In June, 2014, a California law was repealed which would have required restaurant kitchen employees to use gloves at all times during food preparation. The law was motivated by sanitary concerns, but there are many other reasons to use disposable gloves in food businesses as well. Disposable gloves enable employees to handle foods with high bacterial counts without contaminating the next dish they touch. They can also prevent strong smells, such as garlic, from sticking to employees’ hands and influencing the flavor of other dishes. As a result, they enable employees to handle different foods without washing their hands as often as would be required without gloves, preventing drying out and cracking of the skin. Additionally, gloves provide a layer of protection, preventing employees with allergies to certain foods from having an allergic reaction when handling that food. The reasons for using disposable gloves are almost as vast as the materials in which disposable gloves are available. Many different material options are available, each with a set of pros and cons. Having a few options on hand is usually the most convenient solution for food service venues.
Different materials have different permeability. The protection and comfort a certain material offers will determine the options for use of disposable gloves made with that material. Gloves with low permeability can be used when working with possible contaminants and cleaning products which may be damaging to the skin, since they offer a high level of protection. On the other hand, gloves with higher permeability will be adequate for food preparation, where the main concerns are cleanliness and odors. It is important to note that most disposable and non-disposable gloves should not be used when working with fire or ovens. Melted gloves will stick to skin increasing the severity of burns.
Latex gloves are one of the least expensive and most versatile options available in disposable gloves. They are also probably the most popular. Latex is effective in protecting against most chemicals typically used in kitchens, as well as preventing food odors and bacteria from being transferred from surface to surface through contact. (Of course, prevention of odors and cross-contamination will only be efficient if the employee switches pairs of gloves when moving on to work on a different dish or
ingredient.) Latex is prepared from natural materials and is biodegradable, making latex gloves a great option for environmentally conscious, or sustainable, venues. The main downside to latex gloves is that many people are allergic to latex material, making them less than ideal as the sole option in food businesses.
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Nitrile gloves can be used for all the same purposes as latex gloves. As an added benefit, people are not commonly allergic to nitrile (though allergies do exist), so nitrile gloves can appeal to a broader range of employees. On the downside, nitrile gloves tend to be more expensive than latex gloves and slightly less flexible, which makes for a less comfortable fit.
Vinyl gloves are very common in the food industry, due to their inexpensiveness. Cafeteria workers often serve food while wearing these gloves. However, beyond food preparation they are not ideal, due to their permeability to chemicals and inflexibility. Vinyl gloves are considered relatively uncomfortable and offer low protection, but their low price makes them a convenient choice for basic food preparation purposes.
Neoprene gloves are a relatively expensive option for disposable gloves, so they are rarely seen in most food businesses. The thickness of the material makes neoprene gloves more durable than latex, nitrile, and vinyl alternatives. They can be ideal for use in washing expensive glasses and china, since the material is slip-resistant to a certain extent. Additionally, the flexibility of nitrile gloves makes them comfortable fit. The benefits to using neoprene gloves are usually not enough to justify their high cost, and as a result they are not often used in professional food preparation.
Various disposable glove options exist in addition to those described above. Each type of glove has both advantages and disadvantages. Having a few options on hand is usually the best solution for professional kitchens, meeting the various needs of the kitchen as well as the staff. When selecting which disposable gloves to keep on hand, businesses should keep permeability and comfort, as well as price, in mind.