While hand washing is very effective at preventing the spread of infection by wiping out bacteria as well as cross-contamination of foods, it is less than adequate for getting rid of many viruses such as hepatitis A and protozoa. One out of every five cases of food-borne illnesses is caused by an infected worker’s hands coming into contact with food, so;
Clean gloves are a better choice than unclean hands.
However, it has not been proven that the use of disposable vinyl, latex or non-latex gloves is a safer method of handling food compared to effective hand washing techniques. Wearing gloves can lead to a false sense of security and safety and can more than likely cause food contamination if hands are not washed and air dried prior to putting them on; so this can result in cross contamination from raw to high risk food in the same way as it does with hands.
Defects in a significant number of gloves, such as pinholes or punctures, enable bacteria from the hands to pass through the gloves and may result in contamination of high-risk foods with large numbers of pathogens. Latex gloves can also produce allergic reactions in some people.
The hand environment created by wearing gloves provides the ideal conditions for the growth of bacteria such as staphylococcus aureus.
Cleaning hands before putting on gloves and frequent disposal of gloves minimises the risk for food contamination.
It is good practice to wash hands thoroughly after gloves have been removed as pathogens may have multiplied significantly while the gloves were being worn. Some workers tend to wear the same pair of gloves for extended periods and it is that complacency that could account for the failure of gloves to prevent bacterial contamination.
Therefore the use of gloves could be counterproductive because workers might tend to wash their hands less frequently.
Food handlers with gloves are more aware they are handling high-risk foods and therefore are less likely to scratch their head and pick their nose or all those other bad hygiene practices that can lead to the spread of bacteria.
It therefore appears that a multi-tiered approach will offer the best protection.
Food service workers need to be educated about hand washing, using proper gloves and preventing ill employees from preparing food. They also need to be provided proper training in proper hygiene with a system put in place for monitoring compliance.