To glove or not to glove, that is the question

Recently the health department in Lincoln, NE has recommended a “no bare hands” policy for area restaurants. With all the news surrounding Chipotle’s woes over the norovirus, this department determined that banning bare hands is an effective way to combat the transmission of food related illness. 

In my career, I have heard lots of conflicting opinions on glove usage and it spurred me to do some additional research. 

Here is what I learned: There is simply no consensus on gloves! So we thought a little pro and con for both sanitation methods would be in order

Pros and cons of glove use

Let’s start with gloves. The upsides are fairly obvious, but the downsides take a little more appreciation of how a real restaurant operates.

Glove Use Cons:

  1. Provides a false sense of security for operators
  2. Are rarely used property
  3. Reduces the number of hand washes which creates more risk
  4. Has a fairly terrible environmental impact
  5. Slows and changes service if all staff that touches uncooked food must wear gloves
  6. Expensive to implement when gloves are used and changed according to a proper schedule

Glove Use Pros:

  1. Reduces the incidence of food handler transmitted illnesses like the norovirus
  2. Is a faster way to insure hand cleanliness than the same number of hand washes as glove changes
  3. Gives a perception to guests that sanitation is a priority with the restaurant
  4. Covers any wounds or flaking skin (I know, gross, right?)



There has been a growing outcry to rely on gloves as the fix for every sanitation problem and there are obvious reasons why. Unfortunately, they are mostly for perception and gloves alone can actually become a detriment. However, bare handed work introduces its own perils

Pros and cons of bare hand use

Bare Hands Cons

  1. You MUST wash your hands often and when it’s busy it can be forgotten
  2. Requires consistent reminders and training on sanitation systems and process
  3. May require additional hand sink infrastructure or sanitation facilities

Bare Hands Pros:

  1. Food service and preparation people claim that with no gloves they maintain a better feel and control of their actions reducing accidents
  2. Staff is more aware of the need to wash their hands and feel less invincible
  3. Frequent handwashing creates the most sanitary situation

Interestingly, California (often a leader in new safety regulation) repealed a bill that required mandatory glove usage in restaurants. Chefs universally rose up against it. Jamie Oliver of TV Chef Fame made the case strongly against glove use during his Food Revolution TV series (watch the clip here, 49-58 seconds). 

It’s all about awareness and training

Other chefs decry the environmental and cost profile of glove use, not to mention they didn’t believe it made food service safer. 

Iso Rabins, founder of a business incubator for food makers in San Francisco said, "This law would have made people less safe because of a false sense of security. You're less aware of your hands being dirty and more likely to engage in risky behavior. You touch chicken, touch the trash, touch something else!” 

Additionally Mary Fitzgerald of Safe & Sound Food Safety Consultants added, “The good thing that came out of this is awareness. There should be more emphasis on training and not whether gloves are used or not.”

The part that gets lost in this conversation is the real world of operations. Most of us have only a few instances when hands are in direct contact with food, raw or cooked. Utensils also need to be regularly cleaned and sanitized because they are far more often in contact with food and therefore present an extended risk after hand contact.

The only conclusion I offer is that a mix of glove use and bare hand sanitation is likely the answer. Gloves are a great choice when handling prep items, where it’s more likely you will touching raw foods. Change them whenever you complete a specific produce prep item. This will insure your team isn’t coming in contact with any foodborne pathogens or that you are cross contaminating any other products. 

However, when it comes to cooked foods, use utensils and have a sanitizing facility in place to insure they aren’t causing any additional risk. And don’t forget to change your service towels and aprons often to insure they don’t contribute to spreading of disease. You will look better to guests as well.

Common sense is the key factor in managing sanitation. Limit the circumstances under which your team’s contacts food with their hands, keep your stations clean at all times, and drive your team to maintain their own personal cleanliness. 

These are a few ingredients in the secret sauce of keeping a sanitary kitchen, but use a spoon to taste it, please.