When should kitchen staff wear gloves?

kitchen gloves
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Is it cross-contamination when you wear gloves to put the meat on the bread and then the cheese? Shouldn’t you have to change them before you touch the cheese?

– Sandwich maker, Waynesburg, Pa.


Single-use gloves are used in foodservice for two primary reasons:

  • To serve as a barrier between ready-to-eat food and bare skin contact.
  • To reduce the risk of cross-contamination in which, for example, raw meat juices on hands are not thoroughly washed off before changing tasks to make a sandwich.


When we think of cross-contamination, we typically think of food pathogens. For example, cutting chicken on a cutting board, not properly washing and sanitizing the surfaces, hands and knife (and not using separate equipment for different types of food), and then changing tasks to prepare a salad on the same surface allows pathogens from the chicken, normally destroyed by cooking, to transfer to the salad. Keeping that in mind, many employees are well-trained to keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate.

In that way, a sandwich maker working entirely with ready-to-eat breads, meats, cheeses, veggies and condiments, would normally be fine to use one pair of gloves for the entire sandwich making process, provided hands are clean and the gloves are fresh, undamaged and don’t become soiled in the process.

But there are other, more subtle and insidious forms of cross-contamination. For example, guests with allergies, intolerances or other dietary restrictions may be harmed if you cross-contaminate, even if the food would be perfectly safe to eat for another guest. For example, even if you offer gluten-free bread, your hands could easily contaminate that bread with gluten from your conventional offerings. And how would a guest who does not eat pork feel if the same glove you used to touch ham on the previous sandwich handled his veggie sub? While not pathogenic, it is important to think about the purpose of avoiding cross-contamination, beyond the basics.

In general, while it may be cumbersome and slow you down, scrupulous cleaning and sanitizing, frequent handwashing and glove-changing, and separate equipment for allergens, or removing them from the menu entirely (many bakeries are going peanut- and/or tree nut-free, for example) helps you ensure that guests are only eating the ingredients they are ordering. 

Remember that wearing single-use gloves is not a substitute for handwashing, and that as soon as they are contaminated, they should be changed. More on gloves here.

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