Repeatedly using an old one could help to spread food poisoning, researchers warn.
Scientists found half the towels they analysed contained bacteria such as E.coli - with damp or wet material boosting their numbers. Those germs were also more likely to be found in multipurpose towels - those used for wiping utensils, drying hands, holding hot implements, and cleaning surfaces - and on the kitchen towels of families who ate non-vegetarian diets. They found that 49 percent of the towels exhibited growth of bacteria normally found in or on the human body.
They found bacteria growth on 49 of them, with more than a third testing positive for coliforms, the group of species of which E.coli is a member. The risk of having coliforms (Escherichia coli) was higher from humid towels than the dried ones, from multipurpose towels than single-use ones and from families on non-vegetarian diets.
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Scientists concluded that using disposable, single-use paper towels for kitchen towels was a more hygienic option.
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. It also found tea towels in the homes of larger families and those of a lower socio-economic background had higher rates of bacteria growth.
Additionally, a 2015 USA study that looked at kitchen health conditions in 100 Philadelphia homes found that almost half had at least one foodborne disease-causing organism, such as E. coli.
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"The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen".
To keep germs from spreading, health experts recommend washing or changing kitchen towels, sponges, and oven gloves regularly and letting them dry before using them again. This new study complicates that advice, suggesting it's not just how often you wash your towels, but also how you use them that determines how dirty they get and how often they should be swapped.
The study is being presented at the American Society for Microbiology in Atlanta, Georgia annual meet. "There's just a wider range of sources of possible bacteria in the kitchen". This could happen if, for instance, someone used a kitchen towel to wipe up meat juices from the counter and another person unknowingly used the towel to dry their hands, Chapman said.
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For the study, Biranjia-Hurdoyal and her colleagues sampled 100 kitchen towels that had been used for one month.