Tea Towels Could Increase Risk of Food Poisoning 

tea towels poisoning

A study has found that tea towels that are used for multiple jobs, such as drying dishes as well as hands, could harbour harmful bacteria such as E.coli. 

Half of the 100 tea towels that were examined in the study contained bacterial growth

100 tea towels

Researchers from the University of Mauritius examined 100 kitchen towels, which were collected after being used by households for one month. 

The researchers cultured the bacteria and identified them through biochemical tests. They also measured the amount of bacteria on the towels.

Bacterial growth

They found that 49% of the kitchen towels collected in the study had bacterial growth. This increased with increasing family size and the presence of children in the household.

Towels that were used for multiple purposes had a higher bacterial count than single-use towels. For example those used for wiping utensils, drying hands, holding hot utensils and wiping/cleaning surfaces. They also found that humid towels had a higher bacterial count than dry ones. 

Food poisoning

Of the 49 samples that were positive for bacterial growth, 36.7% grew coliform bacteria, a group which includes E. col, 36.7% grew enterococcus spp and 14.3% staphylococcus aureus.

E.coli is a type of bacteria common in human and animal intestines. Although most of these bacteria are harmless, some can cause severe food poisoning. Staphylococcus can also cause food poisoning. It is killed by cooking and pasteurisation.

Coliform bacteria and staphylococcus were more likely to be found on towels from households that ate meat. 

Unhygienic practices

The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Atlanta, US. Dr Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal, one of the researchers, said: “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. Bigger families with children and elderly members should be especially vigilant to hygiene in the kitchen.”


To avoid cross-contamination that can spread bacteria, it is recommended that tea towels are washed regularly and, when they get wet, are allowed to dry completely before being re-used. 

Using disposable cloths or paper towels could help stop the spread of bacteria. Particular care should be taken when handling raw meat – surfaces should be cleaned after use and hands should be washed and dried immediately.


This article was written by a third party source and does not reflect the views or opinions of Ramsay Health Care unless explicitly stated.

Additional comments on the page from individual Consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Consultants or Ramsay Health Care.

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