Fighting Foodborne Illness: The Gloves Are On

Chef cutting vegetables

Flu season is almost upon us, which means proper hand hygiene—good  hand washing and proper glove use—are  top ways to prevent the spread of germs. Germs that cause colds, flu, norovirus, and other illnesses largely spread via human contact, and mostly by hands.

Experts estimate that hands transmit up to 80 percent of all infections. They are such an effective mover of germs that the Centers for Disease Control has launched the Clean Hands Save Lives campaign nationwide to encourage Americans to wash hands early and often during flu season.

While washing hands is your first – and best – defense against the spread of germs, gloves offer protection against the spread of illnesses. “They create a barrier between the hands and food,” says Jessie Waalkes, RD, of the  Gordon Food Service Nutrition Resource Center. 

The purpose of gloves, she stresses, is to prevent food from being contaminated with germs that cause illness.

4 Tips to Prevent Foodborne Illness

1) Start With Hands

Gloves hold no magic protective power. The magic lies in using them correctly. To start, gloves need to cover clean hands. Think about how you put on gloves—one hand pulls them over the other. If that hand isn’t clean, your dirty hands get the gloves dirty, Waalkes points out. To wash hands properly, use soap and warm water, wash for at least 15–20 seconds and include your wrists, backs of your hands, and fingernails, then dry thoroughly with a clean, disposable towel. Use the towel to open the restroom door to avoid re-contaminating your hands.

2) Choose the Right Gloves

The next step, according to the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe® program: Select the right-size gloves for your hands. If they’re too small, they’ll be uncomfortable and will tear easily. If they’re too large, they’ll slip off. Make sure the gloves are in perfect condition—no rips or tears. Most foodservice gloves are latex, but non-latex varieties are available for the safety of workers and clients who are allergic to latex.

3) Apply Gloves Correctly

To put on gloves, hold them by their edges—the part that wraps around the wrists—to avoid contact with the surface area of the gloves. 

4) Working With Gloves

Once the gloves are on, behave as if you are working with bare hands. That means anytime you touch your hair or face, blow your nose, or go to the restroom, start with fresh gloves. Discard the old pair, wash your hands, and put on a new pair. Change gloves when switching tasks in the kitchen, say going from vegetable prep to taking out the garbage to moving to tray makeup. Also change gloves when they become visibly dirty or torn, and after an interruption in work, such as taking a phone call, and after touching dirty dishes.

Speaking of bare hands, they should never, ever touch “ready to eat” food that’s going straight to a consumer, Waalkes advises. Uncooked food, say raw meat, can be handled with clean, bare hands, but wash them and put gloves on before moving to another station.

Sometimes, even gloves aren’t enough to protect the food and the people you serve from cold and flu germs. If you have a fever, are vomiting, or have diarrhea, stay home from work or ask to work in a non-food environment. Those extreme circumstances aside, gloves do offer excellent protection against flu and other germs—as long as they’re put on clean hands, changed frequently, and used correctly.

For More Information

Contact the Gordon Food Service Nutrition Resource Center at for assistance with your food-safety questions or concerns.

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