The Norman Transcript

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June 22, 2012

The mixed blessing of food-service gloves

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To improve food safety in real-life conditions, the CDC recommends revising food preparation methods to reduce the number of handwashings needed, for example by descreasing the number of times a worker has to handle raw meat when making a sandwich.

On a recent trip to Puglia, Italy, I visited two fresh mozzarella producers with stainless-steel and tile facilities that are certified under internationally recognized food safety protocols.

I went to a buffalo-milk mozzarella maker in Campania on an earlier trip. Though workers in all three places practice food safety and keep impeccably clean conditions, not one of the cheesemakers wore gloves.

"Unlike in Europe, where workers take pride in what is often a life-long profession, our culture emphasizes waste," says Barry Michaels, the food safety consultant. "The highly competitive U.S. food service world is often a race to the bottom . . . employing workers — often kids — making minimum wage, wearing millions of pairs of gloves each year to prepare what isn't even real food. In other words, the gloves are there to try to protect us from ourselves."

In the end, no one thing keeps our food safe, though regular and thorough washing of hands and judicious use of gloves definitely reduces risk.

Australian food safety experts say it best: "A clean hand is better than a dirty glove."

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Philadelphia chef-consultant Aliza Green's most recent book is "The Butcher's Apprentice: The Expert's Guide to Selecting, Preparing, and Cooking a World of Meat" (Quarry, 2012).

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