How Your Kitchen Towels Can Cause Food Poisoning

Which families are at greater risk of using contaminated towels?

Scientists from the University of Mauritius examined 100 kitchen towels that had been used for a month.

"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 Susheela D. Biranjia-Hurdoyal, senior lecturer of health sciences at the University of Mauritius and a lead author on the study presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

Scientists found half the towels they analysed contained bacteria such as E.coli - with damp or wet material boosting their numbers.

Out of the 49 samples which were positive more than a third (37 per cent) grew E.coli, or Enterococcus spp and one in seven (14 per cent) S. aureus.

The government recommends washing or changing tea towels, sponges, dish cloths and oven gloves regularly and letting them dry before re-using them.

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 the dry ones. Biranjia-Hurdoyal and colleagues then cultured the bacteria in the towels and identified them using standard biochemical tests.

The food poisoning bacteria, which can be fatal for the elderly or the infirm, were more prevalent among families that had non-vegetarian diets. The majority are harmless but some can cause severe food poisoning and serious infection.

"The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen", Dr Biranjia-Hurdoyal said. The presence of this bacteria suggests lack of hygiene practices and possible fecal contamination.

Staphylococcus can cause food poisoning as the bacteria multiply quickly at room temperature to produce a toxin that causes illness.

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