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Give ’Em a Hand! Safety Tips and Gear for the Commercial Kitchen

In a busy restaurant kitchen, hands are always busy at work. You use them to mix, stir, chop, slice and more. Hands are an essential, indispensable tool, and you need to keep them safe.

It's important to protect hands from cuts, burns, strains and other injuries that may occur in a commercial kitchen. Our experts share how and why to use food safety gloves, oven mitts and other products and processes to keep your digits in good working order.

Gloves

When it comes to food safety supplies, gloves are vital. They protect hands from germs and messes, reduce cross-contamination and aid in meeting federal food safety codes. “If properly used, gloves can help prevent contamination of ready-to-eat foods, including contamination from viruses and bacteria that are commonly present in the human body,” says Cheryl Luptowski, public information officer for NSF International, the Ann Arbor, MI–based food safety organization.

Recent changes to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s model food code require ready-to-eat foods to be prepared and served without direct contact to bare hands. When purchasing gloves, choose materials that meet FDA 21 CFR regulations for repeated use in direct contact with food. “The gloves should also have a smooth, durable, nonabsorbent outer surface,” Luptowski says. “Check with your state to determine whether the use of latex gloves is banned. Several states currently ban latex gloves due to allergy concerns. Look for gloves that are certified to NSF Protocol P155, an independent protocol that establishes criteria for the quality of disposable food contact gloves, including toxicology, physical properties like tensile strength, barrier resistance — i.e., leakage — and sanitation.”

And don’t forget specialty gloves. For butchering, pick up a pair of cut-resistant gloves. Made from stainless steel, they provide excellent protection for fingers and hands, though they do take some getting used to. They’re pricey, but far cheaper than a trip to the emergency room. Dishwashing gloves protect employees from getting scalded by hot water or steam. And no seafood restaurant kitchen should be without one or two oyster-shucking gloves.

Oven Mitts & Pot Holders

To protect against burns from reaching into hot ovens or grabbing hot pan handles, oven mitts and pot holders are another must-have.

“Make certain that the chef uses an insulated oven mitt that’s in good condition — not worn or frayed — that covers the entire wrist,” says Ernest Grant, a registered nurse and the outreach coordinator for the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill, NC. “Gloves should only be worn when dry, as a wet glove will transmit heat in the form of steam. Any glove that appears to be worn or frayed, or if the wearer can feel heat while wearing it, should be discarded.”

Commercial mitts, pot holders and forearm sleeves come in flame-resistant cloth, silicone, FLXaPrene®, Neoprene® and Kevlar®. “Make certain that whatever mitt you choose has been tested by an approved testing laboratory, such as UL or Factory Mutual,” Grant says.

Many chefs like Chris Vizzina, who oversees dining at Samford University in Birmingham, AL, prefer non-cloth gloves, because they are more durable and easier to keep clean. “[This] style will not burn, conduct heat or tear,” he says. “This keeps chefs, cooks and bakers safe in the kitchen as well as being more productive.”

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