Do you use kitchen towels? They can cause food poisoning

Henrietta Strickland
June 12, 2018

The research, which is being presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Atlanta, suggests that you should wash or change your towels, oven gloves and sponges regularly to stop cross-contamination and a shrieking, painful demise in the middle of your kitchen in front of your horrified family members.

'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'.

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 research also shows that E.coli is more likely to be found on damp tea towels. The type of foods people ate also played a role.

The risk of harboring coliforms, such as E. coli, was higher in humid towels than dry ones.

In addition, towels used for multiple purposes - including wiping utensils, drying hands and wiping surfaces - grew more bacteria than towels used for a single goal, the researchers found.

But while these numbers may seem alarming, Anthony D. Baughn, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at University of Minnesota Medical School, said there's no reason to be overly anxious.

They found staphylococcus was more likely to be found on towels from families with children and of lower socio-economic status. The scientists took samples from the towels - which had been used, without being washed, for one month - and cultured, or grew, these samples in lab dishes.

Chapman recommended frequently washing and drying kitchen towels to prevent bacterial growth. But just how often do you need to swap them out?

Experts say ideally, every day. They also determined the bacterial load on the towels.

Additionally, a 2015 US study that looked at kitchen health conditions in 100 Philadelphia homes found that almost half had at least one foodborne disease-causing organism, such as E. coli.

"Don't wrap your finger in that towel that might be laden with staph", he said. "Mainly because you're cleaning up vegetables, carcasses of meat, and all sorts of food stuff that can potentially contain pathogenic [disease-causing] bacteria that will grow in numbers over time". Neither Baughn nor Tierno were involved with the study.

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

A solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water may be used to sanitize surfaces and utensils.

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