Hey, You in the Deli! Change Your Filthy, Ham-infested Gloves!

Maybe I have a paranoid obsession. Or maybe I just don’t want to get sick. But every time I order deli meat or cheese I want to say, “Hey! You who just put ham through the meat slicer and are now about to cut my baby Swissi! Change your gloves!!”

And to the bearded guy behind the counter: “How come you’re not wearing one of those beard-mask things? I don’t want any of your little beard hairs in my food.”

So to put my discomfort to rest I called the county health department. Not to report anyone, mind you.

The woman who took my call – Tania – was very nice. She answered all my questions and even shared a few stories of her own. Like the time her mother-in-law made Thanksgiving dressing and kept it in the kitchen cabinet for three days because there was no room in the fridge. Everyone who ate it ended up in the hospital.

The main thing here, Tania said, is that food workers NOT ONLY NEED TO CHANGE THEIR GLOVES before starting a new task. Oh, no. They must first wash their hands. So when they’re switching from meat to cheese, or going back to the counter after emptying trash, it’s lather, rinse, dry. Then gloves. Why?

Because gloves in and of themselves, she said, do not provide a sufficient barrier to dirt (germs, viruses, etc.) already on the hands. In fact, she said, gloved-hands can even be dirtier than bare hands.

But there’s more. Changing gloves with contaminated hands just transfers the contamination to the fresh pair of gloves. That’s why food handlers must wash before putting on fresh gloves. Every single time.

And hand sanitizer is never a permissible substitute for washing – unless the food handler is using a utensil –  such as a scoop or tongs (known as “barriers” in food-handler jargon), along with gloves. Otherwise, they must use soap and water.

Fascinating info that can be transferred to the classroom, where illnesses like norovirus run rampant, sometimes closing entire schools. My friend at the health department said these school-wide epidemics are happening because teachers no longer make time to let kids wash their hands.  I have seen the drill in action: they line the kids up,  give them a squirt of hand sanitizer, and tell them to rub for about 20 seconds. Then it’s off to the lunchroom. All the hand sanitizer does is smear the dirt all around.  Whoa. Not enough! With norovirus – which is very nasty, in case your family has been lucky enough to avoid the bug – hand washing with soap and water is the most effective method of preventing transmission.

Tania tried to make me feel better about the unmasked bearded guys who slice and package my cheese. She said the fact that they’re not wearing a mask isn’t as big a deal as I might think. After all, what illnesses can you get from a hair?  While I understand her point, finding a hair of any kind in my food completely grosses me out. Even if it’s my own!

Our conversation gave me confidence. I don’t think asking for clean gloves and a beard mask will be a big deal anymore.  I can handle that.  It’s the washing-in-the-sink thing that’s going to raise eyebrows. Especially if there’s a line.

people at deli

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