Why I hate foodservice gloves and you should, too
I worked in kitchens and managed kitchens throughout the 1970s and '80s. There was a generally good awareness of food safety, cross contamination and basic responsibility to the dining public. In those days, we restaurant managers feared the health department inspection. Today's foodservice kitchens are buttoned up, HACCP aware and have a much greater awareness of Standard Operating Procedures and Ops Manuals. Today's restaurant manager fears the lawsuit.
Around 20 years ago, food-handling gloves began showing up in foodservice kitchens. The theory was that gloves would protect diners from bacteria and the spread of disease. Foodservice workers would don the gloves and magically cleanliness and food safety would rise.
I think the exact opposite occurred, which is why I hate gloves.
Back in my day, kitchen managers trained staff on cleanliness and the spread of germs. The pressure was on to remind foodservice workers to wash their hands and be aware of cross contamination. As a prep cook, I was keenly aware of my hand cleanliness. Workers had a high degree of awareness of what they touched and used their hands responsibly. The immediate connection to your own hands needed no reminder.
I first saw gloves on a sandwich maker / cashier. The woman made my sandwich and proceeded to ring me up, take the money, and headed back to the sandwich line. I said, "Aren't you required to wash your hands after you handle money?" "No she politely replied, I have gloves on."
She had lost the connection to her own hands.
Not her fault, this was her training. She wore gloves to protect guests and that was that. Procedure replaced common sense and the dining public has been at greater risk ever since. Today's worker believes the simple act of wearing gloves keeps their hands clean. It does; however hands no longer touch food. Filthy, bacteria-laden gloves do. Workers, disconnected from their own hands, don't know if their gloves are clean, they would require swabs and science.
California passed a law to require the use of gloves. A recent article in the L.A. Times included this quote, "The Band-Aid of a blanket glove regulation is potentially dangerous," says Neal Fraser, chef-owner of BLD restaurant and Fritzi Dog. "People get into the tendency to not wash their hands. And environmentally it's very unfriendly. It's funny that at the same time L.A. institutes a plastic bag ban, there's this." And this choice morsel, "Who's saying gloves can't cause cross-contamination or can't get dirty? Outside or inside. Nothing good is happening in there where it's warm and sweaty. And I bet it's three months before a glove shows up in a salad."
I say it is time to drop the charade of gloves and demand their elimination. I love foodservice and strive daily to improve the industry. Gloves are a menace, so I hate them, and you should, too.
Ed Zimmerman / Ed Zimmerman is a pizza industry veteran and President of The Food Connector. His almost four decades of foodservice experience includes food manufacturing and distribution leadership, food industry technology, marketing services and restaurant and grocery operations management.