There could be something lurking in your kitchen towels.
A recent study from the University of Mauritius, presented at the American Society for Microbiology annual meeting this week, found that depending on the size of a family, kitchen towels had the potential to cause food poisoning.
“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 lead author Dr. Susheela D. Biranjia-Hurdoyal in a statement.
“We also found that diet, type of use and moist kitchen towels could be very important in promoting the growth of potential pathogens responsible for food poisoning.”
The study examined 100 kitchen towels after one month of use from families. Researchers said 49 samples were positive for bacteria that could be found in or on of the human body, CNN reports. Bacteria included E. coli, Enterococcus species as well as Staphylococcus aureus or staph bacteria.
Families who consumed more meat were more likely to have higher prevalence of bacteria on their towels.
“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 said.
Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor at North Carolina State University, told Live Science that while the study did point out bacteria that can exist in our environments, it doesn’t mean these specific can make you sick via a towel.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that something that’s in a kitchen environment has bacteria on it. We really do live in a world that’s dominated by microorganisms,” Chapman told the site.
“The study didn’t find any of the common culprits of food-borne illness, such as salmonella, campylobacter or pathogenic types of E. coli, such as E. coli O157:H7,” he told the site.
Cleaning your towels
But the biggest takeaway of this study is how often we should be washing things like kitchen towels, says Melissa Maker of Clean My Space.
“We should wash kitchen towels every other day or sooner if they’ve been contaminated with bacteria from meat, used to sop up spilled dairy or used to clean anything where bacteria is a factor, she tells Global News. “They are notorious for picking up odours and bacteria and after all, we are using them to dry out hands … ostensibly after washing them.”
She adds microfibre dish towels are less likely to smell since they don’t provide a comfortable living environment for bacteria like the way cotton does.
“Dish towels can be laundered using normal settings, I tend to use cold water and gentle detergent. But, if the towels have come into contact with bacteria and you want a little more action, use the hot water setting to kill off anything funky. Adding some tea tree oil to your detergent — 10 drops — will also help kill off bacteria.”
Any dish towel can be replaced when it has holes, frays, or is discoloured, she adds.
In the summer specifically, if people are barbecuing meat or making fresh salads, it’s also important to be aware of cross-contamination.
“When it comes to cross-contamination, be aware of what you are touching and using for cooking and prep work. I tend to ‘work’ with one hand (meaty hand) and ‘help’ with the other,” Maker continues. “If I season meat with left hand, I flip it with my right hand so I never get meat juices into my salt.”
Another great way to avoid cross-contamination when cooking is to prep all of your ingredients first, she says. Wash your hands if you switch between meat or produce and have fresh towels ready for cooking and cleaning.”
“Typically, soap and hot water is sufficient to get rid of most bacteria in the kitchen. I’ll also quickly hand wash my cooking utensils after I’ve placed raw meat onto my heat source so I can keep using them safely.”
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