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Food Safety: Visible glove use can help increase consumer loyalty

Wearing gloves while preparing food is more than just a food safety issue, it can be an advantage for operators looking to encourage repeat business. DSRs can promote visible glove use as a way to increase customer loyalty. And they have the numbers to back it up, thanks to a survey conducted for FoodHandler, Inc. by NPD Foodworld.
According to the survey, 61% of restaurant visitors are more likely to revisit when they see protective gloves being used. If given a choice, 77% of consumers would select an eating establishment where workers use protective gloves versus one where workers do not use gloves. These are key statistics because they suggest that the use of gloves while preparing food can be a device that operators can use to help build a loyal consumer base.
"Use gloves in a fashion where your customers can see them," advises Dave Keeffe, vice president of marketing for FoodHandler, Inc, based in Westbury, N.Y. "It's not just about food safety. It's about building business. You can actually help get repeat traffic by using gloves."
Since food safety is the number one area operators are looking for DSR help, according to the 2003 ID operator survey, DSRs should stress the importance of using gloves from a food safety standpoint while highlighting the potential economic benefits as well.
"It's not something that is intuitive to the operator," Keeffe says. "The DSR can come in and share this information with the operator."
However, Keeffe cautions DSRs to make sure their operator customers understand that the use of gloves is not intended to supplant the role of hand washing. "Gloves are by no means a substitute for good hand-washing practices," he says.
The importance of proper hand washing was highlighted by a recent outbreak of salmonella in Illinois with the suspected cause being a sick employee who failed to properly wash his or her hands after using the bathroom and contaminated the food or the equipment in the kitchen. A total of 146 people have been confirmed infected with the disease with 143 more suspected cases.
"Good hand-washing techniques are essential to prevent spreading illnesses to others," says Dale Galassie, executive director of the Lake County Health Department.

Positive reaction
Overall, consumer reaction to glove use is extremely positive with 85% of consumers agreeing that the restaurant "is trying very hard to be sanitary and healthy for me" when using gloves and 67% agreeing that the restaurant "cares a lot about the food they serve" by using gloves.
Keeffe admits he was surprised by how seriously customers took food safety and how well they reacted to the use of gloves in restaurants they frequent.
"I think we expected there would be some positives," he says. "The magnitude of the positives was surprising. We may have underestimated just how important safe food handing and glove use can be."
The survey suggests that food safety stacks up well against other key issues such as food quality and service when consumers choose where to spend their food dollars.
"Is it more important than the food? I doubt it," Keeffe says. "But it's not that far away in terms of importance."
FoodHandler, Inc. has shared the survey results with national restaurant chains such as Taco Bell and they have viewed this information positively.
"It actually kind of confirmed my belief that customers prefer that food employees wear gloves when they're making their food, when they're touching their food, which is a belief that I've held for a long time," says Scott Brooks, former senior manager of quality assurance for Taco Bell.
The survey was used as a justification for an ongoing attempt to make glove use mandatory at all the company's restaurants.
"We actually used that data as part of a presentation to executive leadership to move to a system-wide policy in glove use for Taco Bell Corporation," he says. "At the time when we made the presentation, upper management was very receptive to the idea."
The issue of glove use is important for quick service restaurants and for noncommercials such as hospitals and cafeterias that have more visible food preparation areas. White tablecloth restaurants will not be excited about the survey because the food in these establishments is usually prepared out of sight of the consumer, Keeffe says. He also does not expect the survey to have much effect on glove use in convenience stores.
"Glove use among convenience stores is notoriously low," he says. "In theory, this is something they should embrace."
However, Keeffe says the survey shows that the industry should not underestimate how important glove use is to consumers.
"It says that glove use is not just a back of the house food safety activity," he says.

DSR Takeaway
DSRs should have a plan when they approach their operator customers about the importance of glove use and should stress both the potential economic benefits of visible glove use as well as the importance from a food safety standpoint, says FoodHandler's Dave Keeffe.
He sees the use of gloves as a part of the overall solution to food safety problems and encourages DSRs to approach their operator customers with a plan that includes the use of gloves as well as proper hand washing techniques. "You can't kill all the bugs just by hand washing," he says.
DSRs should encourage their operator customers to educate their employees on the rules of good hand washing and proper glove use. Some key rules are:
  • Washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water, paying attention to fingertips and between fingers.

  • Washing hands and changing gloves after using the restroom, cash register or changing tasks such as handling meat to vegetables.

  • Washing hands and changing gloves after sneezing, coughing, if hands are sweaty or after touching your face, hair or body.

  • The DSR's plan should also incorporate not only glove products, but soap and towel products for hand washing as well. "It's not just about selling gloves," he says. "It would be a mistake just to make it a glove issue."

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