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Kitchen Towels Harbor Pathogens Responsible for Food Poisoning

Researchers from the University of Mauritius identify factors that impact the growth of pathogens on kitchen towels, which can potentially result in food poisoning.

As outbreaks of food-borne infections continue to make headlines, researchers from the University of Mauritius have identified several factors that contribute to pathogen growth on one of the most used staples in everyone’s kitchens: towels.

The research was presented at the ASM Microbe meeting, held this year in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Our study demonstrates that the family composition and hygienic practices in the kitchen affected the microbial load of kitchen towels,” Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal, PhD, senior lecturer of the department of Health Sciences at the University of Mauritius, said in a recent 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.”

Dr Biranjia-Hurdoyal and her team reported that about half (49%) of the kitchen towels that had been collected for the study for evaluation were found to have bacterial growth on them; they noted that the number of bacteria grew as the family size grew, as more children were present, and with the use of more extended family.

Additionally, the team found that compared with single-use towels, towels used for several purposes including wiping utensils, clean surfaces, and hands, had more bacteria present. They added that more bacteria were found on humid towels compared with dry ones.

For their study, the team collected a total of 100 kitchen towels that had been used for 1 month. The researchers set to work on culturing the bacteria, and with the use of standard biochemical tests, they also identified the bacteria present on the towels. They were also able to determine bacterial load. Out of a total of 49 towel samples where bacteria had been identified, the team reported that 36.7% grew coliforms, 36.7% grew Enterococcus spp, and 14.3% grew Staphylococcus aureus (S aureus).

The team detected a higher incidence of S aureus on towels belonging to families with lower socio-economic status and families which had children. They determined that risk of coliforms was higher with humid towels compared with dry ones, from towels used for several purposes compared with single-use, and from families who were not on vegetarian diets. In fact, families on non-vegetarian diets were found to have “significantly higher prevalence” of both coliform and S aureus than families on vegetarian diets.

“The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen,” Dr Biranjia-Hurdoyal said. The fact that researchers found bacterial pathogens on the towels suggests that these items could lead to cross-contamination, and, subsequently, food poisoning.

“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,” she concluded.

Feature Picture Source: Andy Melton / flickr / Creative Commons.