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Foodservice -- Hygiene

Can latex gloves be worn in a foodservice operation?

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It is best if they are not because latex gloves have been shown to cause allergies. To help understand this, several commonly asked questions about latex are answered below.

WHAT IS LATEX? Natural rubber latex comes from a liquid in tropical rubber tress. Many household products contain latex -- balloons, rubber toys, pacifiers, and baby-bottle nipples, rubber bands, adhesive tape, bandages, diapers, sanitary pads, and condoms. In foodservice the most common source of latex is single-use gloves. Dipped, or very soft, rubber products appear to have the highest content of latex proteins, therefore, they have the greatest allergenic potential.

WHAT IS A LATEX ALLERGY? A latex allergy can be mild, with symptoms such as itchy, red, watery eyes, sneezing or runny nose, coughing, rash or hives. It can also be very severe, with symptoms like chest tightness, shortness of breath, and shock. It may even cause death. A latex-sensitive person can have a life-threatening allergic reaction with no previous warning or symptoms.

HOW QUICKLY AFTER EXPOSURE DO SYMPTOMS OCCUR? In latex-sensitive individuals, immediate-type hypersensitivity reactions occur within 15 to 30 minutes after contact with latex.

WHO IS AT RISK FOR A LATEX ALLERGY? Health care workers; rubber industry workers; persons with spina bifida or urogenital abnormalities; persons who have undergone repeated or prolonged surgeries or mucous membrane exposure to latex devices, especailly early in life; and persons with a history or food allergy, especially to bananas, avocado, passion fruit, chestnut, kiwi fruit, melon, tomato, and celery.

HOW DOES ONE BECOME SENSITIZED TO LATEX PROTEINS? Frequent exposure to latex proteins combined with genetic factors can make an individual more sensitized to latex proteins. For example, body sweat inside latex gloves may make latex proteins soluble; the solubilized proteins are then absorbed through skin, sensitizing the wearer to the foreign protein. A second mode of sensitization is through airborne latex proteins which bind to the corn starch powder inside latex gloves. When the glove is removed, the powder is released in the air along with the latex proteins.

HOW COMMON ARE LATEX ALLERGIES? Latex allergies are on the rise among health care workers. Ten to 17 percent of health care workers have already become sensitized, and over 2 percent have occupational asthma as a result of latex exposure.

CAN PREPARING FOOD WITH LATEX GLOVES BE A HIDDEN FOOD ALLERGEN? Yes. Two cases reported in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology support the theory that food prepared by a worker who is wearing latex gloves can cause an allergic response in a latex-sensitive individual. Case 1: A 25-year old man had an acute attack at the coffee shop of a local hospital after he had eaten a ham sandwich prepared by a food handler who wore latex gloves. Case 2: A 31-year old woman experienced symptoms within minutes of eating a lunch of chicken, mashed potatoes, corn bread, cole slaw, baked beans, and iced tea sweetened with sugar.

* Hand creams should only be used when gloves are not worn. Applying protective hand creams before donning gloves appeared to increase the amount of latex protein on the skin. Oil-based creams can also deteriorate latex.
* Hands should be washed immediately after removing gloves to eliminate latex proteins from the skin and to prevent latex protein transfer to mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth. Handwashing after glove removal also prevents transfer of latex proteins to other surfaces, such as door knobs, telephones, instruments) where they may be contacted by latex-sensitive individuals.

WHAT ARE THE BEST TYPES OF GLOVES TO USE IN FOODSERVICE? Many persons who are constantly exposed to powdered gloves, the most sensitizing latex product, are likely to become sensitized. Therefore, it is best to use low protein, powder-free gloves in order to have minimal potential for sensitization in those who have not yet become sensitized to latex.

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