Do FDA Compliant Gloves Protect Our Food?

A recent investigation from the UK shows that our hands are filthy and carry a variety of gut and fecal material. The investigation found traces of feces on every sample of McDonald’s touchscreens swabbed.  

FDA Certified Gloves Food SafeOne branch was found to have staphylococcus, a bacteria that can cause blood poisoning and toxic shock syndrome; and another Listeria which can cause listeriosis leading to miscarriages and stillbirths in pregnant women. Three quarters of the screens swabbed showed traces of the bacteria proteus, which can be found in human and animal feces and can cause urinary tract infections.

A recent study undertaken by the USDA explains, “consumers are failing to properly clean their hands 97 percent of the time. Rushed hand washing can lead to cross-contamination of food and other surfaces, resulting in foodborne illness.”

The FDA Food Code represents current guidelines for food safety in the US and stipulates food handlers should not handle ready-to-eat food with bare hands, rather by using utensils such as single-use gloves. But even though food establishments have signage to reinforce correct hand washing procedures for both employees and consumers, studies clearly show this may not be happening.

Let’s take a look at hand hygiene and gloves in more detail, and how our food can and does become contaminated.

Human Skin Microbes

The human skin is a rich environment for microbes consisting of around 1,000 species (Grice et al. 2009). The skin surface of human hands contain up to 10 million microorganisms (Price 1938), most of which are resident species, some with the potential to cause disease such as Staphylococcus spp. or Streptococcus spp.

True problems occur when, due to poor hand skin health, transient organisms can become resident colonizers (Price 1938; Michaels et al. 2004). When this occurs, combined with a glove puncture, what has been described as a “liquid bridge” of microbial contamination can flow to contact surfaces (Cole & Bernard 1964; Fox 1971).

Glove Juice!

Hands contain over 400 sweat glands per square centimeter. When wearing disposable gloves, all the moisture created by thousands of sweat glands is trapped where oxygen levels plummet and skin maceration creates high microbial counts.

The nail region, the most difficult to get pristinely clean, contains the richest microbial flora. Glove occlusion decreases the generation time of micro flora and increases contamination from whatever was on the hand or under the fingernails before the gloves were donned.

Do FDA Compliant gloves Protect Our Food?

  • We often hear “My gloves have FDA compliance for food handling” - this does not make them food safe. These gloves have no acceptable quality level (AQL) requirements - AQL refers to a quality standard for measuring pinhole defects. So, with no testing required for pinhole defects, disposable gloves can be FDA (21 CFR 177) compliant for food handling. Knowing a gloves’ AQL is essential to determining their level of food safety.

  • Scientific studies showing up to 50% of vinyl gloves contain holes, and up to 96% of glove punctures go undetected by wearers. Selecting the correct type of food safety glove is essential.

  • Studies have shown up to 18,000 Staphylococci can pass through a single glove hole during a 20-minute period, even though the hands had been scrubbed for 10 minutes prior to gloving (Guzewich & Ross 1999).

Given the microbes on our hand skin, coupled with glove juice, poor hand washing and gloves with pinhole defects, the perfect storm of food contamination can occur.

Choosing a verified food safe glove is essential to protect your food. Eagle’s Delta Zero multi-stage third-party glove testing has been initiated to further assure your food being handled is safe from the transfer the pathogens. With 15-18% of all foodborne illness implicating disposable gloves (CDC et al), choosing the correct disposable glove is critical.  

Contact us now to discuss how Eagle can enhance your food safety programs. 

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  1. Grice EA, Kong HH, Conlan S, Deming CB, Davis J, Young AC. Bouffard GG, Blakesley RW, Murray PR. 2009. Topographical and Temporal Diversity of the Human Skin Microbiome. Science. 324(5931): 1190–2.
  2. Price PB. 1938. The bacteriology of normal skin; a new quantitative test applied to a study of the bacterial flora and the disinfectant action of mechanical cleansing. J Infect Dis. 63:301-318.
  3. Michaels B. 2004a. Understanding the Glove Risk Paradigm: Part I. Food Safety Magazine 10(3):24-7.
  4. Cole WR, Bernard HR. 1964.  Inadequacies of Present Methods of Surgical Skin Preparation. Archives of Surgery 89:215-22.
  5. Fox A. 1971. Hygiene and Food Production. Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh and London.
  6. Guzewich J. and Ross MP. 1999. Evaluation of Risks Related to Microbiological Contamination of Ready-to-eat Food by Food Preparation Workers and the Effectiveness of Interventions to Minimize Those Risks. USFDA/CFSAN White Paper. September 1999.
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