Choosing the Right Gloves for the Foodservice Industry
January 14, 2016
Whether you’re running a high-class restaurant or organizing lunches in a school cafeteria, choosing the perfect gloves to outfit your staff shouldn’t be difficult. But with so many protective gloves out there, it’s easy to get confused about which ones work best for each foodservice application. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the perfect gloves for each job in the foodservice industry.
According to the US Department of Labor, slices, cuts, abrasions, and punctures make up close to 30% of employee lost time and productivity in the US. With about 80% of these accidents involving hand injuries, keeping your employees’ hands safe should be high priority. To do this, you’ll need to choose the right cut resistance for your employees’ protective gloves.
For employees who are assembling sandwiches, the risk of cut or puncture is very low, so cut resistance shouldn’t factor into your decision. But when it comes to applications such as deboning meat, the puncture risk is quite high, and choosing protective gloves with a high level of cut resistance is essential.
The Comfort Factor
In theory, gloves that have a high level of cut resistance are the safest option for any foodservice application. In practice, however, you’ll want to choose a glove that offers the wearer enough comfort and mobility for the job. After all, workers who find their protective gloves to be uncomfortable or unwieldy may end up working barehanded out of frustration. This is called “overgloving.” Finding the perfect balance between comfort and mobility on one hand and cut resistance on the other hand is key to choosing the right glove in the foodservice industry.
Note that for gloves to be as comfortable as possible, they need to be sized correctly. Gloves that are too large can be hard to manipulate, whereas those that are too small can cause hand fatigue. Too-small gloves can also increase perspiration levels and tear easily.
Now that we’ve tackled the comfort vs. cut resistance issue, it’s time to take a look at your basic choices for protective gloves in the food industry. In a nutshell, you’ll be choosing between polyethylene, vinyl, latex, and nitrile gloves.
Polyethylene gloves are the most economical choice, and are perfect for light applications, especially in situations where gloves are changed frequently. They fit loosely, which means that they can be put on and off quickly and easily.
The downsides? PE gloves are made from thin plastic, which means that they can tear easily. They can also fall apart when exposed to heat, which means they’re not a good choice for many cooking-related applications. Instead, choose PE gloves for prepping salads or sandwiches, bagging baked goods, or garnishing plates.
Although vinyl gloves are more expensive than PE gloves, they can be used in a wide variety of applications, and are the most popular glove in the foodservice industry. They can be worn around heat sources and are perfect for most prepwork and cooking applications, including grilling meats, prepping pizzas, sautéing vegetables, and assembling tacos.
Natural Rubber Latex (NRL)
Latex has long been the golden standard of protective glove materials. It has the best sensitivity and dexterity, which is perfect for precision work like cake decorating or rolling sushi. Recently, however, the industry has been moving away from latex gloves due to latex allergies.
Nitrile gloves are one latex-free alternative for applications that require manual dexterity. They are better than vinyl gloves for applications that require dexterity and sensitivity, and are more durable than latex. They are also more cut resistant than vinyl or PE gloves, so if you’re looking for the perfect gloves for chopping meat or handling shellfish, go with nitrile.
A Few Other Details…
Besides the material the glove is made from, you may need to consider a few other factors before making your final choice.
- Gloves with a grip can help with jobs dealing with foods that are wet, smooth, or slippery.
- In some applications, you may want to consider using two different gloves for each of a worker's hands. Knife work often puts the "offhand," or less dominant hand, at greater risk for cuts. Using a glove that is more cut resistant for the offhand can lower that risk.
- For applications involving very high or lower temperatures, insulated gloves can be worn under cut-resistant gloves. Alternatively, cut resistant gloves can be insulated in order to protect from heat, cold, and moisture, as well as cuts.
So overall, there’s no perfect glove for the foodservice industry. Instead, it’s a matter of finding the perfect glove for each application by walking the tightrope between overgloving and undergloving. In other words, choose the type of material that gives you just enough cut resistance for each application without overly compromising on your employee’s comfort.