When it comes to hand protection, the food industry has to work to a different set of rules than other manufacturing environments. Food manufacturers’ responsibilities are extensive, as are the rules and regulations they must adhere to.

Staff safety is always important, but so too is the need to minimise any possibility of contamination. A food manufacturer must protect the integrity of its brand and the brands of its customers, and even more importantly, the continuous wellbeing of consumers.

For food manufacturers, hand protection is crucial. It’s not easy to find the best product to suit your staff, but good hand protection experts can help. Their knowledge of the regulatory requirements of the industry, combined with their product knowledge and experience in identifying risks through a site survey or activity assessment, will help narrow down the search. If you're reviewing hand protection in your food factory, it’s important to understand the different types of gloves, materials and finishes. Here are six tips to help you identify which gloves are fit for purpose.

1) Know the hand protection laws

Hand protection falls under the remit of many laws, standards and regulations set by organisations such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for businesses handing food. This guide from the FSA refers to the regulations placed on materials expected to come into contact with foods.

Not surprisingly, most of these standards reflect the industry’s focus on hand protection to protect the product from contamination. There are, of course, many factors to consider regarding the wearer’s safety, not least of which are blades used for cutting and slicing, sharp tools for packaging, heat for cooking and sterilising, extreme cold for preserving and chemicals for cleaning. But food companies have a duty to ensure hand protection products will not compromise the integrity of the product.

Legally, employees working in a food-handling environment have to wear appropriate protective clothing. This guide, by the Society of Food Hygiene and Technology, discusses the recommendations for the wearing of gloves and other forms of clothing.

2) Understand your environment

The material, grip, strength, durability or flexibility requirements of a pair of gloves will vary dramatically according to the environment and duties of the wearer. An employee in a poultry factory, for example, is likely to need a durable, waterproof glove with good grip to prevent the products from slipping when there’s lots of water in use. In the food industry, grip is among the biggest pre-requisites for gloves, which come in a range of materials with patterned fingertips to improve grip. This is because a dropped product potentially results in a loss of revenue, a reduction in productivity, a time-consuming clean-up operation and a possible broken foot.

Meanwhile, a chocolate manufacturer may need an extremely dextrous glove with high touch sensitivity to handle delicate ingredients and manoeuvre small items quickly. In these instances, speed and precision are key.

3) Know which gloves suit each task

It's important for staff members and supervisors to understand that one pair of gloves may not be enough to suit a range of activities. A different glove may be necessary for each stage of the production process, and some staff members should change their gloves several times a day. Wearers may even need a different glove on each hand – one with better grip for holding a knife and the other with cut resistant layers for holding the product that’s being sliced, for example. Managers should spend time in the factory and watch employees perform their tasks. This is vital, so you can spot the risks and gain an in-depth understanding of the tasks at hand. Most importantly, gather feedback from your staff on how their gloves are helping or hindering their ability to perform each job.

4) Recognise the importance of comfort and fit

A good glove fit is essential to help prevent accidents. A glove that’s too large is a hazard because fingertips can get caught. A glove that’s too small will stretch, meaning areas of the glove will be under more stress than necessary and the product will not last as long.

Hand fatigue can be a problem in the manufacturing environment if not managed correctly, and an uncomfortable glove will only exacerbate the problem. Wearers are far more inclined to remove their gloves if they’re not comfortable. And without gloves, they’re susceptible to injury and more likely to cause contamination.

5) Be aware of contamination risks

It’s vital in the food industry to find a product which will prevent any contamination of the food product. Contamination can occur from many different sources. It can relate to the spread of bacteria from hands or cross-contamination from other products. It can relate to sources of contamination from the gloves themselves – particles of lining from the glove or even glove fingertip ends which can, in some instances, find their way into the food during the production process if the glove is punctured or cut (see FSA guidance notes).

For this reason, manufacturers must be aware of the challenges associated with a variety of different materials and glove types. What elements are the user working with that might affect the material of the glove? How easily or quickly will the glove material wear out? How possible is it for punctures and leaks to occur? And how easily can small glove parts be detected and removed before they contaminate larger batches of food?

6) Know your customers' expectations

Consumers’ needs are highly influential when it comes to manufacturers' handling of food. Well-known food brands and retailers like to assure consumers - often by printing on their packaging - that all food hygiene standards have been adhered to in the handling of a product.

Retailers are likely to be concerned about the types of materials that come into contact with their products. As such, they may dictate the types of protective clothing the factories should use when handling food. Latex, for instance, is a natural rubber used in gloves that have, for some time, been considered the best suited to the industry because of their comfort and dexterity as well as grip. However, recent tests have shown latex to be potentially associated with allergy problems, meaning some manufacturers are forced to find alternatives. No matter how difficult this can be to achieve, food manufacturers and processors are duty bound to respond, or risk losing large, valuable customers.

Fortunately, new developments using man-made materials such as various forms of Nitrile are helping manufacturers achieve the best of both worlds. Stalsen’s Gourmet Grip glove offers TackMax – a unique technology for maximising grip. The Gourmet Grip provides allergen-free gloves that fully comply with many customers’ wishes, minimising any chance of product contamination, but are also durable, comfortable, provide amazing grip and are safe for wearers in the factories.

For advice on hand protection in the food industry, or for information about Anchor Safety’s Hand Protection Programme, contact us on 0800 328 5028.