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Just how clean are your kitchen towels? New research suggests that they may be a possible vector for food poisoning

Janine Acero

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Kitchen towels may seem harmless, but a new study suggests that they may be housing pathogens that could potentially cause food poisoning.

The findings of the study suggest that factors such as hygienic practices, type of diet, and family size and composition, to name a few, may impact and even promote the growth of pathogenic microbes on kitchen towels which are responsible for food poisoning.

Researchers from the University of Mauritius collected a total of 100 kitchen towels after one month of use and identified the residing bacteria by standard biochemical tests. They found 49 kitchen towels to be positive for bacterial growth, and of these samples, 36.7 percent grew coliform bacteria, 36.7 percent grew multiple species of Enterococcus, and 14.3 percent grew Staphylococcus aureus.

The research team determined that coliforms (E. coli) significantly proliferated in humid towels that were used multiple times, and with multipurpose usage (drying hands, holding hot utensils, wiping utensils, wiping/cleaning surfaces), by families on non-vegetarian diets. In addition, S. aureus was detected at a higher rate from families with children, and those of lower socio-economic status.

Both coliforms and S. aureus were isolated in significantly high numbers from families with non-vegetarian diets. E. coli, in particular, is a common bacterium found in the human gut, which is passed through feces. The researchers posited that the presence of E. coli indicated poor hygiene and possible fecal contamination.

“The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen,” said study lead Dr. Susheela D. Biranjia-Hurdoyal, a senior lecturer for health sciences at the University of Mauritius.

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The study highlights the potential role of kitchen towels in cross-contamination in the kitchen, as well as other factors affecting the growth of microbes, such as moisture and multiple usages.

“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,” Biranjia-Hurdoyal added.

The study was presented at ASM Microbe, the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, held from June 7 to June 11 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Preventing food poisoning

Observing proper hygiene in the kitchen is just one of several things that you should follow to avoid food poisoning, one of the most common health issues worldwide. Here are some tips to help you reduce your risk, as well as your family’s, of contracting a foodborne illness:

  1. Wash your hands – When we hear the word “hygiene,” washing hands is always a top priority. Wash your hands with soap and water before AND after handling any kind of raw food, including meat, fish, eggs, and vegetables; after going to the toilet; after touching trash bins; after blowing your nose; and after touching animals, even your own pets.
  2. Wash your worktop – Always wash worktops with soapy water before and after preparing food, especially if raw meat (including poultry), raw eggs, raw fish, and vegetables have been prepared on them.
  3. Wash kitchen towels – As per the study mentioned above, damp, used kitchen towels, dishcloths, and the like are the perfect place for pathogenic bacteria to proliferate. Always wash them thoroughly and make sure they are completely dry before using them again.
  4. Keep raw meat separate – Keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat foods like bread, fruits, and salads, as these foods don’t need to be cooked before consumption, and any bacteria that manage to get onto them will stay there.
  5. Cook food properly – Make sure raw meats and poultry are cooked thoroughly, with no pink meat inside.

Food poisoning is a preventable health concern if you observe proper kitchen hygiene. Learn more about foodborne illnesses at

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