Using tea towels for more than one job 'can cause food poisoning'

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Dirty towels: kitchen cloths can be carriers of bacteria (image credit: PamWalker68/iStock/
Dirty towels: kitchen cloths can be carriers of bacteria (image credit: PamWalker68/iStock/

Related tags: Food safety

Chefs could be putting their diners’ health at risk by using tea towels for multiple jobs in the kitchen, which could lead to food poisoning, new research has warned.

According to the BBC​, scientists from the University of Mauritius examined 100 tea towels that had been used for a month.

Their research discovered E. coli was more likely to be found on tea towels used for more than one job, including cleaning surfaces and wiping utensils, as well as drying hands. It was also more likely to be found on damp towels, or in places where meat was eaten.

Using towels for a variety of uses increases the possibility of cross-contamination of potential pathogens that can spread bacteria and, therefore, lead to food poisoning.

Scientists carrying out the research grew cultures from bacteria found on tea towels to identify them and determine the bacteria load.

Almost half (49%) of the towels collected had bacterial growth, which increased in number with extended family, presence of children and family size.

Cooking and pasteurisation

The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Atlanta, Georgia, in the US.

The BBC ​also reported lead author Dr Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal as saying: “The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen. Humid towels and multipurpose usage of kitchen towels should be discouraged.”

The research found staphylococcus was more likely to be found on towels from families with children and of lower socio-economic status.

Staphylococcus can cause food poisoning as the bacteria multiplies quickly at room temperature to produce a toxin that causes illness, but can be killed by cooking and pasteurisation.

While the research above was based on household habits, The Morning Advertiser ​spoke with food safety experts to find out how pubs can avoid the risk of food poisoning through dirty tea towels.

UKHospitality food safety advisor Lisa Ackerley said: “Kitchen cloths can carry germs and chefs’ cloths can pick up pathogens, so due attention has to be paid to ensure best practice is carried out.

“If kitchens do use cloths, use disposable ones and, where possible, have them colour coded so there is no risk of cross-contamination."


She added: “Make sure oven cloths are only used to remove food from the oven – not for wiping hands, cleaning the edges of plates or wiping surfaces. Use a new one for each shift and have them professionally laundered.

“Optimise blue roll and a sanitiser as much as practicable. At the wash basin, use blue roll to dry hands and ensure you throw it, and any germs, away after use.”

Food Safety Guru posted advice for operators on its website that said: “Dish cloths and tea towels used in the kitchen are risky as they spread bacteria, causing cross-contamination.

“Bleaching cloths does not kill all bacteria. Washing would need to be carried out at or above 90°C to kill it all.

“We recommend you do not use dish cloths to clean kitchen surfaces during food preparation of service – use blue roll.

“Cloths and scourers can be used at the end of the daily shift or for deep cleaning, then finish with a spray of sanitiser.”

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