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Why restaurant kitchen workers should wear gloves

kitchen gloves
Photograph: Shutterstock

Question:

I’ve been to a couple of different restaurants that are part of the same [quick-service] chain in California. At one location, workers wear gloves, while I noticed at another they handle food with their bare hands. Isn’t it the same glove law across the state?

– Anthony Flores-Rodriguez, San Jose, Calif.

Answer:

There are three things to consider with regard to glove law:

  • Being compliant with regulations.
  • Food safety.
  • Consumer perception.

 

First, with regard to law, the food code at the federal level advises, in part, “food employees may not contact exposed, ready-to-eat food with their bare hands and shall use suitable utensils such as deli tissue, spatulas, tongs, single-use gloves, or dispensing equipment.” The key in most municipalities is that some barrier exists between a bare hand and ready-to-eat food. State or municipal laws vary. In your state of California, there was a highly restrictive glove law in place for a brief period in 2013-2014, extending not only to cooks but to sushi chefs and bartenders, resulting in an outcry from the industry that the requirements were cumbersome and impractical. That rule has since been overturned. So while there is no state glove law, it is, in fact, possible that the municipal health department or that specific operation’s policy requires wearing gloves.

While the science is a bit divided, in general gloves are safer than bare hand contact, provided they are used correctly, which includes changing them frequently, washing hands before and after use and not cross-contaminating by, for example, handling both ready-to-eat and raw foods or touching cash with a gloved hand. One risk is that gloves provide a false sense of security—workers may not change a soiled glove but would have washed their hands were they not wearing gloves. All things being equal, for cooks especially, my advice is to wear single-use gloves when handling ready-to-eat food, provided employees are trained in using the gloves correctly.

That brings us to our third consideration, consumer perception. While gloves may not always be required, you perceived the bare hand contact with your food to be off-putting. In an open kitchen environment especially, cooking is a performance. It is important that guests feel confident and trusting of the restaurant. If a clean single-use glove reassures them, and sends the message that your operation prioritizes safety and sanitation, it is well worth requiring that they be worn when handling ready-to-eat food, even if your municipality does not require that you do so.

As always, check with your restaurant association and attorney to make sure you are in compliance with local regulations. More on glove laws here.

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