The Economics of Proper Food Safety Glove Selection

Workers wearing food safety gloves during berry food production

There are 21.5 million food workers in the US, making it the single largest employment sector in the country. 14 million of those workers are included in “food service” categories, meaning direct food handling is part of their day-to-day job function. Regular contact is also made with harsh cleaning chemicals or food soils, like fats and grease, in addition to foods themselves. Food safety gloves are mandatory in these workplace environments.

With its significant impact on American culture and economy, health concerns in the food service industry carry a heavy and far-reaching economic impact. The use and quality of food safety gloves for product handling contributes to how the economy is affected.

Consider that glove contamination played a role in over 15% of the contaminated food outbreaks, as reported by the CDC Environmental Health Service in 2004. Part of those contaminations involved the presence of hormone-disrupting chemicals, which are estimated to lead to health problems that cost more than $175 billion each year.

Additionally, around 76 million cases of foodborne illness are recorded in the US each year, which result in hospitalizations or deaths costing somewhere between an estimated $10-83 billion total.

In circumstances where a single business entity is found at fault for food contamination, costs can reach millions of dollars per single incident when considering product recalls and compensation to victims alone. If we also consider the negative impact such events have on company brands, costs can reach into the billions. To illustrate this point, consider when Chipotle customers were subject to a food contamination outbreak - the restaurant lost an estimated three years worth of earnings before showing signs of recovery.

Therefore, having the right food safety glove - and making sure that quality is not overlooked - is imperative to containing costs in the food service industry.

Choosing the Right Food Safety Glove

No single glove can fit all circumstances. Two factors are dominant in establishing which disposable glove is appropriate for the task at hand: glove type and material strength, and fit.

Glove Type & Material Strength

Food safety PE gloves in deli environment

Different glove materials may be suitable for one scenario over another. In food processing environments, a thicker and stronger nitrile glove is often required to be worn. In a deli or retail food service environments, employees often use vinyl gloves.

But just because gloves of certain materials are common in these settings doesn’t mean they’re the best for mitigating risk. Thicker gloves are believed to be more durable and cost-effective. However, the opposite is true if they're manufactured from cheap raw materials. Glove strength is highly proportional to the quality of the raw materials used to manufacture the gloves.

In the deli environment, testing has shown that bacteria transfer of Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium doubled with the use of vinyl gloves over working with bare hands. Vinyl (PVC) material is also more easily punctured or ripped than a nitrile glove alternative, which also has a lower risk of permeation due to bacteria and viruses.

Glove Fit

Gloves with a poor fit can also contribute to the likelihood of cross-contamination. An ill-fitting glove can allow for substances to get between the worker’s skin and the glove material, or can increase the likelihood of materials getting caught in the folds of the glove. Increased tension (where gloves are smaller than the wearer's hands) can limit mobility, or increase the likelihood of material tearing or other failures.

Vinyl gloves are particularly susceptible to a breakdown in strength and subsequent tearing. Due to their molecular structure, vinyl gloves have poor resistance to stretching and elongation. As a result, holes occur more often during routine use than with nitrile gloves. A single hole can release tens of thousands of bacteria, sourced from moist internal glove surfaces. It’s also not uncommon for glove fragments to end up in food products after material breakage.

A “tougher” material isn’t always the best choice, either, due to its impact on efficiency. For example, heavier gloves worn in cold environments can be difficult to grasp with, resulting in worker fatigue. Fatigue leads to more frequent breaks, i.e. loss of production time, or a higher likelihood of non-compliance resulting in contamination incidents.

With improved awareness about the factors that make gloves more appropriate (or risky) for different scenarios, next we’ll look at which options are readily available.

The Best Options for Food Service Safety Gloves

Vinyl, nitrile, PE, and latex are the most common glove materials found in food service environments. However, note that the use of natural rubber latex has declined, and the material is generally seen as hazardous or inappropriate because they easily introduce common and serious allergens to food and the glove's wearer.

Of the materials used in food service, vinyl gloves pose a greater risk to maintaining food safety over nitrile gloves. Vinyl gloves are recommended to be worn for short periods only, and for intermittent or non-food contact areas. Various tests have shown nitrile generally demonstrate favorable all-around performance and durability in the presence of compounds common to the food service environment.

After selecting the best material choice, food service businesses tend to look for the products of that material that are cheapest. Knowing that compromised gloves can lead to the monumental costs cited earlier in this article, gloves that are cheaper at face value are often the very products that cost the most.

Read more about why cheap disposable gloves do not save you money.


The Truth About Disposable Food Safety Glove Pricing

Protection from cleaning chemicals in food processing

Purchasing departments should be apprehensive when purchasing a cheap product, because the cuts in cost are a strong indication that a compromise was made somewhere in the production chain. For food safety gloves, the two most common areas of compromise are factory and staff expenses and raw materials.

When food service companies are presented with seemingly identical glove products and one is offered at a significantly reduced price, we can be certain that a compromise must be taking place in one of these areas because raw materials alone make up for around 45% of production costs. 

Compromise in Factory & Staff Expenses 

If the glove manufacturer has cut corners in factory and staff expenses, it may indicate that their workers are unskilled and untrained, or face mistreatment or poor working conditions. Both of these have implications for how steps in the manufacturing process could be forsaken or executed poorly, and purchasing would also support a breach of human rights. Even if expenses are not cut on laborers themselves, skimping on factory and staff costs could mean that shortcuts are taken in areas like quality control and product testing.


The team at Eagle Protect makes regular supplier visits and adheres to our very own Eagle Supplier Code of Conduct to ensure that the environmental and social impacts of production are assessed. 

Read more about how Eagle Protect follows Environmentally Better manufacturing practices.


Additionally, disposable glove manufacturers may sacrifice their surrounding environment to save on production costs. Convenient or cheap waste management practices are often the ones that pose the most risk to the ecosystem, and low quality products end up contributing to the overall volume of waste. When these businesses make quality a second priority, they make lasting negative effects on the community outside factory walls, as well.

Compromise in Raw Materials

Raw materials include the “ingredients” that make up the glove. Cheaper raw materials often contain impurities that lead to a reduction in final product strength. They can also result in increased levels of toxic chemicals and the presence of filler materials, such as chalk in latex or nitrile gloves.

When foreign compounds or unplanned conditions are introduced to gloves, compounds like endocrine disruptors in vinyl materials or potassium cyanide in nitrile materials manifest - the very compounds that contribute the $175 billion in healthcare costs mentioned earlier. It’s worth noting that cyanides are highly uncommon in nitrile gloves under typical circumstances, but they tend to be seen most often in cases where the raw materials are of lower quality or the gloves have been improperly processed.

Knowing that the source of glove products has almost as much significance as the type of glove itself, how do food service businesses choose a provider who holds glove quality and manufacturing processes essential to food safety sacred?

Dependable Sourcing for Glove Products

The easiest choice for choosing a glove source is going straight to a supplier over a distributor.

Gloves sourced directly from suppliers are more likely to be dependable products because suppliers are subject to audits observing the quality of materials being used and the processes for manufacturing. Distributors, on the other hand, can source from multiple glove factories, with differing raw materials and manufacturing inconsistencies. Gloves from different sources frequently end up in the same packaging. Because food safety gloves are designed with precise chemical formulas, inconsistencies in raw materials lead to differing gloves with a higher potential for glove failure.

Maintaining a consistent glove manufacturer and raw material is essential for preserving food safety and preserving your products, customers, and reputation.

Are you seeking a glove supplier who can provide the best product for food service: high quality, ethically-sourced nitrile gloves? Eagle products are single-sourced, Delta Zero™ checked and lot certified safe to ensure manufacturing and product consistency. You receive the same product, same raw material, and same manufacturing process every time.

In addition, the Eagle team makes regular supplier visits and our very own Eagle Supplier Code of Conduct ensures the environmental and social impacts of production are assessed. We ensure that your food products, employees, customers, and brand is kept safe with the correct choice of disposable glove.

Contact our industry experts at Eagle Protect to ensure that you’re keeping your food products, employees, and customers safe with the right equipment.

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All information provided in this article is included in the Eagle Protect report, “Analysis of Disposable Glove Hazards within a Risk Framework when used in Food Processing / Service Environments,” prepared by principal investigator Barry Michaels and consulting advisor Dr. Christopher Griffith.

Barry Michaels, of B. Michaels Group, Inc., is a subject matter expert in the fields of food and healthcare industry personal hygiene science, surface sanitation/disinfection and the science involved in glove use for those fields.
Professor Christopher Griffith, of Broadmayne Hygiene Consultancy, is an independent Researcher with expertise in Molecular Biology, Biotechnology and Immunology. He also holds the title of Editor for the British Food Journal.
*FPC certification process being implemented during 2017

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