You might want to think twice before reaching for a tea towel to dry those freshly washed dishes.
A new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, 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 half the towels they analysed contained dangerous bacteria, such as E.coil.
E.coil 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.
Lead author of the study, Dr Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal said: “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.”
Read more: Germs galore! We are dirtier than we think
The bacteria, which can be fatal, was more likely to be found on towels used for multiple jobs, such as wiping utensils, and cleaning surfaces, as well as drying hands. E.coil was also more prevalent among families that had non-vegetarian diets.
“The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen,” Dr Biranjia-Hurdoyal said. “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.”
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 the 49 examples that were positive for bacterial growth, in total, 37 per cent of towels grew coliforms, 37 per cent tested positive for enterococcus bacteria and 14 per cent developed staphylococcus aureus.
Scientists concluded that using disposable, single-use paper towels for kitchen towels was a more hygienic option.
Surprisingly, the tea towel isn’t the dirtiest item in the kitchen. In a 2011 study conducted by NSF International, researchers found 75 per cent of kitchen sponges and wipes were contaminated with bacteria.
Other places bacteria was found included the sink (45 per cent), counter tops (32 per cent) and cutting boards (18 per cent).