The low-down on using latex gloves in food preparation

By Linda Jackson on 17 September 2016

Warning - hands spread germs

Can we assume it is common knowledge that the typical hand contains millions of bacteria, including harmful ones? Although the transmission of pathogens from humans to food can be complicated, research shows the most frequent means is the fecal-oral route. The legal requirement R962 of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, that no food handler shall touch ready-to-consume non-prepacked food with his or her bare hands, unless it is unavoidable for preparation purposes, now makes perfect sense doesn’t it?

Are gloves the answer? There is a common perception among consumers that gloves can prevent most of those bacteria from being transmitted to food. Food safety professionals will argue - but only if the gloves are clean. The problem is that a worker may never change the gloves or clean them, thinking that the gloves themselves are sufficient protection. The trick is to make sure that workers are properly trained.

Warning - gloves spread germs too

According to the New York times, thousands of United States restaurant workers were surveyed for a study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health in 2005. More than a third said they did not always change their gloves between touching raw meat or poultry and ready-to-eat food. The gloves can inspire a false sense of security – this was the conclusion of the authors of a series of studies published in the Journal of Food Protection. The authors suggest that even the best gloves are no substitute for regular, thorough hand washing.

They explain that the warm, moist environment inside every glove is an ideal place for microbial proliferation. The most important food safety precaution may be proper hand washing and drying. That means washing hands with hot water and soap, followed by drying with a clean towel before putting gloves on and after taking them off, if gloves are worn at all.

The integrity of the glove plays a major role in the effectiveness of this as a food safety control. Glove brands differ in quality and material–vinyl gloves are more susceptible to rips than Latex gloves, for example–and bacteria can travel though the tiniest holes or tears. The longer gloves are worn, the more likely their effectiveness as a barrier will be breached. The experts recommend that food handlers should ideally put on a new pair of gloves every two hours to guard against possible unseen punctures. Gloved hands have been shown to contribute as much if not more bacteria to foods and food-preparation surfaces. They highly recommend changing into a new pair of gloves when switching between raw and cooked foods.

To glove or not to glove

Gloves tend to be one of the easiest food-safety methods to regulate, the study acknowledges.   Employers can easily check to see how many gloves have been used, as well as their condition.  “Glove use is easily observed to verify hygiene compliance, unlike assessing hand washing frequency and thoroughness,” the authors concluded.

Scary stuff! Now you know why the use of gloves is not necessarily the answer!

Let us know your thoughts.

In part 2 of the article we will look at the second reason for not using gloves – worker health.


Journal of Food Protection 2009 Jan;72(1):202-19.
Outbreaks where food workers have been implicated in the spread of foodborne disease. Part 6.
Transmission and survival of pathogens in the food processing and preparation environment.
Todd EC, Greig JD, Bartleson CA, Michaels BS.