Forty-nine percent of the kitchen towels collected for the study were laden with bacteria, and the bacterial count increased with the number of family members and kids, researchers from the Indian Ocean island/nation of Mauritius reported. The towels that were used for multiple purposes like wiping utensils, drying hands, holding hot utensils, wiping/cleaning surfaces, etc., had a higher bacterial count than single-use towels.
Among the samples which were positive for bacterial growth, 36.7 percent grew coliforms, 36.7 percent grew Enterococcus spp, and 14.3 percent grew S. aureus.
Susheela D. Biranjia-Hurdoyal, PhD, from the University of Mauritius in Moka, and colleagues collected 100 kitchen towels after one month of use, and then cultured and identified bacteria found on the towels.
"But staph being "[on] the towel isn't as concerning as [it being in] food", an expert tells Live Science, noting researchers failed to find the types of bacteria typically associated with foodborne illnesses, like salmonella and O157:H7, a particularly harmful strain of E. coli.
The study is being presented at the American Society for Microbiology in Atlanta, Georgia annual meet.
"Humid towels and multipurpose usage of towels should be discouraged", Biranjia-Hurdoyal said in a statement. Towels used by families with children or elderly people contained more bacteria, as did large families in general.
What were the kinds of bacteria found on the towels?
"However, even when provided with disposable single-use paper towels, participants were still observed using these in a way that led to additional contamination of contact surfaces", he noted.
Both E. coli and S. aureus were found at higher rates in families with non-vegetarian diets. "The presence of Escherichia coli indicates possible fecal contamination and lack of hygiene practices (while handling non-vegetarian food)".
The USDA also recommends taking several precautions when preparing food in the kitchen in order to prevent the spread of germs that could make you or your family sick.
The presence of potential pathogens from the kitchen towels indicates that they could be responsible for cross-contamination in the kitchen and could lead to food poisoning.