The ugly side to your household tea towel

Grant Boone
June 12, 2018

"Our study demonstrates that the family composition and hygienic practices in the kitchen affected the microbial load of kitchen towels", said Dr Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal, of the University of Mauritius.

Multiple use increases the chance of cross-contamination of potential pathogens that can spread bacteria and lead to food poisoning.

Multiple factors contribute to an increase in bacteria found on towels, including family size and the type of food consumed. Damp towels had higher concentrations than dry, and towels used for a variety of tasks (drying hands, wiping surfaces, holding hot implements) were more likely to be contaminated than single-use dish cloths.

The answer could be yes if you use the towel for many purposes, have a large family and are not a vegetarian, according to a new study of germs lurking on towels.

They found staphylococcus was more likely to be found on towels from families with children and of lower socio-economic status.

If you wipe a floor spillage with a tea towel, the advice is to put that in the wash instead of then using it to dry cutlery. Bacteria also marked their presence on towels with traces of meat on it. Thanks in part to how often they are reused, they are often filth-encrusted sheets infested with bacteria, meaning that they're putting you - an innocent kitchen-dweller - at an elevated risk of food poisoning.

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Out of these 49 samples positive for bacterial growth, 36.7 per cent grew coliforms, 36.7 per cent Enterococcus spp and 14.3 per cent S aureus.

The towels incurred from the meat-eating houses showed a higher prevalence of Coliforms along with the Staphylococcus.

"However, even when provided with disposable single-use paper towels, participants were still observed using these in a way that led to additional contamination of contact surfaces", he noted.

The team is presenting the results of their work at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Atlanta, Georgia.

Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers or handling pets.

"Humid towels and multipurpose usage of kitchen towels should be discouraged", Dr. Biranjia-Hurdoyal said. Researchers said the presence of E coli on several towels in the study is likely to have come from faecal contamination, suggesting unhygienic practices in the kitchen are widespread. Hygiene maintenance is vital for families that have more members or have children and elderly she said.

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