Gloves on, or gloves off?

Gloves on, or gloves off?

The past two years have really put hand, surface, and air hygiene in the spotlight – which is where hygiene services provider Initial has always maintained hygiene should be.

Of course, many – if not all – food manufacturing and handling environments already had excellent hand hygiene practices in place pre-pandemic, because a lapse in hygiene standards could result in a foodborne illness outbreak such as salmonellosis, shigellosis, hepatitis A, giardiasis, or campylobacteriosis.

One of the more common hand hygiene protocols is that employees who handle food must wear latex gloves. Gloves can play an important role in preventing cross-contamination in the food industry, while compliance is perceived to be more easily monitored than a handwashing regime.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 40% of foodborne illnesses and nearly 80% of infections are spread via germs on our hands. Because contaminated hands can transfer viruses and bacteria to up to 14 other surfaces, the personal hygiene of employees who handle food must be impeccable to prevent the spread of foodborne disease.

So, should all employers in the food manufacturing and handling industries be making their employees wear gloves? There is clear evidence to suggest that gloves do not always prevent pathogens from spreading: indeed, just like bare hands, gloves themselves can be the source of contamination. A 2010 article in Food Safety News says that “gloves may actually pose a number of unforeseen risks because the confidence they provide may encourage risky behaviour”.

A 2004 study in the Journal of Food Protection, meanwhile, was conducted in a fast-food restaurant to compare gloved and non-gloved employees handling different foods, finding that bacterial counts were consistently higher in the foods handled by gloved employees.

The study noted that “the observed tendency of workers to wear the same pair of gloves for extended periods and complacency might account for the apparent failure of gloves to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. The results further suggest that glove use might be counterproductive because workers might wash their hands less frequently when gloved”.

The study goes on to conclude: “Both managers and employees prefer glove use because it is easier to check for compliance, although in practice, it has often been found that glove use provides a false sense of security because food handlers misuse gloves or neglect washing their hands when gloves are worn.”

It’s clear that gloves alone are not a hand hygiene silver bullet. It is far better to promote an integrated hygiene strategy that includes emphasising the importance of better hand, surface, and air hygiene practices.

This means washing hands with hot water and soap, proper drying with either paper or a good air dryer, followed by sanitising both before putting gloves on and after taking them off. It also means having an integrated approach to surface and air hygiene to ensure that employees breathe clean air and aren’t picking up bacteria and germs from the surfaces on which they work.

Businesses that embrace this shift in their thinking about hygiene and implement integrated hygiene strategies – not only for hand hygiene but for surfaces and clean air as well – will be better placed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers.

Visit for free handwashing tools and materials for your business, or subscribe to the company’s blog for regular hygiene updates and insights.

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SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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