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The gloves are on

HACCP Australia's Karen Constable discusses the pros and cons for wearing gloves in relation to food safety and worker protection.

Gloves have two main purposes in the food industry; to protect food from contamination from human hands and to protect workers from occupational hazards, such as microorganisms, cuts, chemical burns and thermal shocks. In some instances a glove performs both of these roles at the same time.

Gloves purchased for protecting food are usually single-use or disposable gloves, whereas gloves for personal protection purposes are more likely to be re-useable. When choosing gloves, factors to consider include thickness, durability, elasticity, exterior texture, coatings, antibacterial additives and interior linings or treatments.

Disposable gloves are commonly made from latex, vinyl, nitrile or polyethylene co-polymer, with vinyl and polyethylene gloves being the cheaper options. Polyethylene (PE) gloves are very loose fitting, easy to tear and not suitable for applications involving heat. Vinyl (PVC) gloves provide a snugger fit, which improves dexterity; however they also have low durability. Nitrile and latex gloves are more durable and have good elasticity, which provides comfort and dexterity. Each of these different glove types has different chemical resistance properties, with PE and vinyl gloves showing little resistance to alcohol, and latex unsuitable for use with animal fats and oils.

Re-usable gloves for food contact applications are most commonly made from natural rubber. Nitrile re-usable gloves are a more expensive option, but provide added advantages, such as better strength, cut resistance and chemical resistance.

While the use of gloves can provide benefits to both food and safety and occupational safety, there are potential food safety risks associated with their use. The foremost risk is one of cross-contamination from a dirty glove surface. Most consumers are familiar with the sight of gloved food handler collecting cash at the sandwich counter. A common phrase among food safety experts is 'a clean hand is better than a dirty glove'.

The second risk to food safety is that of physical contamination of food by whole gloves or pieces of broken glove. Blue coloured gloves are a good choice for processing applications where gloves could get into mixers, vats or conveying systems.

The third risk to food safety is that of chemical contamination caused by migration of chemicals from the gloves into food that they contact. Due to the nature of the compounds found in gloves, migration is more likely to occur when gloves are in contact with fatty, acidic or alcoholic foods for more than a few seconds.

Control of microbial and physical contamination hazards from gloves is easily achieved using good hygiene systems, food handler traning, and GMP protocols. However, hazards arising from chemical contamination are not generally well understood.

Food safety laws state that equipment for food contact must be 'made of material that will not contaminate food', however more detailed requirements are not described in the legislation. In practice, most glove suppliers use the requirements of the US FDA as a guide to choosing materials which are acceptable for food contact use. The US FDA's Code of Federal Regulations provides long lists of materials which are permitted for use in food contact articles, including gloves. Additives used during glove manufacture, such as plasticizers, vulcanizing agents and accelerators are also regulated. Plasticizers used int he production of PVC items have attracted much negative attention lately, with a commonly used plasticizer now classified as a toxicant by the EU.

The Code of Federal Regulations and directives of the European Union also define acceptable migration limits for food contact materials. Migration tests typically involve immersing the material in a solvent or a food simulant for given times and temperatures and measuring the level(s) of extractives.

Choosing gloves which meet the requirement of the US FDA or the appropriate EU directives can provide assurance that chemical migration will be minimised. However, when inspecting marketing material for gloves, be aware that many of the standards, directives and regulations pertaining to gloves are specific only to parameters such as physical performance, dimensions, tensile strength and dermatological reaction risks. It is possible to purchase gloves which conform with many quality and performance standards but which are not compliant with chemical migration regulations.

"Article from /bulletins/Issue 12 2010, Karen Constable"


RCR International has an extensive range of HACCP endorsed gloves, including vinyl, latex, nitrile, polyethylene and rubber gloves. All of which are well suited for use in the food industry. For full product range please visit our website at