Tea towels used multiple times put families at risk of food poisoning

Experts found the issue was worst among large families, meat-eaters and those who use towels for multiple purposes such as wiping utensils, drying hands, holding hot items and wiping surfaces.

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

Half of tea towels analysed contained bacteria, with big families and meat eaters facing increased danger.

Of the towels collected, 49 per cent had bacterial growth, which increased in number with extended family, presence of children and increasing family size. Of these contaminated towels, 37 per cent grew the enterococcus bacteria (which can cause a variety of infections), while 14 per cent grew the staphylococcus bacteria (a type of germ found on the skin).

"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 a load of kitchen towels", said Susheela D. Biranjia-Hurdoyal, Senior Lecturer, Department of Health Sciences, University of Mauritius, lead author on the study.

Repeatedly using an old one could help to spread food poisoning, researchers warn.

In the study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Atlanta Georgia, researchers showed that the size of a family, diet type at home, and multi-usage of towels are among the factors that can influence the growth of disease-causing pathogens on kitchen towels, which can potentially lead to food poisoning. Biranjia-Hurdoyal and colleagues then cultured the bacteria in the towels and identified them using standard biochemical tests. Humid towels also have more bacteria compared with the dry ones.

Further, S. aureus was isolated at a higher rate from families of lower socio-economic status and those with children.

Ever wonder how much bacteria is growing on your kitchen towel?

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

"Kitchen towels won't necessarily make you sick", he told CBS News, "but they are a reservoir for these organisms that can sometimes be problematic".

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