Shocking new study

A new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology has found that re-using tea towels could put households at risk of food poisoning.

Scientists from the University of Mauritius examined 100 tea towels that had been used for a month and found that just under half the towels they analysed contained dangerous bacteria, such as E.coli.

E.coli is a type of bacteria common in human and animal intestines. The majority are harmless but some can cause severe food poisoning, diarrhea and serious infection.

“In this study, we investigated the potential role of kitchen towels in cross-contamination in the kitchen and various factors affecting the microbial profile and load of kitchen towels,” said lead author of the study Dr Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal.

How bad was it?

Just less than half (49%) of the kitchen towels collected in the study had bacterial growth, which increased in number based on the number of people in the household, – there was more when extended family members and children were present.

The towels for multipurpose usage (wiping utensils, drying hands, holding hot utensils, wiping/cleaning surfaces) had a higher bacterial count than single-use towels and humid towels showed higher bacterial count than dry ones.

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

“We also found that diet, type of use and moist kitchen towels could be very important in promoting the growth of potential pathogens responsible for food poisoning.

“The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen.”

The presence of potential pathogens from kitchen towels indicates they could be responsible for cross-contamination in the kitchen and could lead to food poisoning.

“Humid towels and multipurpose usage of kitchen towels should be discouraged. Bigger families with children and elderly members should be especially vigilant to hygiene in the kitchen,” Dr. Biranjia-Hurdoyal said.

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

Staphylococcus can cause food poisoning as the bacteria multiply quickly at room temperature to produce a toxin that causes illness. It is killed by cooking and pasteurisation.

Scientists concluded that using disposable, single-use paper towels for kitchen uses was a more hygienic option.

How often do you wash your tea towels?