Q: How much protection do disposable gloves provide at the deli counter and elsewhere?
A: It depends on many factors. People often take plastic gloves as a sign that the wearer is meticulous about cleanliness. But that isn’t necessarily so. Dirty gloves are like dirty hands—bacteria and viruses can thrive in either locale.
If the counter-person has just stifled a sneeze or cough in the gloves before making your sandwich, or put raw chicken on the grill without a glove change before making your salad, you are no better off than if the worker had been barehanded. Microbes stick well to gloves and can be fairly hard to wash off.
Handwashing is essential—before donning gloves and after removing them. Indeed, workers who keep their hands really clean don’t need gloves. Gloves do offer the advantage of protecting hands from harsh cleansers or from such foods as hot peppers. Many states now mandate or suggest the use of gloves in food service. But you might notice, or politely ask, if the person at the counter has put on a new pair.