These terms can be found describing vinyl disposable gloves, but does this labeling actually mean vinyl gloves are free from harmful chemicals or are a good option for food handling? This blog highlights the risks of vinyl gloves to wearers, businesses and consumers, in addition to the environment.
Food Safety Risks of Vinyl Gloves
- Vinyl gloves (made from PVC) are rigid and weak - micro-punctures can occur within a few hand movements, meaning vinyl gloves can begin leaking as soon as they are donned. This increases the risk of cross-contamination for both the glove user and the food they are handling.
- Vinyl disposable gloves have poor resistance to stretch and elongation (based on lower tensile strength and elongation tests) than nitrile gloves. Less elasticity and flexibility leads to a poorer fitting glove and more rips occurring during routine use. Dangerously, these holes are often at the microscopic level and are unseen by the wearer.
- An estimated 50-90% of holes go unrecognized by glove wearers. Because “glove juice” and sweat build-up is particularly common in vinyl gloves, contamination of surfaces through glove holes can occur, often so small they are unnoticed by the glove wearer.
- Scientific studies have proven a 10-fold increase in average failure rates of vinyl gloves compared to nitrile gloves, after simulated use. The average failure rate of vinyl gloves was 51%, with nitrile 4.6%.
- Vinyl disposable gloves (over other types) are more frequently responsible for cross-contamination events in food handling where glove type is identified.
Worker & Consumer Safety - Gloves containing Phthalates, BPA & PFAS
- Phthalates: Up to 50% of vinyl gloves are made up of plasticizers, which make the PVC flexible and soft enough to wear. Often plasticizers contain phthalates and BPA as they are inexpensive.
- To reduce cost, many vinyl gloves contain the phthalate plasticizers DINP (Diisononyl phthalate) and DEHP di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate. Both DiNP and DEHP have been found to adversely impact human health and have been added to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer.
- Phthalates have been found, in multiple studies, to leach into food from food preparation gloves (Zota et al, 2015; Serrano et al. 2014), with food likely contaminated with phthalates and BPA during processing (Cao 2010; Geens et al 2012)
- The production and disposal of vinyl also uses or releases numerous other highly hazardous chemicals including PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), chlorine gas, ethylene dichloride, vinyl chloride, dioxins, mercury and asbestos. Read more about the health consequences linked to PFAS exposure, including cancer, liver impairment, reduced fertility, heightened susceptibility to asthma and thyroid disorders.
- The PVC polymer makes vinyl gloves poorly fitting, thick, rigid and inflexible, and can cause repetitive movement injuries and trauma to the wearer’s fingers, thumbs and forearms.
Many phthalates are now banned or restricted from use in various products, including vinyl gloves, throughout the world. Phthalates are banned in Europe in most products and food contact plastics, and are also banned in Japan in food service gloves and other food contact materials.
Since January 2022, food packaging and disposable gloves sold in Maine cannot intentionally contain phthalates. More recently, as of January 2023, Maine also became the first state to ban products containing PFAS. Other states are also eliminating unnecessary and dangerous plastics, such as BPA and phthalates from children’s toys and most plastic bottles, and have followed suit and banned PFAS in different categories including food packaging.
Phthalate free? BPA free? PFAS free? Are these terms correct?
- Studies have found vinyl gloves from the same brand have been found to contain phthalates, while others do not, suggesting poor global supply chain management.
- Similarly, an in vitro fertilization (IVF) control study found differing toxicity levels between batches of disposable gloves. 10 different brands of medical gloves were tested for toxicity levels, proving differences.
- Varying levels of glove toxins can happen when glove suppliers source from multiple manufacturers or glove brokers, which often brings inconsistencies to their glove supply chain. Moreover, limited manufacturing and glove importing regulations and standards create an opportunity for manufacturers to reduce costs by incorporating inexpensive and potentially toxic ingredients.
Environmental Hazards of Vinyl Gloves
- Vinyl gloves are produced thicker and heavier in an attempt to reduce ripping, increasing waste disposal. The high failure rate (ripping) of vinyl gloves also increases glove usage and therefore waste.
- As mentioned above, numerous highly hazardous chemicals are used or released during the manufacture, use and disposal of vinyl gloves. Production starts with chlorine, which requires the use of asbestos, mercury or PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) depending on the technology.
Are Vinyl Gloves Cost-Effective?
- Scientific studies have proven a 10-fold increase in average failure rates of vinyl gloves compared to nitrile gloves, after simulated use, with the average failure rate of vinyl gloves being 51%. When you take into account these failures, what seems like a cheap glove increases in price significantly.
- Read how a major supermarket reduced glove usage by 40-45% when swapping from vinyl to premium Eagle nitrile gloves. In the process they also reduced monthly glove costs and eliminated waste, while enhancing food safety procedures and staff efficiency. A simple glove swap resulted in major cost savings.
Given the significance of this information and the risks vinyl gloves may pose to public health, we hope to inform and change business and regulatory vinyl glove usage in the food preparation industry; and provide consumers the knowledge to make informed decisions and restaurant choices.
Due to advances in the formulation and manufacturing of nitrile gloves, these are the popular and cost effective choice of disposable gloves for food processing.
Eagle Protect stocks a full range of vinyl glove alternatives.