The use of gloves for food preparation has been widely debated in many food service industries. We are no different in the corporate aviation industry. Working in the aviation industry for the last eighteen years. I have yet to come across an aviation department or an aircraft operator that does not insist on the use of gloves during food preparation.
Wearing gloves does not equate to good food hygiene practice, quite the opposite in fact, what they do offer is a false sense of confidence. It is a fact, gloves do not get changed as often as they should, (I have seen his first hand) Although they are meant to act as a barrier between the wearer and the food, wearing gloves has been documented as “contributing to the spread of pathogenic bacteria and fecal coliforms” let me expand a little here . I am not contentiously suggesting that we instruct our Flight Attendants not to wear Food Preparation Gloves, if there is an insistence for the use of them as standard procedure; there is a set of principles that must be followed. Without these we actually risk creating a much larger problem, by actively risking cross contamination and reducing good effective hygiene practices.
1) Gloves can become infected with pathogenic bacteria just as hands can, they have to be changed frequently to avoid cross contamination. Just as hand washing must be carried out in certain circumstances, before food related duties, starting food preparation, before working with high risk foods, after touching the face, hair, raw food, visiting the toilet, coughing, sneezing etc. If a person is wearing gloves they have to be changed accordingly and hands washed in between thoroughly.
2 ) Before starting any food preparation duties, hands must be thoroughly washed in the proper manner. I don’t mean a quick dribble under the tap. If this were not carried out properly, any pathogenic bacteria present on the hand would simply be transferred to glove and ultimately to the food source. (It is a fact that the human hand is one of the biggest vehicles of contamination).
3) The conditions underneath the gloves, create the ideal warm, moist conditions necessary for the multiplication of pathogenic bacteria. If hands are not washed properly this could result in this the bacteria multiplying on our very hands underneath, which could be harmful to us and or transfer to the actual food, should the glove split etc.
4) Are the gloves sterile? it is standard for large “dusty” boxes of latex type gloves to be used. Fact, strains of bacteria can be found all around us, in the atmosphere, surfaces, soil, water, on humans, animals etc, and especially in dust. A corporate aircraft is a magnet for dust – this also leads me to the next point.
5) Passenger allergies, what if one of our passengers was potentially allergic to the latex or some of the materials used in the gloves? We could be risking further complications, which could range from mild to extremely severe.
According to a 2007 study in the Journal of Food Protection, hand washing was less likely to occur with activities in which gloves were worn. Research carried out in the United Kingdom in 2010, concluded that gloved hands can contribute as much, if not more, bacteria to foods than bare hands. That same year, an American study in a fast-food outlet discovered twice as much coliform bacteria was present in tortilla samples handled by gloved workers compared to those with bare hands. So there are arguments to and for wearing gloves. In fact certain states in the USA such as LA since Jan 2014 mandate it.
Very simply the bottom line is wearing gloves does not prevent the transmission of pathogenic bacteria, in fact it is the practices of the person wearing the gloves that are effective. Proper hand washing is key. If we insist our crews wear food preparation gloves, ensure they are sent on the frontline with the proper food safety training and the resources required. Ensure they are fully versed on good hygiene practice, the frequency of changing gloves, and understand that it is their food handling practices that are key, gloves alone are not the answer.