What were the findings of the study?
For the study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Georgia, the team collected total of 100 kitchen towels after one month of use. The families who provided the towels also submitted a filled-out questionnaire about their living conditions.
The researchers found that 49% of the kitchen towels had bacterial growth, which increased significantly by size of family, extended family, and presence of children.
"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 Dr. Susheela D. Biranjia-Hurdoyal, Senior Lecturer, Department of Health Sciences, University of Mauritius, lead author on the study.
In fact, she said these household staples were probably "more susceptible" to bacteria growth because they are more often wet. Bacteria also marked their presence on towels with traces of meat on it. Moreover diet, type of use and moist kitchen towels could be very important in promoting the growth of potential pathogens responsible for food poisoning.
"The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen", Biranjia-Hurdoyal said.
They found E.coli was more likely to be found on towels used for multiple jobs, such as wiping utensils and cleaning surfaces, as well as drying hands. S. aureus is a bacteria found in the respiratory tract. Researchers found bacteria growth on 49 towels, with more than a third testing positive for coliforms, the group of species of which E coli is a member.
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They found staphylococcus was more likely to be found on towels from families with children and of lower socio-economic status.
Research showed the risk of towels contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli was higher on humid towels, multi-purpose towels, and in families with non-vegetarian diets.
Humid towels had higher chances of harboring coliforms than the dried ones.
According to the researchers, the presence of these potential pathogens, especially E.coli, from the kitchen towels indicates potential faecal contamination and bad hygiene practices.
But Ms Moir warned that while paper towel could minimise the food poisoning risk, they are less environmentally friendly.
Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, said the study gives us a look at what bacteria are in the environment around us. Washing your hands before dealing with food and switching towels/sponges regularly were recommended as basic practices in every household.