Half of tea towels analysed contained bacteria, with big families and meat eaters facing increased danger.
Researchers from the University of Mauritius have shown that factors such as family size, type of diet, multi-usage of towels, among other factors, impact the growth of pathogens on kitchen towels, potentially causing food poisoning. The scientists took samples from the towels - which had been used, without being washed, for one month - and cultured, or grew, these samples in lab dishes.
Of the towel samples that tested positive for bacteria, about 73 percent grew types of bacteria found in human intestines, including E. coli and Enterococcus species. According to researchers, E. coli growth was more likely to be found on damp towels and on towels used for multiple purposes, such as drying dishes and cleaning counters.
Kitchen towels may harbor risky bacteria such as e.coli from human feces that can cause food poisoning.
"Our study demonstrates that the family composition and hygienic practices in the kitchen affected the microbial load of kitchen towels", said lead author Susheela D. Biranjia-Hurdoyal, senior lecturer, at the University of Mauritius. They found that 49% of the towels exhibited growth of bacteria normally found in or on the human body. The study determined that meat-eating households, large family homes, and homes with a lower socio-economic background also had higher rates of bacteria growth, The Independent reports.
"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".
All three food poisoning bugs, which can be fatal for the elderly or infirm, were much more prevalent among families that had non-vegetarian diets. The presence of this bacteria suggests lack of hygiene practices and possible fecal contamination.
"The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen", Dr Biranjia-Hurdoyal said. Although staph bacteria usually don't cause illness in healthy people, when the bacterium gets into food, it can product toxins that can cause food poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The risk of harboring coliforms, such as E. coli, was higher in humid towels than dry ones.
This is not the first study to warn families to be wary of kitchen hygiene.
The study was presented at the meeting, ASM Microbe 2018.
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