Is glove juice contaminating your product?
Hand hygiene is a prerequisite program in nearly every HACCP program in the food and beverage industry, but anyone who thinks simply supplying disposable gloves ensures safe food is kidding themselves.
The proper use of gloves in food processing and food service is predicated on the maintenance of glove integrity. An unnoticed pinhole in a glove can release tens of thousands of bacteria or virus particles into product within seconds.
The atmosphere in most gloves is hot and sweaty, which creates ‘glove juice’. Bearing in mind that it has been shown in the UK that 30% of caterers do not wash their hands after going to the toilet and that the area around the fingernails is the most contaminated on the hands and this area is flushed with glove juice — just think of what is in the glove juice that is dripping into your product.
Properly used gloves do a good job — but care must be taken to ensure the right gloves are used and they are changed regularly and immediately if their integrity is compromised.
It is important that the gloves themselves are not a source of contaminant. Pretty well all of the gloves used by food handlers in Australia and New Zealand are manufactured in South-East Asia where they are not necessarily subjected to levels of monitoring or scrutiny considered the norm in local production. To be safe for contact with food the gloves should not allow migration of deleterious substances, colours, odours or tastes to food.
Gloves also have to be kind to users’ hands — occupational skin disease is one of the most frequent causes of lost time in the food industry and skin damage associated with the use of the wrong gloves for the job can result in unnecessary turnover.
Latex in gloves is notorious for causing allergies to the extent that many food types can cross-react with the latex allergen resulting in allergies to foods such as banana, avocado, chestnut, kiwi, tomato and potato. The more severe reactions to latex and cross-reacting foods can be life-threatening.
Glove choice and HACCP plans
The questions that food safety managers need to ask are:
- What is the intrinsic potential for system failure?
- What role can gloves play in preventing that failure?
- To what extent are the failures hidden as sporadic complaints or shelf-life problems?
- What is the catastrophic potential if multiple parts of the system fail simultaneously?
What to consider when choosing disposable gloves:
- Match the working load and tensile strength with the glove.
- Check for allergic reaction potential and insure skin health.
- Size gloves properly and consider ease of donning and comfort of fit.
- Proper hand-washing and glove-changing protocols are in place and effective.
- Powdered or powder-free.
Types of gloves
- Polyethylene (PE) copolymer gloves are generally the least expensive of all glove types. They are available in high-, medium- and low-density forms. Typically loose fitting, dexterity is lower than that of any other glove type. PE gloves tear quite easily and are not suitable for use around high heat as the heat welded seams on PE gloves are a typical failure region.
- Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride or PVC) gloves are sometimes considered to be an acceptable alternative to latex as they provide snug fit capabilities and some degree of dexterity. They are more resistant to ozone and oil than natural rubber latex (NRL) and can be worn around heat sources without risk of melting. Stretching the gloves as they are donned can cause holes.
- Nitrile (carboxylated butadiene-acrylonitrile) gloves are less elastic than latex but are more durable. They feature good physical properties and provide the wearer with good dexterity. Nitrile gloves are resistant to many chemicals but are sensitive to alcohol degradation. While they are abrasion- and puncture-resistant, once breached, they tear easily.
- Natural Rubber Latex (NRL) makes comfortable, tight-fitting elastic glove types that offer good dexterity, a snug fit, good tactile sensitivity and can withstand high heat. However, many people are now either allergic to latex or to the chemical additives used in the glove-making process. NRL gloves will deteriorate over time by exposure to oxygen, ozone or ultraviolet light and are degraded by oils and solvents such as alcohol.
- Polyurethane (PU) gloves are free of chemical additives other than the pure polymer itself, consisting of polymeric methylene diphenyldiisocyanate. These glove types offer high tensile strength and durability.
Workers hands were implicated in 89% of food poisoning outbreaks in restaurants where the food was found to be contaminated by a food worker. Food safety demands both proper hand hygiene and correct disposable glove use.
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