Latex Allergies Rising in Restaurants

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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  • by Beth Location: Washington on Jun 7, 2012 at 12:28 AM
    I worked in a hospital that used nitril gloves because of the epidemic latex allergies developing, especially in people with multiple surgeries/doctors and nurses who are constantly exposed to latex. If nitril gloves are acceptable in a hospital I'm sure they are just fine for the food service industry. I am highly allergic to latex (anaphylactic),I rarely eat out and cannot go shopping because of the latex balloons everywhere. I don't ask for sympathy or special treatment but if latex were banned in the food industry, that's one place I'd be comfortable in. I wouldn't have to worry about dying if I chose to eat out. Those of you saying that people should stay home because of allergies, just put yourselves in our shoes for a minute, how would you like to be confined to your house with special shoes, clothes, a mask to go outside...? My allergy isn't quite that severe but I know of people who's are. I'm just saying, banning latex gloves really has not ill effect on anyone. Continued use of them however, is harmful to those with allergies to it, and could cause others to develop the allergy through continued use. Try not to be so judgmental please.
  • by Anne Location: Virginia on May 22, 2012 at 06:18 PM
    I developed latex allergy at work from wearing latex gloves. It started off as a mild nuisance and became severe after repeated occupational exposures to natural rubber latex. There are nurses, dentists, day care workers, police officers, balloon artists, etc disabled by latex allergy. For many years, I was bed ridden on and off; for weeks at a time. It took years for me to be able to work again. I often have reactions working requiring emergency medical assistance or emergency medicines like epipens and steroids. But I must eat! Those who scoff at latex allergy might hate to deal with workers compensation insurance that delays paying for court ordered medicines,reimbursements or disability pay. People like me have lost homes, marriages, careers, etc due to latex allergy and these delays. I have had to lose major organs, teeth, etc due to latex exposure or having to wait for a doctor/dentist/hospital willing and able to give the medical care needed. Many other allergies and sensitivities built off the latex allergy, especially when working around latex gloves. Latex allergy is preventable. Who wants the corn starch (used to don latex gloves easier) or the latex proteins that adhere to the corn starch, on their food? I and many others have had severe anaphylactic reactions to food that has been touched by latex gloves. These reactions are rarely documented even when reported. There has been conclusive evidence of such reactions, but big companies don't want it known. Vinyl gloves are much safer and leave less residue on the food. Nitrile gloves hold up better for chemical use, including for cleaning. Even so called powder free latex gloves can have cornstarch powder on them to which the latex adheres and becomes airborne. There is no law last I read as to how much powder can be in a glove before it can be called "powder free".
  • by Lewis Location: London, UK on May 22, 2012 at 12:26 AM
    Reading all these posts just go to show people's lack of understanding. As someone who has had 19 anaphylactic shocks to latex I can promise you it's not something to be taken lightly. In the UK, Under the government's COSHH system, Latex is declared as a hazardous substance to health!!! It's quite easy to swap out latex for Nitrile or Vinyl and they will still provide a barrier and protect customer's health.
  • by Elena Location: Washington DC on May 7, 2012 at 07:27 AM
    First of all, there is no conclusive evidence that any latex allergic reaction has occurred through food ingestion from latex gloves in food handling. In other words, the author is proposing a widespread ban when there is a lack of scientific data proving any risk. On the other hand, substantial evidence does exist that latex provides better barrier protection than other glove alternatives. We do know that 100 percent of people in restaurants are vulnerable to harmful infections. So do we really want to increase our likelihood of contracting harmful infections by eliminating the use of the food handling glove that provides the best protection?
  • by beach guy on May 3, 2012 at 04:28 AM
    I think the risks of not wearing latex gloves in a food enviroment outweigh the risks of wearing them for the customers. I personally think it should be a law all food service workers wear them.
    • reply
      by SWilliams on May 4, 2012 at 08:20 AM in reply to beach guy
      Latex gloves were never intended for restaurant use but medical use. There are alternatives to latex that are just as effective in food borne illness protection without placing the customer at risk and the staff.
  • by Nancy Location: Massachusetts on May 2, 2012 at 10:18 AM
    Latex gloves are not banned in restaurants in Massachusetts. However, the Massachusetts Board of Health does recommend they not be used.
    • reply
      by S.Williams on May 3, 2012 at 06:37 AM in reply to Nancy
      Bellingham Massachusetts has successfully passed a ban on latex gloves in all food establishments. As you stated, the Massachusett Board of Health request no latex gloves be used in restaurants as does The National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health, FDA and OSHA.
      • reply
        by Nancy on May 4, 2012 at 07:38 PM in reply to S.Williams
        Latex balloons and latex gloves are also prohibited in the Bellingham Public Library.
  • by dan Location: panama city beach on May 2, 2012 at 08:49 AM
    just because you have an alergy to something does not give you the right to change everybody else........i work in a restaurant and people come in alergic to all kinds of things.........stay home and cook
    • reply
      by S.Williams on May 3, 2012 at 06:25 AM in reply to dan
      Actually, I do stay home and cook and enjoy it.Latex is an allergen just like peanuts.Restaurants are accomodating of peanut allergies, shrimp and other food allergies by not allowing these items to come into contact with people's food. But if a restaurant employee uses latex gloves the proteins adheres to the food. Employees using latex gloves have a risk of developing a latex allergy for which there is no cure. So using an alternative is simple and it prevents any problems.
    • reply
      by Nancy on May 4, 2012 at 07:40 PM in reply to dan
      It's a reasonable accommodation, Dan.
  • by S.Williams Location: Destin Florida on May 2, 2012 at 06:23 AM
    Not all people are allergic to latex but anyone has the potential to develop the allergy. Latex gloves being used on a daily basis is why most nurses, doctors and healthcare staff have developed latex allergies. People who deny this to be a problem do not understand the physiology of the allergy. New reports state there are 16 million people with a latex allergy. People who do not suffer from any allergy we that do would not expect you to understand until you too develop some sort of an allergy.
  • by Ken Location: California on May 1, 2012 at 01:44 PM
    I think this is a bunch of nonsense. Tires, shoes, door mats etc etc etc are made from latex, do you not go outside? You don't get an allergic reaction because someone else touched something with latex glove on, ridiculous!
    • reply
      by beach guy on May 5, 2012 at 04:07 AM in reply to Ken
      Lets not forget condoms, my guess would be that they are the 1st latex experience most young people have. Personally, I used condoms long before I ever touched a pair of latex gloves.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jun 15, 2012 at 04:21 PM in reply to Ken
      None of this is nonsense if you were the one who had it. I hope God gives you perspective and a heart for those of us who cant touch or breath around anything latex. Try to have sympathy for others!!
  • by terry Location: panama city on May 1, 2012 at 09:23 AM
    If i was allergic ot latex i would have been dead by the 10th grade.
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