Washington Restaurant Industry Says Gloves Off Means Safety First!

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As members of the restaurant and hospitality industry in Washington State, we strive to always serve food safely and ensure we do everything possible to keep our guests and coworkers healthy. We also have searched for opportunities to reduce our environmental foot print, most recently with plastic straws in Seattle and, in the past, compostable to-go containers for guests, recycling fryer oils, various recycling programs and composting food waste.  Requiring restaurants to use single-use plastic gloves does not provide a safer experience for our guests and can have extreme negative impacts for our environment. Gloves Off Washington is a campaign to increase the wellbeing of our patrons and our planet. 

Discouraging proper hand washing when handling food is an unintended consequence that comes with the use of single-use plastic gloves as employees have a false sense of security. In fact, a 2006 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on hand washing and hygiene behavior in restaurants found that workers who wore gloves were a lot less likely than workers not using gloves to wash their hands when they should, leading to cross-contamination.  

A gloved hand also is the perfect environment for bacterial growth. Unknown tears in gloves or improper hand washing procedures between glove changes can spread bacteria to the consumers’ food. Studies done in the United Kingdom and published in 2010 concluded that gloved hands can contribute as much, if not more, bacteria to foods than bare hands. That same year, an American study in a fast food restaurant found more than twice as much coliform bacteria in tortilla samples handled by gloved workers compared with those handled with bare hands.  

Recently, other states have realized both the environmental and safety issues plastic gloves cause and have changed the requirements for restaurant workers to allow minimal bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food.  Allowing minimal bare hand contact with ready-to-eat-food and drinks combined with additional hand washing and illness education requirements will help us serve our food more safely and, further, reduce our environmental footprint. We believe minimal bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food and drink should be allowed in the Washington State Retail Food Code. 

We ask that the Department of Health and the Food Safety Advisory Council consider; Removing the exclusion of bare hand contact of ready-to-eat food, and adding the language:  

  • Food employees shall minimize bare hand and arm contact with non-prepackaged food that is in a ready-to-eat form; 
  • Food employees shall use utensils, including scoops, forks, tongs, paper wrappers, gloves, or other implements, to assemble ready-to-eat food or to place ready-to-eat food on tableware or in other containers. However, food employees may assemble or place on tableware or in other containers ready-to-eat food in an approved food preparation area without using utensils if hands are cleaned in accordance with Section 02310;   
  • Food that has been served to the consumer and then wrapped or prepackaged at the direction of the consumer shall be handled only with utensils. These utensils shall be properly sanitized before reuse. 

Adding the following additional requirements under section 02310;  

  • (1) Immediately before engaging in food preparation, including working with non-prepackaged food, clean equipment and utensils, and unwrapped single-use food containers and utensils; 
  • (2)  During food preparation, as often as necessary to remove soil and contamination and to prevent cross-contamination when changing tasks;   
  • (3) Before initially donning gloves for working with food; 
  • (4) After engaging in other activities that contaminate the hands; 
  • Increase employee education on illness symptoms and encourage/require monthly written food borne illness safety meetings on topics such as cross contamination and hygiene; 
  • Require exclusion period of 24 hours after symptoms of vomiting or diarrhea conclude, and 48 hours after symptoms of documented cases of norovirus conclude;  
  • Maintain glove requirements for long or fake fingernails, cuts, burns, ETC 

We believe that an emphasis on hand washing and allowing minimal bare hand contact for ready-to-eat food and drinks will be safer for our guests and much healthier for our environment. 

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