder, 1997; Fendler et al., Part I, 1998; Docket RPT-1; Paulson, April 1996) and after removal of gloves (Larson, 1995; Doebleling et al., 1988; Olson et al., 1993). E. coli counts increased on hands that were not washed prior to gloving (Paulson, June/July, 1996). This occurred after glove changes at one-hour and three-hour intervals. No significant growth of contaminating microorganisms was found on hand surfaces after 3 hours of consecutive glove wearing when hands were effectively washed prior to gloving (Paulson, June/July 1996).

It has been demonstrated that both the interior and exterior of gloves can become contaminated with surface hand microorganisms if the hands are not washed prior to gloving (Docket C-3). Hands themselves can also be contaminated with organisms found on the glove surface. Microbial contamination of hands occurred more frequently with vinyl than with latex gloves (Olsen et al., 1993). According to Paulson (June/July, 1996), wearing gloves can present an even greater potential for transmission of disease. The author feels that microorganisms residing on skin are provided a more favorable environment for growth on gloved hands as compared to ungloved hands due to increased levels of moisture and nutrients. The author recommends that when gloves are worn, hands must be washed with an effective product prior to donning the gloves. The author also suggests that both handwashing with an antimicrobial product and gloving will provide more protection to those performing high-risk tasks (e.g., preparing, cooking, or wrapping food) than either method used alone (Paulson, 1997). According to Larson et al. (1989), handwashing is often omitted when gloves are used and organisms on the hands can multiply rapidly inside the moist and warm environment of the gloves. The use of gloves does not replace handwashing, especially since bacteria and viruses can leak through gloves (Larson et al., 1989). It has been shown that up to 18,000 Staphylococci organisms can pass through a single glove hole during a 20-minute period despite the fact that hands were washed for 10 minutes prior to gloving (Docket C-8). When a glove break occurs, a liquid bridge of microbial contamination can flow from hands to surfaces and foods (Docket C-8).

Loose-fitting gloves may increase the risk of microbial contamination and transfer, as well as rendering them cumbersome. Gloves that are too tight can cause discomfort and may result in multiplication of microorganisms due to incubation and sweating inside the gloves (Docket C-8)…”