You might want to think twice before picking up a kitchen towel ever again.
A frightening new study found that those handy towels—the ones you use for everything from drying the dishes and wiping counters to holding hot things—are breeding grounds for bacteria that cause food poisoning and infections.
A study from the University of Mauritius, as reported by U.S. News & World Report, found that a staggering 49% of kitchen towels contained bacterial growth. Unsurprisingly, in their examination of 100 kitchen towels after one month of use, researchers also discovered that bacterial growth increased in larger families and with the presence of children. Furthermore, towels used for multiple purposes were considerably germier than single-use towels. And humid towels? You guessed it: those had way more bacteria than dry ones.
Of the 49% of towels that contained bacterial growth, 36.7% contained E. coli; 36.7% contained Enterococcus, which causes urinary tract and bloodstream infections; and 14.3% contained Staphylococcus aureus, A.K.A. staph, which causes scary skin and tissue infections.
According to the study, staph was most prevalent in towels used by families with children and in lower income households. The risk of E. coli was higher in humid towels, multipurpose towels, and in families that eat and prepare meat.
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E. coli normally resides in the human intestine, and its presence on kitchen towels indicates a serious lack of hygiene practices—namely cross-contamination in the preparation of vegetables and meats.
"Our study demonstrates that the family composition and hygienic practices in the kitchen affected the microbial load of kitchen towels," lead author Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal said in a press release. "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."
“Humid towels and multipurpose usage of kitchen towels should be discouraged,” Biranjia-Hurdoyal concluded. “Bigger families with children and elderly members should be especially vigilant to hygiene in the kitchen.”