There is a part of the industry where gloves have become a boon. Because sushi chefs are cutting and serving the flesh of uncooked fish and seafood, it's important they take special precautions. Hiroyuki "Zama" Tanaka, owner of Zama Sushi in Philadelphia, says "using gloves is a big revolution for the sushi industry as it goes against tradition. It took a few months to get comfortable working with gloves on, but I've been working with them now for 12 years. It's easier to train someone, because the special Japanese sushi gloves I use — Emboss Five-Finger Squeeze Gloves — have a textured surface that actually makes it easier to work with sushi rice and raw fish.
"Many of my customers have allergies, especially to shellfish," he adds. "We can be working with shrimp, and if a customer tells us they have an allergy, we can all change our gloves. And, because the flavors and marinades don't transfer, the taste is purer."
Until the HIV epidemic in the '80s, there were only a few glove types available; today, there are more than 200. But finding an acceptable material is challenging. Latex gloves offer good dexterity, a snug fit and good tactile sensitivity and can withstand high heat. But due to sometimes severe allergic reactions to latex (a product of the rubber tree mostly from Malaysia), Oregon, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have banned latex gloves in food service. Nitrile gloves are durable and provide good dexterity at moderate cost but commonly contain Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phalate, or DEHP, added to make gloves more flexible. DEHP is a potential carcinogen and reproductive toxin banned in Japan and the European Union in food service gloves.
Something else to worry about.
Thin, one-size-fits-all polyethylene gloves are the least expensive, but they tend to tear easily and can't be used around high heat. Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, or PVC) gloves can fit snugly but because they may begin leaking as soon as they are donned, they have been described in Food Safety Magazine as "infection control nightmares."