Glove cross-contamination accounts for 15 percent of the 3,000 reported deaths and 48 million reported illnesses in the US each year from foodborne illness. One Kiwi company is doing its bit to reduce that level through food safe products and processes and research into the science of disposable gloves and how they affect the food they touch.
Someone literally with a finger in every pie is Steve Ardagh, chief executive of specialist Kiwi glove manufacturer Eagle Protect, which supplies a large proportion of New Zealand’s food processors, including meat processors and manufacturers, alongside the dental, medical and aged care sectors, with disposable gloves and clothing. With the New Zealand business growing strongly, the company knew the only real option for expansion was to look into offshore markets.
“Australia was the obvious choice but for us the challenge associated with business in the greatest consumer nation in the world was the attraction,” explains Ardagh. He even relocated the family to California after realising that to be successful in the US you have to actually be there.
“It has been quite a culture shock because as much as we may thing we are alike, we are different in many ways,” he says.
The company has recently undertaken research into the science of disposable gloves and their effect on cross-contamination and food safety, joining forces with international food safety expert Barry Michaels to further research investment.
“Our goal is to protect our customers – and their customers – by reducing the number of food safety related events each year through the supply of quality gloves,” says Ardagh.
Insights from the research showed the US is estimated to use around 100 billion disposable gloves a year with a sizeable amount of this in food manufacturing, processing and service. Customers are very price-conscious, but Eagle has found its goal to improve food safety programmes has resonated well with the sector. Another finding was that Eagle Protect’s new nitrile gloves’ ‘Teflon-like’ characteristics did not allow bacteria and micro-organisms to pick up and transfer contaminants between gloved hands, food products and surfaces.
“We are currently in trials, or have been asked to bid with several large big-box foodservice companies and, like in New Zealand, supply some well known industry businesses across the nation.”
One of the company’s latest decisions was to replicate practice from New Zealand to stop selling vinyl gloves in the US because they had been found to be three times more likely to spread bacteria than the nitrile gloves. This gained nationwide news coverage and also provided positive feedback from the large incumbents in the industry as well as large users.
Ardagh has some advice for New Zealand businesses wanting to gain a foothold in the US. “Relocate and make a plan. Expect to throw that plan out and make another one. Then repeat! It will take twice as long as you think and cost twice as much, but we are happy with our decision and have found the whole journey very rewarding.”
Eagle Protect is New Zealand’s first Certified B Corporation and the world’s only B Corp certified disposable glove and protective clothing specialist. It has recently been certified Child Labor Free to manufacturing level for a specific range of products. It’s US office is based in South Lake Tahoe, California. The company is currently exploring options to raise capital to assist with growth and the promotion of food safety.