Compromised food safety can have a devastating effect on human health, with recalls, lawsuits and loss of business for the companies involved. Recent articles, including Foodbeast.com, have stated that wearing gloves may be one of the most effective ways to spread pathogens in a food service system.
When using inferior food service gloves with no specified AQL, we couldn’t agree more! Inferior disposable gloves can be vehicles that spread pathogens and cause food borne illness.
Human hands can contain millions of microorganisms, and combined with a glove puncture, what has been described as a “liquid bridge” of microbial contamination can flow to contact surfaces of food.
Why Does This Happen?
Incorrect hand hygiene practices.
The CDC study found that food industry workers only wash their hands 27% of the recommended time.
Donning and doffing techniques (putting on and removing gloves).
Proper glove usage reduces cross-contamination between a worker’s skin, gloves and food.
Cheap glove types used to handle food.
Cheaper gloves, such as vinyl and PE, can be permeable to bacteria and virus, allowing the transfer of pathogens between a worker’s hands and food.
Punctures or tears in inferior gloves.
It's estimated to go unnoticed by the wearer 50% to 90% of the time*, is directly related to the quality of the glove. Glove failures are critical as they allow pathogens to transfer to the food being handled.
However, the risks of spreading pathogens, and ultimately foodborne illnesses, when wearing gloves are mitigated with correctly enforced food safety practices, together with using the correct type and improved quality of glove for handling food, sourced from a reputable supplier. Following these six points will mitigate your food safety risks:
Six Ways to Mitigate the Risks of Inferior Gloves
1. Purchase Quality Gloves From a Reputable Supplier
The quality of a food safety disposable glove is determined by the quality of raw materials, manufacturing processes and quality procedures in place. Beware of cheap imports which may be rejected clearance lines; you may be paying for glove failures and the potential spread of bacteria and virus.
After the initial batch of disposable gloves is tested and approved for food handling, cheaper raw materials can be substituted with manufacturing and hygiene practices altered to cut costs without the consumers' knowledge; read more about Glove Fraud here. To mitigate these risks, it is important for companies to find trustworthy and transparent glove suppliers to partner with to improve their food safety practices.
Eagle Protect is undertaking a multi-stage process of glove analysis, in order to reduce the risks associated with physical, chemical and microbiological hazards of disposable gloves. These hazards have been identified often as present in disposable glove supply chains. With a great deal of faith placed in your supplier's ability to deliver disposable gloves sight unseen, we believe it is essential to further reduce the food safety risks associated with them.
2. Know The AQL of the Gloves You Purchase
The AQL of a disposable glove is the "Acceptable Quality Level" and refers to a quality standard for measuring pin-hole defects. Glove manufacturers test a random sample of gloves from a batch during initial production and test for subsequent pin-hole defects. The lower the AQL, the fewer defects the gloves have. An AQL of 1.5, for example, requires that gloves be manufactured with no more than 15 failures for every 1,000 gloves produced.
This image to the left shows AQL testing for pinholes. Currently, there is no AQL requirement for food service disposable gloves, meaning there are no guidelines for maximum pin-hole defects—no guidelines for the number of failures per box. All Eagle Protect Disposable Gloves meet or exceed medical examination grade standards - we believe the prevention of food borne illness deserves the same glove that would treat it.
3. Why Use Medical Examination Grade Gloves in Food Processing?
The answer to this is simple, to enhance your food safety programs and for the prevention of food-borne illnesses.
Medical examination grade gloves have to pass a series of technical tests in order to meet the extra safety requirements specified by the FDA. Gloves are tested for puncture and abrasion resistance, must meet tension and elongation tests and are also tested for chemical substance resistance. Manufacturers of these gloves must receive an FDA Title 21 (510k) cleared for medical use certification.
It is estimated that around 90% of all disposable glove perforations during use go unnoticed or undetected. Consider that the human skin is a rich environment for microbes consisting of around 1000 species, and the skin surface of human hands can contain on average from 2 million to 10 million microorganisms.
Organisms can become resident colonisers on hands, and combined with a glove puncture, what has been described as a “liquid bridge” of microbial contamination can flow to contact surfaces of food.
Therefore, when purchasing your food handling gloves it is imperative to know the AQL. The lower the AQL, number the higher the quality of barrier protection you will have for your hands and your food. Medical examination grade gloves must also have an AQL of 2.5 or less.
4. Use The Correct Disposable Glove For Food Safety
Vinyl disposable gloves, a commonly used in the food industry because of its low price point, can contain Phthalates, BPA and other chemicals on California’s Prop. 65 list known to cause cancer. Because of a vinyl gloves’ “linear” molecular structure, which makes them more permeable and prone to holes and pathogen transfer. Vinyl disposable gloves are recommended to be worn for short periods only, and for intermittent or non-food contact areas.
The draft FDA guidance for the Control of Listeria Monocytogenes in Ready-To-Eat (RTE) Foods, recommends that “gloves …. be made of impermeable material,” which would not include vinyl or PE disposable gloves.
In early results, Vinyl gloves are 3 times more prone to cross-contamination than clean skin
Vinyl gloves have been described by some as “infection control nightmares,” (Michaels, B. & T. Ayers), and are recommended to be worn for short periods only, and for intermittent or non-food contact areas.
With minimal or no increase in cost, these issues can be mitigated with the use of nitrile gloves. Latex gloves are no longer used to handle food in New Zealand since some people are allergic to proteins in the latex.
When buying disposable gloves it’s easy to have the misconception that a thicker glove will provide extra strength and better protection. Thick gloves can be deceiving and give you a false sense of security if manufactured from cheap raw materials. Glove strength is highly proportional to the quality of raw materials.
If cheap raw materials are used, gloves must be manufactured with increased thickness to compensate for the compromised strength. This added thickness can cause restricted hand mobility, musculoskeletal fatigue, cramping and injury to hands and arms. Read more in Disposable glove quality matters...because workers do.
5. Include Disposable Glove Usage in Food Safety
With 15-18% of food borne illness outbreaks implicating disposable glove cross-contamination (CDC et al), and each outbreak estimated to cost a business up to $30 million, a food safety program that mitigates all risks involved in food handling, including disposable gloves, is essential.
The team at Eagle Protect are food safety experts, and we offer our customers personal onsite audits of their disposable glove and clothing usage. With expertise in the correct product selection and best use, together with an improved quality of products, Eagle Protect can assist and enhance your food safety programs.
6. Conduct Ongoing Research on Improvement of Food Safety
We are conducting a range of scientific studies with the highly-regarded food safety expert Barry Michaels**, author of the article referenced by Foodbeast. View the results of Barry’s work on The Top 6 Hazards of Cheap Disposable Gloves.
Companies are often looking for ways to cut expenses, and cheaper (inferior) gloves may seem to be a cost-saving. However, the false economy of cheap food safety disposable gloves can and do affect food safety and business risk.
Disposable gloves should NOT be used to replace correct hand hygiene and disposable glove procedures. However, when the correct type of quality glove is used for food handling, it adds an essential and effective layer to any business's food safety procedures.
Protecting your food from bacteria and viral transfer from a gloved hand is essential. Foodborne illnesses can financially cripple any food handling business found to have spread the disease. Are you willing to take this chance with inferior gloves?
At Eagle Protect we supply only certified food-safe gloves, with a transparent supply chain. We think about every aspect of our gloves so our customers don’t have to. Our goal is to build a trusting partnership with our customers where they never have to think about disposable protective gloves. We are dedicated to improving the safety of the New Zealand food industry and its public. Contact us for more information or to talk to one of our food safety experts.
*Full details and references can be found in the complete Glove Hazard Analysis & Mitigation Strategies White Paper written by Barry Michaels and Professor Christopher Griffith. Contact us for copies of this paper.
**Barry Michaels is an international scientific consultant on food safety and an independent consultant to academic institutions, government, industry, and non-profit organizations. He and writing collaborator Professor Griffith have worked on behalf of the B. Michaels Group Inc., an international scientific consultancy organization. Michaels & Griffith each have a lifetime of experience in the fields of infectious disease investigation, control, and prevention in the food and healthcare industries.
Photo Credits: Lead image courtesy of jk1991 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Watertightness test image UKAS accredited.