Under California's new food safety law, restaurant workers who handle food that will be served uncooked must wear gloves. Not only cooks, but bartenders who handle ice or fruit garnishes will be affected. And of course sushi chefs. While the effectiveness of the law will be debated for a long time, we'd like to concentrate on the best types of gloves for the workers and how many they will use.
As a former fish butcher I've worked long hours wearing gloves in a professional kitchen. During the two years I was head butcher at the Blue Water Grill in Manhattan I wore disposable nitrile gloves for a couple reasons. One was the smell. After handling fish, oysters, lobsters, and shrimp for 10 hours at a time, I tended to be fairly ripe when I hit the subway station. Another reason was protection.
Most chefs don't like anything between them and their food. I understand the reluctance, but at the end of the day there isn't anything you can't do with the right gloves. The key is finding gloves that fit the type of work you do. Certainly there are wrong gloves for certain jobs in the kitchen. While something like the Sensatouch gloves might be fine for food service, people working with knives need to have a close fit and greater dexterity.
For a slightly tighter fit and greater grip, the MicroFlex gloves are thicker, slightly longer, and provide better protection. However they lack sensitivity. These are the gloves typically used in the EMS field. At about $0.60 per pair, they are expensive if changed out regularly. And they will need to be thrown out and exchanged often.
If nitrile or latex gloves are worn for any lengthy period of time, they get hot and sweaty. In my work I found my regular nitrile gloves (which cost about $0.30 a pair) would last about two hours. In a ten hour day, that means I'd use $1.50 worth of disposable gloves each shift. Six days a week. And honestly sometimes I would use more. Being a butcher is physical work, even more than being a cook (yeah, that's right. I said it). And disposable gloves are not going to stand up to any kind of puncture or slice. Working with the sharp edges of oysters was a sure-fire way to cut up both my gloves and my hands. Luckily fish butchers always work with cold, sometimes very cold, objects. The heat isn't as much of an issue as it will be in a kitchen on the line.
My opinion is this law won't change public safety. Clean kitchens will remain clean, and restaurants that don't value sanitation will find ways to circumvent this new requirement. Poor glove selection will actually make this new sanitation effort dangerous to certain trades. But with the right gloves, sushi chefs and bartenders alike will find they have all the dexterity and sensitivity they require. For more information about gloves for cooks, butchers, bartenders, and food service, check out our glove selection at PK Safety. If you have questions, don't hesitate to call or contact us online at pksafety.com.