REDUCING BACTERIAL CONTAMINATION (and
BURN INJURY) THROUGH THE USE OF EFFECTIVE PROTECTIVE APPAREL
A GUIDE FOR COMMERCIAL FOODSERVICE OPERATORS
Reprint of portions
of a Seminar delivered by Vincent Tucker, President / CEO
Tucker Safety Products, Inc. To Risk & Safety Directors
of the National Restaurant Association
||PROTECTIVE APPAREL AS A SOURCE OF BACTERIAL CONTAMINATION
Most foodservice operators and regulatory
agencies view kitchen protective apparel (oven mitts and gloves,
aprons, etc.) as products which perform one service alone:
to reduce burn injury to foodservice employees. It is true
that this remains the primary function of protective apparel,
and a great deal of information has been developed over the
past fifteen years concerning burn injury in commercial foodservice
and methods of reducing those injuries. This presentation touches
briefly on those developments in Sections III and IV.
Perhaps surprisingly though, a significant
correlation has also been established between burn injury
prevention and bacterial contamination. Few have ever considered
the OVEN MITT as a major source of cross-contamination in the
commercial kitchen. Health Inspectors often review kitchens
for safe equipment and practices, but dismiss the oven mitt
as a burn-preventive instrument, never considering its role
in the spread of bacterial contamination.
In fact, the oven mitt has been identified
as a significant source of cross-contamination not just at
one, but at two separate and equally critical levels; the mitt’s
exterior and its interior.
The National Sanitation Foundation recognized
the health risks of the Oven Mitt in 1996 when, for the first
time ever, it created a Protocol for Oven Mitts (NSF Protocol
Established in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1944
as an agency dedicated to developing uniform public health
safety standards in the restaurant and foodservice industries,
the NSF is an independent, not-for-profit organization which
maintains an exemplary reputation for integrity, objectivity,
credibility and leadership in environmental and public health
safety by developing and promoting education, standards and
conformity within the industry. This organization is indeed
the “watchdog” of
the commercial foodservice industry. Through its Certification
program, the NSF establishes and enforces standards for equipment
manufactures, food handlers and restaurateurs. The round
blue NSF Certification mark is the most respected mark in
public and health safety in the world. In order to receive
NSF Certification, manufacturers and their products must
meet rigorous standards in cleanliness and performance. (visit
the NSF website at www.nsf.org)
The NSF found it necessary to create a Protocol
oven mitts for their suitability for use in commercial foodservice
establishments. Requirements for all mitts (both Class I
and Class II) include durability, heat resistance, liquid/steam
penetration and cleanability. Class II oven mitts (intended
for direct flame application) have additional requirements
for flame resistance and thermal protection”.
Now foodservice operators have alternatives
to poorly constructed and, in fact, dangerous “commodity” protective
apparel which create multiple hazards. “Commodity protective
apparel” is a generic
term which refers to common cotton terrycloth or quilted cotton
oven mitts which today constitutes the norm within the industry.
It is worth noting that the foodservice industry is the largest
private-sector employer in the country, and yet it operates under
safety standards that are antiquated and in some cases deficient
when it comes to Effective Protective Apparel.
On their exterior, commodity
oven mitts pose a hazard of contamination by food matter which
penetrates the outer fabric. Contamination is established by
direct contact with materials such as raw or cooked meats or
vegetables, fats, greases, oils and related organics that harbor
and proliferate bacterial growth. Once such organic materials
penetrate the fabric of the mitt, they are almost impossible
to extricate. This is especially true because commodity protective
apparel is too flimsy to survive laundering andtherefore is
almost never washed. The same contaminated mitt is then used
to perform subsequent operations in the kitchen. This is cross-contamination.
their interior, oven mitts pose a second hazard of contamination
by any organic substance which has come into contact with
hands and then transmitted to the inside of the mitt. Foodservice
operators may be instructed and smart enough to wash their
hands before handling food, but few if any ever think of
washing their hands after handling food before using and
oven mitt. Any substance on the surface of the hand is delivered
to the interior of the mitt and then to the hands of subsequent
wearers and of course on to other objects in the kitchen
including food. This problem is exacerbated by natural oils
and perspiration emanating from the hands of the wearer.
||NSF CERTIFIED PROTECTIVE APPAREL and
Unlike commodity oven mitts which create
health hazards, NSF Certified Protective Apparel actually reduces
health hazards due to the performance characteristics required
for Certification. Those performance characteristics are a
result of the design and materials used in NSF Certified Protective
The first criterion established by NSF is
that the Effective Protective Apparel must contain and effective
Liquid-Vapor Barrier which prevents the penetration of hot
liquids such as boiling water, hot oil or hot grease as well
as penetration of steam. Such a barrier was originally deemed
necessary as a protective barrier against sources of many kitchen
burns. However, it was immediately recognized that the liquid-vapor
barrier actually serves to impart critical sanitation characteristics
to the product.
Commodity protective apparel does not fail
because it wears out; it fails by its very design. The products’ failures
to protect against burns will be summarized in Sections III
and IV, but from a sanitation standpoint, it is important to
understand that commodity products do not contain an effective
liquid-vapor barrier. Because of this, the products cannot
be used wet and therefore cannot be washed while in service.
(In fact, because of their flimsy construction, they generally
cannot be washed at all.) They therefore become havens of bacteria
both on the exterior and on the interior.
Due to the presence of a liquid-vapor barrier,
NSF-Certified Products can be used wet and therefore can be
washed regularly. Most importantly, they can be washed at the
sink with antibacterial soap during the shift and remain in
service. They can also be washed in the dishwasher or in the
washer/dryer. They are constructed in a way that survives multiple
washes; in fact, for certification, NSF stipulates that a product
demonstrate the ability to withstand a minimum of 25 commercial
Simply surviving washing is not sufficient
for the NSF. More importantly, the product must demonstrate
the ability to become clean and sanitary when washed. For certification,
the NSF therefore requires that, after intentionally exposing
the mitt to spiked levels of E. Coli and S. Aureus, contamination
must be reduced by at least 99% when machine washed one time
(according to AATCC Standard 135). A removable liner (either
washable or disposable) should be used to enhance the ease
of cleaning the inside.
The nature of the liquid-vapor
barrier is also important. While a simple layer of vinyl
or neoprene may in theory serve as a barrier, the material
will be exposed to oven-range temperatures. If the material
melts, it will not only fail as a liquid-vapor barrier, it
could release dangerous toxins such as sulfur oxide, cyanide
and other poisonous chemicals which may be inhaled by employees
or worse, may enter food being served. For this reason, the
NSF stipulates a liquid-vapor barrier which will not melt,
burn, turn brittle/crack or break down at a molecular level
when exposed to 500° F.
for 24 continuous hours.
The above criteria of the NSF’s Protocol
relate directly to SANITATION of the product. Understanding
these principles leads one to recognize the critical role protective
apparel plays in Food Safety and the role of the oven mitt
in the cycle of bacterial contamination. Of course, this is —theoretically—only
the secondary role of protective apparel, the primary function
being burn prevention.
For Class I (not flame-resistant)
Certification, two additional criteria comprise the Protocol
which are important to understand, for together they outline
the elements necessary for “Effective
Protective Apparel” in
a no-flame environment:
||Conductive Heat Test
after both wet and dry conditioning, mitts must have a second-degree
burn time of not less than 26 seconds and a pain time of not
less than 15 seconds when tested according to NFPA—1971
(1997) as modified. In other words, they must exhibit
demonstrable protection against burns.
||Whole-Mitt Heat Resistance
the mitt shall not separate, melt, drip, crack and shall
not shrink more than five percent in length or width, after
dry conditioning only, when tested according to NFPA—1971
(1997) as modified.
For Class II (flame-resistant)
Certification, two further criteria comprise the Protocol
which are important to understand, for together they outline
the elements necessary for “Effective Protective Apparel” in
an environment that includes open flame:
Samples of the outer
shell fabric and the liquid-vapor barrier of the mitt shall
have an average “after-flame” of not longer than
2 seconds, an average “char length” of not more
than 10.2 cm (4 inches) and shall not melt or drip when tested
according to NFPA—1971 (1997), Section 6.4.
||Thermal Protective Performance - Flame
of the mitt shall have an average Thermal Protective Performance
(TPP) rating of not less than 35.0, after wet and dry conditioning
according to ASTM F 1060, and NFPA 1971 (1997), Section 6.10,
When these criteria
are viewed as a whole, it becomes clear that, in order to
be effective, an oven mitt must be far more than the simple,
failed products which the industry has, unfortunately, accepted.
In order to be Effective, Protective
Apparel must be comprised of a system of elements which,
when applied together, provide real and measurable burn protection
||PROTECTIVE APPAREL AS A METHOD FOR BURN INJURY PREVENTION
Causes of burns:
There are many
types of kitchen burns emanating from many different sources.
Each must be examined and understood.
— 82 % of “reported” burns
are caused by hot liquid, steam, hot oil, hot grease or direct
contact with open flame.
—16% of reported burns
are caused by direct contact with hot surfaces.
With 82% of
burns caused by hot liquid, grease, steam or flame and 16%
due to contact, fully 98% of reported burns are considered
to be identifiable and preventable.
The remaining 2% of
reported burns are defined as “unpreventable” regardless
of measures taken.
||Sources of burns:
water, soups and stocks, coffee, tea, dishwasher, etc.
contact with wet towels or other wet apparel lacking an effective
vapor barrier, steam ovens, combi ovens, stock pots, dishwashers
and so forth.
Hot Oil—fryer operation, oil filtration,
other pan frying, etc.
Hot Grease—throughout the kitchen
Flame—broilers, barbecues, char grilles, rotisseries
and other cookware.
Hot Surfaces—ovens, broilers,
rotisseries, grills, stock pots, tilting skillets, etc.
frozen food or other extremely cold items.
compounds, disinfectants, acids, etc.
Burn injuries slow employee performance,
lower employee morale and cost the employer money in lost productivity,
down time, Worker’s
Comp payouts, elevated insurance premiums, perhaps
even legal fees and litigation awards. In the United States,
someone is burned every 17 seconds. The typical kitchen burn
is second degree and requires from 14 to 17 days to heal.
The average Worker’s Comp claim now costs the employer
over $1,700. Even minor, unreported burns produce an impact. The fact
that unreported burns occur must serve as a red flag to operators
that conditions exist which will eventually allow major,
perhaps even catastrophic burns. It is a sad fact that the
vast majority of foodservice operators are largely unaware
of the extent and costs of burn injuries within their operations,
alleging that they do not have a burn injury problem. Yet,
the National Restaurant Association identifies the two leading
injuries in commercial foodservice as cuts and burns.
||Reported vs Unreported
90% of burns go unreported. Only 10% of all burns are reported
and in most cases, these are the serious injuries that are
costliest in time and money. In order to successfully combat
burn injury, ALL burns must be recognized and reckoned, not
just the severe and catastrophic burns that get reported.
philosophical question “if a tree falls in the forest
and nobody is there to hear it, does it make any noise?” is
well-known. Perhaps the most philosophical of answers
is “NO”, but
most people would agree that the true answer is “YES”.
are very similar in nature. Because many burns are not reported
does not mean they are not felt. Unreported burns make themselves “heard” all
too often only when they become catastrophic injuries.
ALL burns are acknowledged—not just the reported
burns or catastrophic burns— the elimination
of “ALL” burns
(98%) cannot be pursued. Addressing small and incidental
are mostly unreported burns—is
the first step in eliminating reported and catastrophic
Information on unreported
burns is difficult to obtain but is nonetheless available.
The source of this information is usually the employee.
Employees often hesitate to disclose facts about burns, fearful
of being accused of carelessness or inefficiency. In many cases,
they are more comfortable talking with a third party rather
than management. In most cases, the information obtained
||ELEMENTS OF BURN INJURY REDUCTION
·Identifying practices which mitigate
and prevent burn injuries
Prescriptions for safe practice do
exist and include the following:
an understanding of the causes and sources of burns. Only with
this clear understanding can the employee be vigilant against
Promoting attention and awareness in the
workplace. Employee carelessness poses a major cause of burn
injury. Repetitive, mundane tasks lull employees into a complacent
state. Employees must be trained to remain attentive to their
functions. Safe practice must be part of the workplace culture
and should be rewarded.
||Identifying practices which
mitigate and prevent burn injuries:
Effective Protective Apparel vs.
||SUMMARY OF EFFECTIVE PROTECTIVE APPAREL
Effective Protective Apparel is defined
as protective products
i. which incorporate an effective liquid
and vapor barrier material that will not burn, melt or turn
brittle/crack when exposed to oven-range temperatures. The
liquidvapor barrier must be able to withstand extended exposure
to oven temperatures without breaking down at a molecular
level which could cause emission of noxious fumes;
ii. as a result of the liquid- vapor barrier,
these products must protect wet or dry;
iii. as a result of
the product’s ability to protect wet or dry,
the product must be washable, which allows it to
be maintained in a constantly sanitary condition; these products
must resist heat and —when necessary—exposure
to open flame as commonly found in foodser foodservice without breaking
down or falling apart (failing);
iv. the products must prove durable to offer
the operator an appreciable return on investment;
v. Protective Apparel is further qualified
as “effective” when
Certified by recognized third-party professional
certifying agencies, i.e. NSF.
||Critical Comparison of Effective vs Ineffective
Ineffective apparel remains the standard
of the commercial foodservice industry. These commodity products,
usually quilted or simple terrycloth cotton, are porous which
means boiling water, steam, hot oil and hot grease penetrate
easily. They therefore do not protect against those ubiquitous
risks. Products burn up, fall apart and cannot be washed. The
latter fact means they become particularly dangerous havens
of bacteria, regular transfer points of cross-contamination.
Because they don’t
endure in the demanding commercial environment, they are
thrown away/replaced regularly at great cost to the operator.
Worst of all, these products fail miserably when wet—and
everything in the commercial kitchen becomes wet—which
means they do not fail only after long use; they fail immediately
Effective Apparel on the other
hand assures reliable performance wet or dry by virtue of
its liquid-vapor barrier. In addition, Effective Apparel protects
against open flame when necessary. In other words, Effective
Protective Apparel protects against all known types and sources
of burn injury. It is washable at all times to assure sanitation
and is durable to assure an appreciable return on investment.
The difference in performance between ineffective vs. effective
protective apparel is enor enormous and constitutes one of
the most critical factors contributing to food safety and mitigating
risk of bacterial contamination as well as preventing burn
Effective Protective Apparel
will deliver the following benefits to foodservice operators:
Apparel must be able to mitigate bacterial contamination.
Products must be constructed in a manner which allows washing
in the dish machine, in a washing machine/dryer and most importantly,
at the sink (whenever needed throughout the shift), all the
while remaining in service. This supports management’s
responsibility of maintaining a sanitary environment.
Conversely, ineffective apparel actually contributes to health
risks as a focal point of cross-contamination, as these inferior
products cannot be washed and become a haven of bacteria
By design, Effective Protective
Apparel must mitigate burn injuries by delivering the highest
level of safety available in the industry. These products must
actually do what they were designed to do: protect against
all foreseeable types of burn risk in the commercial kitchen
regardless of existing conditions (i.e., wet or dry, flame
or no flame, etc.)
Although not directly applicable
to Employee Safety initiatives, it is important to note that,
due to its construction, Effective Protective Apparel is many
times more durable and lasts far longer than commodity products
and therefore decreases operator expenditures. This is important
because if not cost-effective, operators will not be inclined to adapt Effective
Protective Apparel and the benefits these advanced products offer will not
be obtained. It is noteworthy that, in one recent case, a major
national chain reported savings of 400% in only 15 months
after adapting Effective Protective Apparel. To arrive at
this figure, the chain only calculated replacement cost of
the apparel; it did not factor reductions in down time, lost
productivity, Worker’s Comp
payouts, litigation and other costs related to burn injury which would
have yielded evidence of an even greater rate of savings.
Apparel can be identified through the findings of independent,
thirdparty organizations which test this type of product
for safety and performance. The NSF (National Safety Foundation)
is the leading independent certifying agency for commercial
Each foodservice operation must be
evaluated in terms of its cooking procedures, equipment,
temperatures, management and employee work practices (workplace
culture), management and employee education, burn injury history
and other elements. Appropriate procedural, equipment and apparel
modifications must be introduced in order to approach the ultimate
goal of mitigation of risks of bacterial cross-contamination
as well as 98% burn injury reduction.
INSIST ON NSF-CERTIFIED
PROTECTIVE APPAREL TO SUPPORT SANITATION AND REDUCE BURNS IN
ALL COMMERCIAL FOODSERVICE OPERATIONS!
of the contents of this document is authorized so long as
the information is copied verbatim and the source of its information
is attributed to Tucker Safety Products, Inc.
© Copyright November 1999 Tucker Safety Products, Inc.
Tucker Safety Products
has been a pioneer and leader in burn injury reduction for more than fifteen
years. Tucker Safety Products has been instrumental in the
development of the SafeStep™ Evaluation and
Injury Prevention Program which educates foodservice operators
in effective methods of employee and customer safety. Tucker
Safety Products performs professional evaluations of commercial
foodservice operations, often on a no-cost basis. For further
information, contact Tucker Safety Products.
President / CEO
Tucker Safety Products, Inc.
2835 Janitell Road
Colorado Springs, CO 80906
(800) STOP BURNS (786-7287)