Many people feel better when they walk into their favorite restaurant and see staff wearing disposable gloves. Restaurants and other food service establishments often require employees to wear gloves whenever they are in public view, since many people assume that gloves equal food safety.
But improper use of gloves can potentially cause foodborne illnesses. Here’s how to separate fact from fiction.
Fact: Some foods cannot be handled with bare hands.
The Montana Food Code no longer allows bare hands to touch “ready-to-eat foods,” or food that will not be cooked before serving. Examples include salads, sandwiches, bread and any food that has already been cooked, such as a hamburger that just came off the grill. These foods may not be handled with bare hands since they will not go through further cooking. Cooking kills germs that can get in food. Gloves are one way to prevent bare-hand contact.
Fiction: Wearing gloves replaces hand washing.
Gloves should never replace hand washing. If dirty hands are used to put on gloves, the gloves become dirty. Hands that simply look clean may not be clean. Germs don’t always make hands look dirty. Hands should always be washed with warm water and soap, then dried with paper towels before putting on gloves. Hand sanitizer cannot replace good hand washing.
Fact: Gloves need to be changed regularly.
When a food service worker switches tasks, gloves should be changed and hands should be washed. Gloves should also be changed if they are visibly soiled or torn. Only one pair of gloves should be worn at a time. Gloves should be changed after handling money, sweeping or cleaning, taking out the trash, using the restroom or other times when the gloves may have been contaminated. It is best for food handlers not to wear gloves during these tasks, so they don’t forget to change their gloves and wash their hands before going back to preparing or serving food.
Fiction: Gloves are the only way to prevent bare-hand contact.
The Food Code does not require glove use as the only method of preventing bare-hand contact. Other good ways to meet this rule are using tongs, scoops, deli tissues, toothpicks or other utensils to make sure hands do not touch ready-to-eat foods. Just because someone is not wearing gloves when serving you does not mean they are doing something wrong.
Fact: Proper glove use can minimize the risk of foodborne illness.
When properly used, gloves are extra protection to stop the germs on people’s hands from getting in food. These germs can include bacteria and viruses that may make you sick, such as E. coli and norovirus, which commonly cause foodborne illness. These germs are spread when people don’t wash their hands properly, and gloves are an extra barrier to stop them from contaminating food.
RiverStone Health sanitarians work hard to educate food service workers in Yellowstone County on proper use of gloves and avoiding bare-hand contact. Such simple measures can help ensure our community stays safe and healthy while enjoying delicious meals.