There's More to it at Hand

Each of the barriers to transmission available to food safety managers (deli papers, utensils or gloves) have differing efficacies and limitations with respect to actual risk reduction. Proper use of utensils or gloves must be monitored and prevented from being used in ways that result in cross-contamination. Various types of gloves are employed in the food industry both to protect the food worker from occupational exposures related to food product or process, as well as to prevent pathogen or spoilage organism transmission from the worker to the product. The following is the first of a two-part article that reviews the type of gloves available to the food industry today and how to decide which type of glove should be used.

Effective Barrier Selection

A break must be instituted in the chain of transmission separating the worker and food contacted by that worker from the microflora associated with his or her existence and that of the home environment from which they came. To accomplish this separation, donning clean work clothing and obligatory pre-work hand hygiene is required, but it is frequently imperfect. Thus, additional barriers to the transmission must be put into place. If the task in question cannot be performed with bakery/deli papers or utensils, then choice of glove type and training associated with that selection is in order. There are now hundreds of different types of gloves available to food establishments according to material type, thickness, internal treatments (powder or otherwise), elasticity, exterior texturing and coatings. Glove selection is also dependent on allergy problems associated with natural latex in the medical field and the glove industry’s response to finding suitable alternatives. Not all commercially available glove types have status allowing food contact. Medical grade gloves do not automatically translate for use in food establishments. FDA regulations recognize that various grades of gloves are available for use by food facilities and considers them to fall under the two main categories, multi-use and single-use gloves. Material durability, strength and cleanability are key factors in distinguishing these gloves. Multi-use gloves most often used in food processing are required to be durable, non-absorbent and resistant to corrosive sanitizers. At the same time they need to have sufficient strength to withstand repeated washing and sanitizing treatments without damage, distortion and/or decomposition. Table 1 lists the various types of gloves commonly used in the food industry. While the gloves discussed in these two articles will focus on those used in food preparation, gloves used as personal protective equipment (PPE) are also important components of successful facility operation. These gloves are used to protect workers from cuts, thermal and chemical injuries. Various materials or combinations thereof are available to perform these specific objectives. Most of these glove types are multi-use in nature and should be cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis to prevent potential cross-contamination within a food operation. Both multi-use and single-use gloves are required to meet composition requirements allowing contact with food. Regulations set forth in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) do not allow migration of deleterious substances, colors, odors or tastes to food. Under 110.10 (b) (5), they are required to be maintained in clean, intact and sanitary conditions. All gloves are considered items that will see repeat contact with food by both FDA and USDA and fall under the indirect food additive regulations described in 21 CFR 177.2600. Therefore, in order to verify FDA status under these regulations, a prolonged two-stage, elevated temperature chemical extraction using water and hexane solvents are required. This test data should be available from glove suppliers as a means of validating regulatory status. In any case, food contact status should be verified from supplier prior to purchase. If single use or disposable gloves are employed, they should be used for one purpose and must be discarded when soiled. They cannot and should not be reused under any circumstances. While numerous studies have shown excellent efficacy at cleaning gloves, generally being far more easily and effectively sanitized than the human hand, disposable gloves do not have the chemical and abrasive durability to make this a viable option. Facilities employing multi-use gloves can make use of cleaning and sanitizing regimens. Frequent washing and sanitizing steps that employ automatic or manual hygiene devices can quickly reinstate sanitary status without necessitating glove change. Used in this manner, these gloves take on the characteristics of a food handling utensil and are recognized as such in the FDA Food Code. Despite being more expensive initially, multi-use gloves can have overall low operational costs often being equivalent to disposable gloves. Here glove contamination is taken as a given and an SSOP is put into place to minimize that risk. Hands can only be washed or sanitized so much before skin damage ensues and there are limits on chemicals that can be utilized for fear of accelerating skin damage. In food processing, durable, sanitizer-resistant gloves can circumvent this limitation in both frequency and strength of antimicrobial compounds utilized. In this manner, cross-contamination involving Listeria monocytogenes, an ever-present concern for food processors, can be controlled within the plant.

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