On January 1st of this year, a new California law rolled out requiring all food industry employees who come in contact with ready-to-eat food, including bartenders, to wear vinyl gloves while working. The belief is that this will dramatically reduce the transmission of foodborne viruses and bacteria in food to diners. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne illness, otherwise known as food poisoning, affects 48 million people a year. The most common pathogens that travel through food are Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, E. Coli 0157, Vibrio, and Yersinia. These viruses can be deadly, even in small amounts.
Unfortunately, gloves are not the solution and even give a false sense of safety to both the food industry employee, and the person being served.
The other day I stopped into a popular sandwich chain to grab a healthy 6" veggie sub. I watched the young woman who was wearing vinyl gloves expertly make my sandwich. She layered each slice of cheese and leaf of spinach like she was creating a culinary masterpiece. She added just the right amount of mustard and dressing and wrapped my sandwich like she was swaddling a new born.
Then it was time to pay. She walked to register and without taking off her gloves, inputted my order. "That will be $6.11." I held out a ten dollar bill and she took it, still without removing her gloves, and counted the change back to me in ones and coins. I said "thank you," she said, "you're welcome," and she was off to help the next customer with his sandwich…and with the same pair of plastic gloves.
I'm sure that you've seen this happen plenty of times too. It doesn't take a scientist to tell me that my dining experience didn't get any safer because of her gloves. It may have got worse. I bet that if she hadn't been wearing gloves, she would have instinctually washed her hands after making my sandwich in order to get the mustard smear and avocado chunk off of her hand.
There was a night at the bar when I sliced my finger well enough to wear a vinyl glove on one hand. I though it'd be a good idea to have something covering the bandaid as a precaution. All night long people suspiciously asked me what had happened to my hand, and seemed a little off-put by that glove. And between the clearing of plates, touching of money, and squeezing of limes, I constantly had to put a new glove on. I must have gone through half a box of gloves that night in an effort to keep my one glove clean for making drinks. But as a bartender, when you've got a constant stream of alcohol, juice, beer, wine, citrus, and cherry juice running down your hands and arms, all you do is wash your hands! My hands became so dry that cortisone became my favorite hand lotion. If I had had to wear those gloves every night, two things would have happened. I either would have abandoned them completely (which is most likely), or I would have slowed way down in my diligence, changing gloves less and less out of convenience. On a busy night behind the bar, you cut every corner you can to get those drinks out quickly.
Have you even seen someone wash their vinyl gloved hands with soap and water? And then there's the whole environmental argument. If there are hundreds of thousands of bartenders going through hundreds of thousands of vinyl gloves every night on the job, what does that look like for California land fills?
California lawmakers made a mistake with this new mandate. It's boosting the chances of foodborne illnesses. Fortunately, our state doesn't have the budget to pay vinyl glove police, and I'm guessing this law may eventually be tossed aside and permanently disregarded, just like a pair of used plastic gloves.