The NY Times ran an article yesterday about the use of gloves in the kitchen. It was only a few short weeks ago that our local Health Department official visited the restaurant, and at this time I was reprimanded personally for putting on gloves without first washing my hands. I inquired as to weather I was expected to wash my hands each and every time I put on latex gloves, and the answer was a strong ‘yes’. I decided to dive further into this discussion with the official as to why at this point just plain washing my hands isn’t enough? At this point I got a head shake, and a threat of, "do you want me to find it in the code," which I took as, "leave me alone or I’ll throw the book at you." The ironic underlying of the whole situation is that the gloves where not meant to protect the integrity of the food, raw beef tenderloin in this case. Rather the gloves where intended to keep my hands clean.
I find it in a small way troubling that no place in this Times piece is the health or well being of the glove wearer taken as a priority. It seems logical to me that anyone lacking malicious intentions would want to keep themselves clean in the kitchen, even if it is for completely self-serving reasons. I know when my hands are dirty and need to be washed, I can feel it. I also know that I don’t want beef blood, or fish scales, or oil/butter from prepared foods all over my hands, quickly traveling to everything I touch.
The danger really is on the gloves. The kitchen is a crazy place, where standardization, and sanitation are very important. The heating and cooling of things, the organization of storage, the cleanliness of utensils are all very well overlooked by the Health Department. The cleanliness of my hands seems just too much like common sense. Personally, I find I wear gloves most often to protect my hands from getting dirty, thus when I do touch food with bare hands they are clean. If I am wearing gloves and I restock the line, I might put my gloved hands in two or three different containers, not even realizing that there are some lentils on the gloves when I dig into the white rice pan. Now if I felt that lentil I would have washed it away most assuredly. Finally lets imagine that this well traveled lentil was a wicked case of salmonella?!?!
I think the mandatory use of gloves should be implemented in certain occasions. Specifically where frequent hand washing is not easy, for instance on a buffet line, large scale catering, or professional cooking outdoors. I like the ability to use latex gloves at my discretion, and I would find it disturbing if due to allergies the Health department decided to ban latex gloves. In the restaurant we deal with a multitude of allergies, this is just one more we need to be aware of. I think it is the Health department duty to keep not only the restaurant consumer healthy, but the restaurant worker healthy with regards to personal cleanliness. And in turn I think a restaurant workers personal cleanliness is something he or she should be solely responsible for, and held accountable for with or without the use of latex gloves. The best case scenario at this point is educating people about the most effective ways to keep themselves clean and safe in the kitchen.