Glove up or not?
When it comes to gloves and food safety, chefs have a wide variety of opinions.
If you gathered a group of chefs together for a spirited conversation, what do you think would be the topic that would generate the liveliest discussion? The hottest food trends? GMOs in foodstuffs? Pros and cons of salt?
If my recent communications with chefs are any indication, I believe the most contentious topic might be glove usage. After California last year became the latest state to pass a glove usage law, I began to informally survey chefs about their thoughts on glove usage when I visited operations or when I talked with them as I researched various other articles. The comments I’ve received have run the gamut from complete support to total outrage.
Most chefs I’ve spoken with agree on one thing. Many kitchen workers do not use gloves properly. Their sins range from not changing them often enough to changing them too frequently to using them for tasks in which they are unintended.
“One of the mistakes, no doubt about it, is thinking that wearing gloves makes you infallible,” says Steven Plescha, executive chef at Pennswood Village, a retirement community in eastern Pennsylvania.
“The biggest mistake I see is cooks walking around outside the kitchen area wearing their gloves,” adds Darla Mehrkens, catering chef at Carilion Clinic, in Roanoke, Va. “Some cooks take it for granted that just because you are wearing gloves you can touch anything you want and not transfer contaminants to other surfaces or foods.”
Carrie Anderson, executive chef for residential dining services at the University of Illinois, in Normal, agrees. “The biggest mistake I see is staff wearing gloves when they are not handling food,” she says. “For example, a staff member walks away from a prep area to grab a part of his mise en place or to ask a question or even to throw something away and doesn’t remove his gloves.”
But of all the chefs I’ve heard from, one is unabashedly opposed to the use of gloves. If Nicola Torres had his way, gloves wouldn’t be mandated in foodservice establishments; they’d be banned.
“They are useless in regard to serving food more safely,” Torres says. “Most of the time they are being misused by staff, which leads to a false sense of security or safety. That is actually worse.”
His other objections to gloves? “They could be a financial burden, especially for a small business, without the guarantee of better safety. They impair cooks in regard to our sense of touch. If you are not careful while cutting, a piece of glove can be cut and mixed in with the food and go unnoticed.”
Torres doesn’t deny that gloves can be useful. He sees the value of wearing gloves if a cook has an open wound, or if a chef is working with certain foods like fish or onions, the smell of which “can stay with you for some time.”
The bottom line, according to Torres, is that food safety comes down to education and reinforcement. “I’m all for ending the use of gloves and training and disciplining staff on washing hands as much as possible,” he suggests. “After all, by law you must wash your hands before and in between glove usage.”
Readers, what are your thoughts? Is Nicola Torres on the right track? Give me your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.