Latex Allergies Rising in Restaurants

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Destin - More restaurants are catering to customers who have food allergies, but for millions of people, its not the food they're allergic to, it's what the restaurant workers are wearing on their hands. In our special report, we take a closer look at the rise of latex allergies and how seemingly harmless gloves can be dangerous to workers and customers.

It's been four years since Sylvia Williams has eaten anything in a restaurant. While her husband enjoys his meal, she sits, sipping on water. "I would love to be able to eat in a restaurant with him," says Williams. But she doesn't because she isn't sure what kind of gloves are used in the kitchen. Williams allergic to latex and is afraid of an allergic reaction from latex touching her food. "My throat could close up, I start itching, my eyes burn and water," she says. "I can have anaphlatic shock and possibly death." Although Williams feels isolated at times like this, she's not alone. A growing number of people are developing allergies to latex.

Dr. Carla Hinds tests patients for latex allergies. Most, like Williams, who works as a nurse, are in the health care industry. Dr. Hinds says, "Now everybody who touches body fluids uses gloves for everything." We asked Dr. Hinds why latex allergies are increasing. One reason, says Dr. Hinds, is exposure. The more latex you touch or breathe, the more severe your allergy becomes. "You try to avoid exposure to prevent sensitization, it keeps increasing the IGE, which is the antibody, the more IGE you get, the more likely you are to have a bad reaction."

Latex allergies are also becoming more common among food service workers. At Dewey Destins Seafood in Destin, Florida, food workers can go through six boxes of gloves per shift. If they're made of latex, they can be a danger to both employees and customers with allergies. That's why Dewey Destins stopped using latex. Chef Jim Shirah says, "We had servers and staff complain of being allergic, it irritates their skin, so we just nipped it in the bud, and started using nitrile gloves"

But at many other restaurants, and even some doctors offices and medical facilities, latex is still commonly used. Dr. Hinds shows us the difference in types of gloves. "These are vinyl, these are nitrile, both are safe," says Dr. Hinds. When asked why not just use the safe gloves, Dr. Hinds agrees it comes down to money. Latex is often cheaper than good non-latex, nitrile gloves, like the kind used at Dewey Destins. But not every restaurant is willing to pay a higher price for non-latex, and they don't have to. While banned in restaurants in Oregon, Rhode Island, Arizona and Massachusetts, latex is legal in Florida.

"We have seven million people already allergic to latex," says Williams. "People come to Florida, to Destin and surrounding areas as a tourist destination, so this is just a safety issue that would protect the restaurant and the customer. Williams hopes one day she will be able to dine freely in Florida. "Its a simple solution to a big problem. We have so many visitors here, they deserve to come to Florida and be safe in restaurants." Williams is now busy contacting lawmakers, hoping to ban latex in Florida restaurants.

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