Food & Drink

Journal of Food Protection publishing more evidence of risks of disposable gloves

The food safety risks of disposable gloves are addressed in the July 2024 issue of the International Association of Food Protection’s Journal of Food Protection. 

The Journal highlights scientific reports of hazardous chemical and pathogenic glove contamination with the potential to contaminate food. It illustrates how new and unused disposable gloves, even when they meet FDA compliance standards, can be sources of contamination.

Gloves are essential food safety equipment used by millions of people daily. Yet, glove contamination is a massive blind spot in public health, and this publication shows it is in grave need of attention.

The Journal article highlights that glove manufacturing is loosely regulated with inadequate quality controls or verification of product quality, safety, and performance standards. This can result in low-cost and unsanitary glove manufacturing conditions and the use of cheap and unsafe chemicals.

In collaboration with Eagle Protect, the analysis from the B. Michaels Group consultant microbiologists highlights the need for more rigorous glove testing and validation to ensure gloves meet the highest safety standards before use. It emphasizes the importance of incorporating rigorous glove safety measures into HACCP and FSMA programs to avoid contamination incidents.

Human fecal indicator organisms, strains of Bacillus cereus and B. anthracis, as well as other known pathogens, including Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridioides difficile, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Streptococcus pneumoniae, were isolated from new and unused disposable gloves; 2,800 gloves from 26 different glove brands were tested. Hazardous glove chemicals, including per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), phthalates, and bisphenol A (BPA), have also been found.

Key quotes from the Journal article include:

“. . . gloves have been identified as sources of potentially toxic, poisonous, and deleterious chemicals that can be introduced into food, and cause dermal problems via solubilization of glove chemicals within gloves via sweat; and

“With their (gloves) treatment as simple consumable commodities by food industry procurement staff, there is a lack of validation or verification of safe and acceptable performance that should be pre-requisite program elements in adherence to HACCP and FSMA principles”

The review focuses on the potential direct physical, chemical, and microbiological contamination from disposable gloves when used in food environments, inclusive of the risks posed to food products as well as worker safety. Unrecognized problems endemic to glove manufacturing were magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic because of high demand, increased focus on PPE performance, availability, supply chain instability, and labor shortages.

Multiple evidence-based reports of contamination, toxicity, illness, deaths, and related regulatory action linked to contaminated gloves in food and healthcare have highlighted problems indicative of systemic glove industry shortcomings. The glove manufacturing process was diagrammed with sources and pathways of contamination identified, indicating weak points with documented occurrences detailed.

Numerous unsafe ingredients can introduce chemical contaminants, potentially posing risks to food and to glove users. Microbial hazards present significant challenges to overall glove safety as contaminants appear to be introduced via polluted water sources or flawed glove manufacturing processes, resulting in increased risks within food and healthcare environments. Frank and opportunistic pathogens and food spoilage organisms can be introduced to foods and wearers.

When the sources and pathways of glove-borne contamination were explored, it was found that physical failures play a pivotal role in the release of sweat build-up, liquefaction of chemical residues, and incubation of microbial contaminants from hands and gloves. Thus, with glove physical integrity issues, including punctures in new, unused gloves, that can develop into significant rips and tears, not only can direct physical food contamination occur, but chemical and microbiological contamination can find their way into food.

Enhanced regulatory requirements for Acceptable Quality Limits of food-grade gloves and establishing appropriate bioburden standards would improve safety in food applications. The unconditional belief in glove chemical and microbiological purity may be unfounded based on the information provided and a false sense of security associated with glove use.

The full report, Potential for Glove Risk Amplification via Direct Physical, Chemical, and Microbiological Contamination by Barry S. Michaels et al. in Journal of Food Protection 87.7 (2024), can be accessed at

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