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What’s Lurking in Your Kitchen Towels?

Jun. 4, 2015|696 views
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New research indicates that the common kitchen towel may be a sort of weapon of mass destruction hiding in plain sight. That’s because kitchen towels—dedicated to helping us keep the kitchen clean—are actually a rich source of potential food-borne contaminants. Kansas State University conducted a study recently, and discovered that a majority of homeowners unknowingly contaminate their kitchen towels regularly—and then recontaminate their own hands—despite frequent hand washing.

Salmonella is a common bacteria that’s often present in or on raw meat, poultry, and eggs. It’s capable of making us violently ill, and it’s perfectly comfortable growing overnight on your kitchen towel. To avoid this, investigators recommend washing kitchen towels after preparing any meal, or using disposable paper towels instead.

“…Participants were observed frequently handling towels, including paper towels, even when not using them for drying,” said food safety specialist, Jeannie Sneed. “Towels were determined to be the most contaminated of all the contact surfaces tested.”

Another surprising source of potential contamination? Cell phones. Your grandmother never had to worry about this, but modern families certainly do. Cooks frequently handle their cell phones while working in the kitchen, and contamination of device surfaces is common, say researchers. “We often take our cell phones and tablets into the kitchen," Sneed said, "but what about all the other places we take them? Think of how many times you see someone talking on their cell phone in places like the bathroom, where microorganisms such as norovirus and E. coli are commonly found.” Yuck. In case you didn’t know, norovirus is notorious as the source of highly-contagious outbreaks of illness on cruise ships and other enclosed environments. E. coli is common in human feces, but some strains are capable of making us very sick. Double yuck.

In experiments at Kansas State, volunteers were observed preparing meat and raw fruit salads. In 90% of instances, the fruit became contaminated by “tracer” bacteria that had been introduced into the raw meat. In addition to contaminated towels, a large majority of cooks contaminated counters, refrigerator surfaces, faucets, and ovens, too.

Check back tomorrow. I’ll share some important strategies experts recommend to help you prevent making your family sick with food-borne illnesses.

K-State Research and Extension website. K-State Research and Extension news page. Accessed Mar. 20, 2015 from:


Tags:  health tips, prevention, chronic illness