What Happens When Disposable Gloves Fail?

Most glove punctures are undetected by wearers as they are microscopic and not visible to the naked eye. However, a sweaty, punctured and leaking glove is ideal for distributing viruses and bacteria to food, and we have highlighted at a scientific level what actually happens when a glove fails (rips or tears).

Human Skin

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). 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).

“liquid bridge” of microbial contamination can flow to contact surfaces

With the CDC documenting more than 250 foodborne diseases associated with food or drink, there is ample opportunity for poor quality gloves to share responsibility for pathogen transmission to food.

Are Your Gloves Really Food Safe?

AQL Water leak or watertightness Test AKAS Accredited

Water leak test to detect pinhole leakage. This glove could meet FDA compliance for food handling.

No formal government regulations or inspection program exists for food service gloves. The only requirements are that the components of the gloves comply with the FDA regulations and the gloves consist of “Substances generally recognized as safe for use in food or food packaging.”

There are no AQL requirements for food service gloves, meaning there are no guidelines for maximum pinhole defects - no standards for the number of failures per box. Read more about AQL and why knowing AQL test results of your food handling gloves is essential for food safety programs.

Vinyl Gloves

Due to their polymeric structure and plasticizer content, numerous studies have shown vinyl gloves can begin leaking as soon as they are donned, and have a failure rate of up to 50% with use. Studies have estimated that around 90% of all glove perforations during use go unnoticed or undetected (Todd et al. 2010; Hubner et al. 2013; Timler et al. 2015) - the high vinyl glove failure rate is an obvious risk in the spread of pathogens to food.

Nitrile Gloves

Manufacturing standards and differences in raw material formulations can vary significantly between each type of nitrile glove. Little or no difference in glove quality may be seen by the naked eye, but when viewed under an electron microscope, variations between nitrile gloves surfaces are evident, affecting the failure rate and physical chemistry of the glove.

Food Safe Disposable Gloves

What do you need to consider when procuring disposable gloves for food handling?

  • Know the AQL test results - do you know how many failures your disposable gloves have? Cheap gloves are cheap for a reason.
  • Only choose examination grade disposable gloves with an AQL of 2.5 or less - pay for gloves that are suitable for food handling.
  • Beware of cheap imports which may be reject clearance lines - these can include failed gloves with a high chemical toxicity - the perfect medium for distributing pathogens and bacteria to food.

A food borne illness can cost businesses up to $30M, are you willing to take that risk with cheap disposable gloves?

Eagle Protect supplies certified food safe examination grade nitrile gloves to improve food safety programs.

Shop Nitrile Gloves


Written by: Lynda Ronaldson, VP Marketing


Cole WR, Bernard HR. 1964.  Inadequacies of Present Methods of Surgical Skin Preparation. Archives of Surgery 89:215-22.

Fox A. 1971. Hygiene and Food Production. Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh and London.

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.

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.

Hubner N-O, Mannerow A, Pohrt U, Heidecke C-L, Kramer A, Partecke LI. 2013. The durability of examination gloves used on intensive care units. BMC Infectious Diseases. 13:226. DOI: 10.1186/1471-2334-13-226.

Kanerva L, Elsner P, Wahlberg H. Maibach HI, 2013. Handbook of Occupational Dermatology. Springer Science & Business Media.

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.

Timler DR, Kusinski M, Litchev P, Marczak M. 2015. Glove failure in elective thyroid surgery: A prospective randomized study. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health 28(3): DOI: 10.13075/ijomeh.1896.00428

Todd E, Michaels BS, Greig JD, Holah J, Smith D and Bartleson CA. 2010a. Outbreaks Where Food Workers Have Been Implicated in the Spread of Foodborne Disease: Part 7: Barriers to Reduce Contamination of Food by Workers. Journal of Food Protection 73(8):1552-65.

Todd E, Michaels BS, Greig JD, Holah J, Smith D and  Bartleson CA. 2010b. Outbreaks Where Food Workers Have Been Implicated in the Spread of Foodborne Disease: Part 8: Gloves as Barriers to Prevent Contamination of Food by Workers. Journal of Food Protection 73(9):1762-73.

Photo Credit: Watertightness test image UKAS accredited

Customer service associate photo

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