Last year, health officials in Oregon announced they would adopt the 2009 FDA Retail Food Code, which governs safety regulations about food workers. But last week, officials said that the Oregon Public Health Division Foodborne Illness Prevention Program will not adopt the “No Bare Hand Contact” section of the Code.
Requiring food workers to use gloves is controversial. In 1999, the FDA evaluated the risks of microbiological contamination of foods by food preparation workers in 81 foodborne illness outbreaks, and found that the majority of outbreaks were caused by transmission of the pathogen to the food by worker’s hands. In 66 of the outbreaks (82%), the food worker was the source of the infection. Seventy-five of the outbreaks involved food workers were infectious at the time of the outbreak.
In 14 out of 34 outbreaks where hand contact was the method of transmission, the implicated food worker was not wearing gloves. But the study found that when workers were wearing gloves, the gloves were used improperly. And that’s the issue that restaurateurs had with the new Oregon plan.
Gloves can give foodservice workers a false sense of security. When wearing gloves, that confidence can encourage risky actions. First of all, the warm environment inside the glove is the perfect medium for bacterial growth. And bacteria can get out of the gloves onto the food through the tiniest holes. One study published in the Journal of Food Protection found that workers wash their hands less frequently when wearing gloves. And the longer gloves are worn, the more likely they themselves will become contaminated.
So Oregon Public Health is going to have a workshop of consumers, government inspectors, and restaurant owners to review the Retail Food Code and provide recommendations to reduce contamination of food. You can keep up to date on the progress of this workshop and other information about the Oregon Food Code adoption program by visiting Oregon.gov.