Can reusable gloves be used in food processing?
We're seeing a dramatic and rapid paradigm shift toward reusable products to lessen our impact on the environment. This raises a difficult question: are reusable gloves safe to use in all contexts?
In the food processing industry, gloves serve two purposes: protecting the worker and protecting the food. Since cross-contamination and hygiene are critical issues, reusable gloves are not the best choice for this type of work.
To see why, let's look at a simple example. Suppose a food processing plant employee handles raw meat one moment, and then raw vegetables the next. Cross-contamination between the meat and vegetables is a serious concern, and the worker’s gloves must be completely void of any trace of raw meat when handling the vegetables. The gloves could be washed, but no amount of washing can guarantee that all traces of the meat have been removed. The only way to ensure it entirely is for the worker to change gloves altogether.
The effectiveness of washing gloves depends on many factors, and there’s no easy way to tell when a glove is completely clean. In a study in the Journal of Food Protection, researchers found that even with a thorough, time-consuming five step washing process, glove decontamination is never absolute.
So if reusable gloves should not be used in food processing applications, what should?
Vinyl or PVC gloves are the most popular choice, as they as inexpensive and conform to the hand more loosely than materials like latex and nitrile. While vinyl isn’t the most durable of materials, it is deemed suitable to meet food industry standards and a great option for those working in jobs that require food processing or handling.
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