Why Hand Hygiene is Essential for Food Safety

Cover your mouth when you cough. Wash your hands before you eat. No one would argue that hand hygiene is important. But how about when a food service worker wears disposable gloves? The glove is a protective barrier between pathogens on the hands of glove wearers and the food, but is it enough to prevent the transmission of these pathogens?

To put it simply...No.

As reported by the CDC, the spread of germs from the hands of food workers to food is an important cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in restaurants. It accounts for 89% of outbreaks in which food was contaminated by food workers. Therefore, food safety demands a dual approach that includes proper hand hygiene and correct disposable gloves

Let’s Talk Hand Hygiene

Eagle Protect has partnered with the “Guru of Hand Hygiene,” Barry Michaels, who brings over 50 years’ experience in the field of infectious disease investigation to push the research of disposable gloves farther than anyone ever has. Read early study results in Does a Disposable Glove = Food Safety? No. Here’s what else we’ve found.

Glove Juice

To oversimplify a complex topic, hand hygiene is essential because of the environment created within the disposable glove. Hands contain over 400 sweat glands per square centimeter. The nail region, the most difficult to get pristinely clean, contains the richest microbial flora. Any food safety glove, whether it nitrile or vinyl, latex or polyethylene, will create an environment where oxygen levels decrease and skin maceration creates high microbial counts. Read Barry’s article from the Deb Group’s Hand Hygiene, Infection Prevention and Food Safety Blog, Protective Gloves Get Used and Abused, for a detailed breakdown.

Liquid Bridge

As explained by Barry Michaels in the Glove Hazard Analysis & Mitigation Strategies Research Study*, the real problem occurs when, due to poor skin health and poor hand hygiene, organisms become resident on the hands. 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 that 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). With more than 250 different foodborne diseases associated with food or drink there is ample opportunity for leaky gloves to share responsibility for transmission (Todd et al. 2010b; CDC 2016).”

Combine these two hand hygiene situations with a poor quality leaky or punctured glove, and the transmission of foodborne viruses and bacteria to handled food is likely.

Food Safe Gloves & Hand Hygiene Go Hand-in-Hand,
No Pun Intended.

The hazards outlined above are just a few of the reasons why hand hygiene plays an essential role in food safety. The microbe promoting environment created inside gloves is inevitable, but there are ways to prevent the spread of foodborne illness. A combination of these interventions can be effective in prevention of the transmission of foodborne viruses and bacteria in food establishments.

5 Simple Ways to Increase Food Safety

  1. Correct Hand Washing Procedures
    Follow correct hand washing procedures, including washing around and under fingernails, to limit microbes exposed to the damp inner glove environment.
  2. Glove Use
    Putting gloves on and taking them off when done with a task is a simple, but important food safety step. Here's a quick how to video showing how to properly don and doff disposable gloves. 
  3. Glove Type
    Unlike nitrile and latex, vinyl glove molecules are not cross-linked leading to more holes in the glove film and higher levels of bacteria and virus permeation onto food. Small holes and breaches to form in vinyl gloves during use will often go unnoticed, and can result in measurements of 20,000 bacteria escaping within seconds.
  4. Purchase High-Quality Gloves
    Glove manufacturers can reduce costs by using cheap raw materials which lower glove strength, flexibility and durability, increasing the rate of glove failure both from the box and during food handling. Read the top 6 hazards of cheap disposable gloves. Glove studies have shown that 50% - 96% of glove punctures go undetected by wearers, and because a single glove hole can release tens of thousands of bacteria from overly moist internal glove surfaces, this becomes a food safety risk. Choose disposable gloves that are medical grade with a minimum AQL of 2.5.
  5. Use Medical Grade Gloves
    Disposable gloves that are medical grade have an AQL of 2.5 or less (2.5 glove failures per 100 gloves). There is no AQL requirement for food service gloves, meaning there are no guidelines for maximum pinhole defects - no guidelines for the number of failures per box. Read more about AQL and how it affect food safety here.

Contact our food safety experts to answer all your questions about improving your food safety procedures through the correct use of disposable gloves and clothing. Following The Eagle Standard, Eagle supplies only high-quality disposable gloves and clothing to protect your business, your staff and your customers. 

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*Full details and references for all the information included here are taken from the Glove Hazard Analysis & Mitigation Strategies Research Study conducted by Barry Michaels. White Papers of this study are available upon request.

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