What to Know
- Forty-nine of 100 samples came back positive for bacterial growth, including Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.
- Multi-use and damp towels are more likely to be contaminated .
- Towels used among bigger families and those with children had higher rates of bacteria.
A new study suggests kitchen towels may be breeding grounds for bacteria that can lead to food poisoning.
Researchers from the University of Mauritius, an island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa, performed tests on 100 cloth towels they collected from participants after one month of use.
Forty-nine of the samples came back positive for bacterial growth, including Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.
Benjamin Haynes, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not comment on the study. But he said the bacteria can cause food poisoning when people eat contaminated food.
"E. coli spreads when you swallow something that has poop on it, such as contaminated food," he said in a written statement. "Staph can be found on healthy people but can contaminate food if they don’t wash their hands before touching it."
The study found bacterial contamination is more common in multi-use and damp towels. Using a participant questionnaire, researchers discovered certain lifestyle factors also increased the type and amount of bacteria present in the towels.
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“Bigger families with children and elderly members should be especially vigilant to hygiene in the kitchen,” said Dr. Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal, lead author of the study.
There were also higher rates of Staphylococcus aureus in towels used by low-income families. Both Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus were significantly more prevalent among non-vegetarian families.
“The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen,” Biranjia-Hurdoyal said in a statement.
Haynes recommended the public follow standard food safety protocol to avoid the spread of food-borne illness.
"People should make sure to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling and preparing food, avoid preparing food if you are sick, and keep raw food separate from ready-to-eat food," he said. "It’s also important to cook foods to the appropriate temperature and refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours."
Undergraduates used “standard biochemical tests" on the towels and published the preliminary findings in an abstract they presented last week to the American Society for Microbiology’s annual conference.