Sara Dickerman's "Down with gloves"Sara Dickerman's "Down with gloves"

Sara Dickerman just won the James Beard Award for her great article, Down with gloves: Why chefs shouldn’t have to wear them.

Being avid Slate readers, Nathan and I sent this article around when it was published in September, and I posted it on the chefs’ board at work. It’s a funny and informative take on the pros and mostly the cons of cooks being required to wear gloves in the kitchen. Cooks like them, she says, when they’re doing the same task repeatedly for a while, such as making sausage. They’re a pain for the line cook, who is constantly shifting his focus. The law says that he must change his gloves between each task. “But this takes time, and in real kitchens, it rarely happens. There are too many tasks, too many tickets, and too many unconscious behaviors: I’ve seen gloved hands scratch heads and noses and butts.”

I worked in about five restaurants in my teens, and the only one that ever made me wear gloves was Einstein Bros. Bagels. It was such a joke. We would wear the same gloves to slice the bagel, make the sandwich, get the customer a drink, and ring the customer up. It was the line from hell back there, with the walk-in oven and proofer right behind the food, and we were all constantly drenched in sweat. We were lucky to get the gloves on in the first place; forget changing them for every customer. Some customers would demand it. Especially vegetarians, who would even insist on watching us clean the knife and work surfaces. Everyone resented gloves, and the managers only enforced the constant changing for about a month as I recall.

When I worked in a crêperie off Walnut Street in Pittsburgh, we didn’t have to wear gloves, even after the health department wrote us up for the temperature in one square foot of the fridge being a few degrees high. Maybe gloves aren’t the law in Pennsylvania, and maybe Einstein’s just wanted to cover all their bases (like it mattered, since they almost all closed down one mysterious night years ago).

In any case, Sara Dickerman is right. I’d rather see clean bare hands touching my food any day. All I can think of when I see gloves, depending on where I’m eating, is how dirty the hands underneath them really are. Did the person just use the bathroom and figure it wasn’t worth it to wash her hands well since she would put gloves on anyway? Is it possible to put gloves on without touching the outside of them with your filthy hands? Of course not, so just wash your hands and make my food.

CFSAN has a horrifying report including plenty of examples of gloved and ungloved workers passing diseases and viruses onto their customers, including a bartender who gave a bunch of people Hepatitis A! And how gross is this: “A bakery worker experienced vomiting and diarrhea while preparing butter cream frosting. The employee prepared frosting by submerging his bare arm up to the elbow in the frosting as it was being mixed in order to scrape the sides of the vat. A subsequent outbreak of Norwalk-like virus infection involving 129 ill persons resulted from ingestion of frosted items that were contaminated by the suspected source case.” Gloves may have helped the sick bartender, but they wouldn’t have helped the poor bakery worker. If a cook is very dirty or very sick, it is probably going to be passed on to the customer. My hands feel cleanest fresh out of hot soapy water and a clean towel, and those are the hands I’d like to see at work. Those are the hands of a cook who cares about what’s on the plate.

Congratulations to Sara Dickerman. Her article is worth reading.


Pennsylvania does have the law but perhaps it was adopted after you finished working in restaurants. Like you, I have worked in a lot of restaurants, as well as done catering, and can’t imagine cooking with gloves on. And Dickerman makes a good point that the gloves just give the illusion of sanitation if they are not being used properly.

It definitely bothers me when I see food preparation workers taking cash and ringing up customers, wearing gloves or not, and you see that in some of the smaller shops. And your buttercream story reinforces my unwillingness to ever eat bakery buttercream again, ugh!

Slightly off-topic, but I will never forget one time at the Watergate Hotel butchershop when Chef Klaus was helping us out and he dropped a whole tray of veal scallopine, and it went all over the dirty floor, probably a thousand dollars worth of meat. He looked at me, probably thinking I was going to make a fuss and say we should throw it away or something, but I just helped him pick it up, dust it off, and put it back on the tray. We shoved it into the walk-in cooler and nothing more was said about it.

I hope it was fed to Nixon!

Thanks for feeding my obsession with Norwalk viruses. No wonder I got one again this year!

Leland, your Nixon comment gave me a BIG chuckle.

Leland’s comment about Nixon made me gasp—how old does he think I am?!!

You’re 31! There, I’ve revealed your age for all the world to see.

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