What is Nitrile?
Nitrile refers to a synthetic rubber product known as nitrile butadiene rubber, also called NBR or, simply, nitrile rubber.
Nitrile rubber is a material highly resistant to oils, fuels, and many other chemicals. Although this material has many applications (seals, O-rings, gaskets), it is most commonly known for being used in the construction of medical and food-service gloves.
Properties of Nitrile Gloves
The main advantage of nitrile gloves is their versatility and durability, superior to the polyethylene or vinyl glove, and comparable to the latex glove, the previous standard in the food industry.
Like latex, nitrile gloves provide a snug fit, possess great elasticity, protection against abrasions, tears, punctures, and resistance to water, oil, and solvents. These properties make nitrile gloves ideal for handling multiple types of foods, from fresh fruit and vegetables to raw meats, preventing the wearer from contaminating food and causing foodborne illnesses.
The primary difference between latex and nitrile is the nature of the glove’s material; latex gloves can cause severe adverse reactions to some people. In contrast, nitrile is 100% safe for individuals suffering from a latex allergy, making it a great option for a broader range of people.
What Types of Nitrile Gloves are Available?
Although nitrile gloves may be sold and marketed for various applications, the two most important criteria for the food handling industry are their grade and whether they are powder-free.
Grades of Nitrile Gloves
Nitrile gloves may be either food-grade, industrial-grade, or medical-grade (also called examination-grade). Although they use the same raw materials in their construction, there may be significant differences in thickness, manufacturing processes, and overall material quality.
The main difference between the different nitrile glove grades is whether the gloves pass FDA safety tests and requirements for that specific application, using various chemical penetration, abrasion, and puncture resistance tests to determine their quality level.
Powdered vs. Powder-Free Gloves
Most nitrile gloves are available in two forms: powdered or powder-free.
Powdered nitrile gloves are coated in fine cornstarch powder, a natural moisture-absorbing substance intended to make it easier to don the gloves and keep the wearer’s hands dry and sweat-free.
However, powdered gloves present many disadvantages: the powder tends to remain stuck to the wearer’s hands and other surfaces after removing the gloves, carrying a long list of potential health risks, such as airway inflammations, respiratory irritations, and allergic reactions.
Powder-free nitrile gloves employ different manufacturing processes to recreate the properties of cornstarch powder, such as chlorination or polymer coating. These processes allow wearers to don the gloves with more ease than untreated or uncoated gloves, without the disadvantages of cornstarch powder.
Which Gloves Should I Buy for Food Preparation?
The safest and most durable nitrile gloves for food preparation on the market are powder-free medical-grade gloves. They offer the highest durability, adhere to the most stringent quality and safety standards, and are not coated using cornstarch glove powder, which can spread into the wearer’s airways or onto food.