Tucker - Hygiene Issues
Cross Contamination

OVEN MITTS AS A VEHICLE FOR CROSS-CONTAMINATION IN COMMERCIAL FOODSERVICE ESTABLISHMENTS

Reprinted from THE JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH (July/August, 2001)
Introduction

One of the least-respected, lowest-ranking tools used in all of commercial foodservice is referred to as personal protective equipment (PPE), or protective apparel. PPE includes common, quilted cotton oven mitts, hot-pads, and cotton aprons. Most foodservice professionals and regulatory officials--if they stop to think about these products at all-- view them as serving one purpose only: to reduce burn injury of employees. Foodservice operators don't expect much from these products, and in general, that is exactly what the products deliver. Many commodity oven mitts burn up, fall apart, don't last long, and don't provide sufficient protection.

Although oven mitts don't protect very well, protection against burn injury remains the primary function of PPE. Therefore, few people ever consider the oven mitt as a contributor in any way to safe food practice or, conversely, as a major health risk in the commercial kitchen. Health inspectors often inspect kitchens to eliminate sources of contamination but overlook the oven mitt, never considering its role in the spread of bacterial contamination.

It may be surprising then for most people to learn that a significant correlation has been established between burn-injury prevention and bacterial contamination. The bad news is that the oven mitt has been identified as a significant source of cross-contamination at not just one, but two, separate and equally critical levels: the mitt's exterior and its' interior. The good news is that advanced protective apparel has been developed that contributes to food safety at both levels, that reduces burns far more efficiently than do everyday products, and that does so without costing more than cheap apparel.

NSF International first recognized the health risks of the oven mitt in 1996 when, for the first time ever, it created a protocol for the certification of oven mitts (NSF Protocol P149) that is specifically designed to minimize health risks as well as prevent burns.

NSF found it necessary to create a protocol that evaluates oven mitts for their suitability to commercial foodservice establishments in terms of food safety. After studying at length the problem of contamination from protective apparel, NSF established several criteria for the materials and design of these garments.

As a result, foodservice operators now have an alternative to poorly constructed and dangerous "commodity" protective apparel that--although created to mitigate risk-- actually contributes to multiple hazards. "Commodity protective apparel" is a generic term for common cotton terry-cloth or quilted-cotton oven mitts that today constitute the norm in the foodservice industry. It is worth noting that the industry is the largest private - sector employer in the country, yet it operates under safety standards that are inadequate.

The exteriors of commodity oven mitts pose a hazard because they can become contaminated with food matter that penetrates the outer fabric. Contamination occurs by direct contact with materials such as raw or cooked meats and vegetables, fats, greases, oils and related organic substances that harbor and proliferate bacterial growth. Once organic materials penetrate the fabric of the mitt, they are extremely difficult to extricate. This is especially true because commodity protective apparel is too flimsy to survive laundering and therefore is almost never washed. The contaminated mitt is then used to perform subsequent operations in the kitchen, causing crosscontamination.

The interiors of oven mitts pose a second hazard of contamination by organic substances that have come into contact with wearers' hands. Foodservice operators may be smart enough to wash their hands before handling food, but after handling food, few if any think of washing their hands before using an oven mitt. Any substance on the surface of the hand is delivered to the interior of the mitt and then on 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. In contrast to commodity protective apparel, "effective protective apparel" is defined as follows:

· products that incorporate an effective liquid-and-vapor barrier material that will not burn, melt, turn brittle or crack when exposed to oven-range temperatures. The liquid vapor barrier must be able to withstand extended exposure to oven temperatures (500º F. or 260 ºC. for 24 continuous hours) without breaking down at a molecular level, which could cause emission of noxious fumes;

· products that, as a result of the liquid/vapor barrier, protect whether wet or dry against burns from hot surface contact, boiling water, steam, hot oil or grease, spills and splatters, and open flame;

· products that are, as a result, washable (which allows them to be maintained in a constantly sanitary condition);

· products that resist heat and--when necessary--exposure to open flame without breaking down or falling apart; and

· products that are durable enough to offer the operator an appreciable return on investment.

Protective apparel further qualifies as "effective" when it has been certified by a recognized third-party professional certifying agency (e.g., NSF).

Comparison of Effective and Ineffective Apparel

Ineffective apparel remains the standard in the commercial foodservice industry. These products are porous , which means boiling water, steam, hot oil, and hot grease penetrate easily. They therefore do not protect against those ubiquitous risks. Commodity protective apparel burns up, falls apart and cannot be washed. The latter drawback means that these produc ts 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 and replaced regularly at great cost to the operator. Worst of all, they cause steam burns when wet--and everything in the commercial kitchen becomes wet--when means they fail not only after long use, but also in everyday use.

Effective protective apparel, by contrast, provides reliable performance, wet or dry, by virtue of its liquid/vapor barrier. In addition, these products protect against open flame when necessary. In other words, effective protective apparel protects against all known types and sources of burn injury. It is washable to ensure sanitation, and its durability ensures an appreciable return on investment.

Benefits of Effective Protective Apparel

Sanitation

Effective protective apparel can mitigate bacterial contamination. These products are constructed in a manner that allows laundering in the dishwashing machine, in a clothes washer and dryer, and most importantly, at the sink (whenever needed, remaining in use). Unlike commodity protective apparel, effective protective apparel does not contribute to health risks by becoming a point of cross-contamination.

Safety

By design, effective protective apparel mitigates burn injuries by delivering the highest level of safety possible. These products actually do what they were designed to do: protect against all foreseeable sources of burn risk in the commercial kitchen regardless of ambient conditions (i.e., wet or dry, flame or no flame). This characteristic is important to foodservice operators at a time when a single workers' compensation claim averages over $1,700.

Savings

Although not directly applicable to employee safety or food safety initiatives, effective protective apparel should be cost-effective so as to be of interest to foodservice operators. Because of its construction, it is many times more durable and lasts far longer than commodity products, therefore decreasing expenditures for the operator. This consideration is important because, if the products are not cost-effective, operators would not be inclined to adapt effective protective apparel, and the benefits these products offer would not be obtained. Effective protective apparel does initially cost more than commodity protective apparel, but savings are soon realized because of its extreme durability. It is worth noting that, in one recent case, a major national restaurant chain reported a savings of 400% in only 15 months after adopting effective protective apparel. (To arrive at this figure, the chain calculated only the replacement cost of the apparel; it did not factor reduced downtime, lost productivity, workers' compensation payouts, litigation and other costs related to actual burn injuries.)

Conclusion

Each foodservice operation must be evaluated in terms of cooking procedures, equipment, temperatures, management and employee work practices, management and employee education, burn-injury history and other characteristics. Appropriate procedures, equipment and apparel must be used if a foodservice establishment is to mitigate risks of bacterial cross-contamination and reduce burn injuries. NSF Certification is the only way an operator can be confident it is choosing products that will protect employees, customers and owners alike. Alternatives to commodity oven mitts-- products that have been certified by NSF --"Advanced Protective Apparel"--are available from Tucker Industries in Colorado Springs, Colorado. For more information on bacteria and protective apparel, readers can contact Tucker Industries by email at info@tuckersafety.com

 

 

You Should Know
1 Why are BurnGuard Oven Mitts Better than Quilted Cotton Oven Mitts?
CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT
2 The increased compliance of effective protective apparel directly reduces operational costs.
3 63.8% of restaurant workers report that they have worked while sick - Serving While Sick ROC
4 45.8% of all restaurant workers surveyed had been burned on the job and 49% reported being cut - Serving While Sick ROC
5 BurnGuard Oven Mitts last 10 times longer than Quilted Cotton and COST LESS!
CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE CHARTS
6 There is an NSF Certification for Oven Mitts used in commercial foodservice.
Testimonies - Read what our customers are sayingNSF - Tucker Safety Products is the first Manufacturer to receive a NSF Protocol Certification


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