I keep two towels in my kitchen. One is near the sink, and it’s for drying hands, and the other hangs on the stove — it’s used for drying dishes, and only for drying dishes.
Of course, it’s not like they’re labeled or anything, but since my husband and I are the only ones in there the vast majority of the time, I feel it’s a pretty good system. And it’s one I learned as a kid — my mom was strict about never using the hand drying towel on dishes because, even if you’re using soap on your hands, you’re probably still going to end up with more germs on the hand drying towel than the dish towel. Make sense?
Well, I don’t want to toot my own towel system horn here (oh, who am I kidding — of course I do!), but according to a recent study by researchers from the University of Mauritius, it looks like I’m onto something, because those kitchen towels can be a major source of bacteria in your kitchen — like, the kinds of bacteria that can cause food poisoning, not the kinds you might actually want.
So, here’s the scoop. Researchers collected 100 kitchen towels after a month of use and found that 49 of the samples collected had bacterial growth. Increased family size (either extended family or presence of children) was one of the main factors noted as a cause of increased bacterial growth, but other factors, like the type of diet followed, how moist the towels were, and whether the towels had multiple uses (such as, ahem, drying hands and dishes) also made a difference.
Side note on this study, though. Can we discuss the fact that these samples were collected after a month, please?
I am not the neatest Nelly around by a long shot, but … I change out my kitchen towels a lot more frequently than that. I also use them a lot, but … I never for a second guessed that I was ahead of the cleaning curve on this. Am I the only one who is surprised here?
Anyway! Now that we’re all sufficiently freaked out and/or shamed into washing our kitchen towels more often, let’s do a little strategizing about other ways to keep your kitchen as germ-free as possible — starting with these seven tips from Stop Foodborne Illness:
- For towels/cloths hanging in the kitchen, allow them to dry after use.
- Change out towels and cloths at least once a week.
- Run kitchen towels and dish cloths through the washer at least once per week, using hot water.
- Dry kitchen towels/cloths on high heat.
- After washing your hands properly, grab the hand towel, not the dish towel. Better yet, use a single-use paper towel.
- Clean kitchen surfaces often (at least once a week), using disinfectant sprays or wipes.
- Don’t get too attached to your sponges. Washing, drying or zapping sponges in the microwave can help reduce germs, but we suggest disposing of sponges at least once a week, or when they smell bad.
I also try to avoid setting purses and backpacks (or any other bags that often sit on the ground in public places) on the counter, at least in areas where we prep or eat food, and I really up my cleaning and towel-washing efforts whenever raw fish, chicken, or meat is around. I’m not perfect about it, but I guess I’m not doing too badly.
This all seems pretty doable, right? And certainly well worth it in order to avoid the likelihood of a food poisoning incident (says the girl who’s still a little shy of seafood after a bad Mahi Mahi cake back in April). Although, from an environmentally-friendly standpoint, I can’t really get behind using a single use paper towel unless you’re immunocompromised and feel that’s truly necessary to protect yourself. —Kristen