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Protect Your Operation Against Cross-Contamination

“Foodborne illness” are not words that restaurants and other foodservice owners ever want to hear. Protecting customers against the dangers such as “restroom germs” as E. coli, staphylococcus, giardia, Hepatitis A, norovirus, and shigella—as well as such pathogens as salmonella—is crucial.

Any outbreak of foodborne illness can sicken dozens of customers as well as seriously imperil a business’ reputation. The cost of recovering from such an occurrence has put many smaller foodservice operators under while severely damaging such giants as Chipotle, whose value dropped by $8 billion even before it paid a $25 million fine after more than 1,100 people became ill eating its food between 2015 and 2018.

Safe food handling begins with proper hand hygiene. If employees who touch food are not pristine about washing their hands, there is not much point in pursuing other means of protection. In New York and most other states, for instance, foodservice workers are required to wash their hands:

  • before starting work;
  • before putting on single-use gloves;
  • after touching raw, fresh, or frozen beef, poultry, fish, or other meat;
  • after mopping, sweeping, removing garbage, or using the telephone;
  • after using the bathroom;
  • after smoking, eating, sneezing, or drinking;
  • after touching anything that might result in contamination of hands.

This, of course, involves more than just running a squirt of hand soap and some lukewarm water over them. According to the N.Y. publication, “Thorough hand washing is done by vigorously rubbing together the surfaces of lathered hands and arms for at least 20 seconds, followed by a thorough rinse with clean water. Use a single-service towel or hot air dryer to dry hands.”

No half-measures, please. Wash with gusto!

For real protection against contamination, more than clean hands is required. Single-use disposable gloves are an excellent choice for serving food, especially ready-to-eat food such as raw fresh fruit and vegetables, salads and salad ingredients, cold meats and sandwiches, bread, and baked goods, garnishes placed on plates, and any other food that will not be thoroughly cooked or reheated after it is prepared.

The FDA Food Code, most recently updated in 2022, spells out that wearing single-use gloves is not a substitute for hand-washing, or vice-versa. The two practices should be used in tandem, and gloves should be changed frequently when they become damaged or soiled, after 4 hours of wear, or after handling raw foods.

Gloves should be worn for a single task. A foodservice employee should never handle money, take out trash, or perform other tasks and return to handling ready-to-eat food without changing their gloves.

Important considerations for gloves should include:

Proper fit: Too-loose gloves can cause injuries as well as allow contamination to spread, while too-tight gloves lead to hand strain (and an urge to remove them).

Proper material: While a 1-mil poly glove might be suitable for assembling a sandwich, a nitrile or vinyl glove of at least 3 mils is better suited to more complex tasks. Nitrile has an advantage in that it is more form-fitting than vinyl and therefore offers greater dexterity.

Comfort: A comfortable glove that provides adequate grip and tactile sense will increase employee compliance. Nitrile is again the choice here, as latex—the most comfortable glove material—is ill-suited for working with food because of concerns about aggravating latex allergies.

Foodservice operators can put a great deal of time, effort, and money into protecting against cross-contamination, but if employees do not follow simple rules without exception, it can all go for naught—and lead to widespread illness and financial loss.

Content courtesy of AMMEX