The global shortage of single-use gloves due to the demands of the coronavirus will continue well into 2021. Malaysia, the leading manufacturer of single-use gloves, is supported by its country’s glove manufacturers body, Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA), which recently stated that, while glove prices have soared and demand is overwhelming, the industry’s supply is fully booked until early 2021.
MARGMA is warning buyers to be vigilant to fraudulent agents and distributors offering what it calls “ridiculous” prices with a promise to cut short delivery time. The shortage is also causing a flood of poor and reject quality gloves to hit the market, causing potential food safety implications.
Single-use gloves should provide the wearer with a barrier protection against food and pathogens, thereby playing an important role in the prevention of cross-contamination. Within the food industry, however, pre-COVID-19 scientific data implicate glove cross-contamination in 16% of all foodborne illness cases in the U.S. and, as more poor quality gloves flood the market, food safety risks will likely increase.
Here are several recommendations to mitigate the current and future food safety and supply chain risks of single-use gloves.
Ensure Gloves Are Compliant for Food Handling
FDA-compliant food contact gloves must consist of “substances generally recognized as safe for use in food or food packaging.” However, letters of compliance and guarantee on the glove submitted for testing are not necessarily for the glove you have purchased.
There are few controls required for glove manufacturing relating to the reliability and consistency of raw materials, manufacturing processes, and factory compliance. In addition, glove manufacturers are able to achieve FDA certification and then alter manufacturing and hygiene practices and raw materials to save costs. Cheap raw materials lower glove strength and durability, increasing the rate of glove failures (ripping), and can contain toxic compounds that can migrate to glove users’ skin and food products.
These cost-saving alternatives are more prevalent than ever. Pressure to meet manufacturing demand has also led to the repacking of reject quality gloves, which previously were either disposed of or recycled for raw materials.
Purchase from a reputable supplier with quality systems in place to ensure glove quality consistency and FDA-compliant requirements.
Purchase with Quality, Not Cost, in Mind
Purchasing decisions made on glove cost alone can threaten food safety programs. As glove suppliers let their customers down, either due to being unprepared for the sudden increase in demand or upselling to other buyers at greater margins, sourcing a quality glove is challenging, yet paramount for food safety.
Several glove types are available for food handling, each with varying degrees of barrier protection. The most commonly used are vinyl gloves due to their cheap price point. Vinyl gloves, however, have limited durability and rip and puncture easily compared to nitrile, increasing the risk of bacterial and viral cross-contamination. Vinyl gloves are not a food-safe choice.
Price should not be the only determining factor for glove selection; scientifically based food-safe selection is essential. Purchase quality nitrile gloves to help protect against pathogen cross-contamination and, with reduced usage, you will not necessarily increase your overall glove costs per month.
Labor Violations in Glove Manufacturing
Labor rights abuse in disposable glove manufacturing has been regularly reported for many years. With added pressure on glove manufacturers to meet the current increase in demand, reports of labor abuse and exploitation against some of the biggest global manufacturers are making news again.
Because of forced labor concerns, the U.S. banned the import of surgical gloves from two subsidiaries of the world’s largest glove manufacturer, as of July 15, 2020. The ban affects about half of the company’s sales to the United States, products which will likely be sent to countries without anti-slavery laws.