In 2006 and 2007, the Centers for Disease Control randomly selected 321 restaurants across the country to monitor workers' hygiene. The findings: Workers washed their hands appropriately in only 27 percent of activities in which hand-washing was recommended, about nine activities an hour, and that "attempted and appropriate hand-washing rates were significantly lower when gloves were worn than when gloves were not worn."
Pitfalls and potential for failure notwithstanding, many chefs opt for gloves.
"We use gloves quite a bit in the kitchen," says Ruth Lefkowitz, owner of Ruthy's Real Meals in Sonoma, Calif. "My assistant uses them when handling raw meats and when packing up the meals we deliver. I like donning gloves at events. It makes it easier to keep your hands clean."
Jared Johnson, executive chef for the Heathland Hospitality Group in Philadelphia, told me "the average person is more aware of cross-contamination and food-borne illnesses than 10 years ago. If my crew wears gloves while serving, it puts the customer at ease and we can focus on the food and service. However, I'm not a fan of wearing gloves while chopping, because glove pieces could end up in the food."
Wearing gloves is meant to protect the consumer from dangerous diseases that can be transmitted mostly through ready-to-eat foods. Culprits include the viruses hepatitis A and the highly contagious norovirus, responsible for about 50 percent of all outbreaks of food-related illness and transmitted through foods such as leafy greens, fresh fruits and shellfish. Bacteria that cause serious food-borne illnesses include E. coli, found in cattle and in infected humans; salmonella typhi, which lives only in humans; shigella, which is transmitted mostly through eating or drinking contaminated food or water; and listeria, which is found in unpasteurized dairy products and ready-to-eat foods such as deli meats and soft cheeses.