Plastic Food Prep Gloves: neither Sanitary nor Necessary.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Aug 10, 2010
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When did we equate plastic with health?

First of all, plastic is forever. It breaks down, but never decomposes, and it’s easily consumed by animals, and fish, which we love to consume. It’s linked to cancer. And there’s an island of it the size of a couple Texases in the middle of the Pacific. Plastic? It’s bad. We should only use it when we have no other choice.


Now, many restaurants and kitchens have no choice: they’re required by law to wear plastic gloves. What got me thinking about these silly, pointless accoutrements of modern government-encouraged OCD? After all, aren’t germs actually good for us—they help build up our natural immune systems? Don’t we all know to wash our hands, particularly during cold season? And aren’t plastic-glove wearing cooks touching lots of unsanitary things with those plastic gloves—which have germ-breeding wrinkles in ’em, anyways?

Finally, isn’t it odd that we’re worried about germs, but not about eating “conventional,” untested genetically-modified food sprayed with pesticides (fancy word for poison)? It seems, on the one hand, that we’re uptight about germs…and on the other hand, cavalier about disease and cancer.

What got me thinking about this hypocritical, pointless plastic glove virus, that’s spreading nationally? Jamie Oliver, whose offhand comment during one of his top-rated Food Revolution shows: “they’re dirtier than your hands” rang my brain like a bell.

Excerpt from one of hundreds of articles criticizing plastic gloves:

…[Since a] plastic glove has tiny wrinkles, it acts as storage area for contamination and pathogens.

Many states have passed laws that require food handlers to wear gloves, and requiring food handlers to wear gloves offers a false sense of security to consumers because the sight of gloves makes the food preparation process look clean and sanitary when it actually isn’t. Many people don’t notice that the person making their food is also touching contaminated objects and surfaces while wearing the same pair of gloves.

Where does this leave us regarding sanitation of our restaurant food? A report by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority suggests that proper hand washing is much more hygienic than wearing gloves. The report states that wearing plastic gloves tempts food handlers to wash their hands less frequently because they can’t feel when something gets on their hands. The report also advocates that laws and restaurants not require food handlers to wear gloves, and that most food can be touched with bare hands provided the food handler has thoroughly washed and dried his or her hands immediately prior to handling the food.

Perhaps the answer lies in the use of other “barrier” methods such as forks, spoons, scoops, and tongs. Each time a food handler that is wearing gloves touches a surface besides food, those gloves are contaminated whereas other barriers such as utensils don’t touch other contaminated surfaces as often…read the rest here.

What do you all think? I know some gloves are latex, but like latex condoms, doubt that they’re actually disposable or compostable.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


9 Responses to “Plastic Food Prep Gloves: neither Sanitary nor Necessary.”

  1. elephantjournal says:

    Thanks for the respectful critique, Chris.

    I'm exposed to plenty of germs from light-switches, hugs, door knobs, living, loving. The point of the above is to put into question the use of something meant to prevent germs that does no such thing, but merely adds a great deal of perma-waste to our landfills, and eventually contributes to the poisoning of our world, and, yes, ourselves.

  2. elephantjournal says:


    Daniela Kunz Makes sense. Thanks for sharing

    Petite Puce absolutely agree. thank you.

    Carolyn Long Interesting. It's a hard problem to fix, especially in terms of people who wear gloves for food prep in front of customers at a restaurant. If an employee washes her hands before every sandwich she assembles, and she serves fifty people a day, that's a bit damaging to the skin. In cases when hand-washing could get out of hand, I think looking for a biodegradable alternative to plastic gloves is the best short-term solution.

    # Thanks, Carolyn. Generally gloves don't seem to be about protecting people's hands, but rather customer's warped sense of cleanliness. I worked in a prep kitchen at Karme Choling, preparing meals for hundreds and hundreds of folks a day back in late eighties early nineties, and we didn't use gloves. Somehow, people survived back then.

    Catherine Rustman like the people who think it is gross to touch money and food if you work at a place that serves food, however they never seem to wash their own hands in between paying you and eating.

    Rebecca Shields Pappas I think gloves are absurd in most cases, and refuse to wear them.

    Sidney Cannon Get rid of the gloves!!!

    Pam McGuffey A lady I often see shopping at the grocery store where I shop wears gloves (and a mask). Maybe she's onto something; the customers should wear the gloves.

    Jennifer Flor i live in Vancouver, BC…gloves aren't required by law here. makes so much sense!

  3. Searching for this for some time now – i guess luck is more advanced than search engines 🙂

  4. Dan says:

    I would wear gloves when handling food for two reasons:

    1) Keeping your hands in damp food (lettuce, tomatoes, etc.) all day will eventually damage them and your nails.
    2) The pesticides you would be absorbing through contact with non-organic food would add up to problems. Even cashiers who handle receipts have very elevated levels of BPA in their blood vs. the general public.

    Bonus reason why would want the person preparing my food to wear gloves… they likely DIDN'T wash their hands well enough after exiting the washing and they certainly weren't wearing their gloves to use the can.

  5. iwantacleanbagel says:

    I definately want the person buttering my bagel or making my sandwich to wear gloves. I feel like if they're handling cash, that has been proven to have everything on it from drugs to botchilism to human feces, I dont want them making my food with those hands. Also, I dont know these people. They could be in the habit of touching their face, or sneezing, or have herpes and bite their nails. In a perfect world, we would all be perfectly hygenic, but in reality, most people are pretty nasty and have subpar hygene. They dont think anything is wrong with biting their nails and then using those same fingers to pick up a totmato and put it on my sandwich. It's disgusting. I understand the point made with cross contaminating the gloves, so I always ask for a new pair. I also understand the environmental effects, but if you have a problem with plastic gloves, do you also have an issue with disposable tampons or feminine pads which are also used with plastic. Should we find a way to re-use pads so as to not contribute to landfills? Plastic gloves should be absolutely required and new ones should be used if the food preparer touches anything other than food (eg – money).

  6. Rob says:

    I'd prefer having the food handler with no gloves. Many European countries do not use gloves, and they are just fine. It should be required to wash one's hands after handling money, or using some type of anti-bacterial liquid. Many people don't change their gloves either….. ewww.

  7. Jon says:

    Your finishing thought was my first – that many wear the gloves, but touch unsanitary things anyway. In this case, wearing gloves or not wearing gloves will not solve the issue of an unsanitary worker, contributing to an unsanitary restaurant. Some places are just horrible and disgusting, and gloves won't solve that problem. We just need to be more particular about where we choose to eat.

  8. Thomas says:

    Is there something wrong with the following?

    Assuming there are about 60 mill people in the US workforce and about 1/3 is in either the food industry, the security industry (airports, police), or the health care industry, that could mean that 20 mill people would use plastic gloves daily. I would doubt its only one, an average of about 10 may not be overstating it. That would make 200 millions per day and 200 billions in three years.

    Assuming the same in Europe, the same in Asia, and the same in the rest of the world, makes 600 bill worldwide in three years. Do we want that?

  9. Adair says:

    I worked in a restaurant where I disposed of around 20 pairs of gloves per shift. I am so relieved to be out of that waste hole. It’s sad to think of how much waste (not biodegradable) that is accumulated from one restaurant, let alone the thousands of thousands elsewhere. I now work at an organic food restaurant. No gloves, minimal waste, healthy hygiene. Washing hands is definitely important. Being mindful and knowing when to wash your hands is absolutely important. It is the consumer’s responsibility to make wise choices- what and where you eat.