Having meats in the kitchen increases the risk of having unhygienic tea towels, it seems.
Research showed the risk of towels contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli was higher on humid towels, multi-purpose towels, and in families with non-vegetarian diets.
Nearly half (49%) of the towels collected had bacterial growth, which increased in number with extended family, presence of children and family size.
The microbiologists found that roughly half of the 100 towels were growing unsafe microbes, including the potentially infection-inducing Staphylococcus (also known as "staph") and E. coli. Specifically, S. aureus was more likely to be found on towels from larger families and those of lower socioeconomic status, while the intestinal bacteria were more likely to be found in families that ate meat.
Dr Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal, of the University of Mauritius, said: "Our study demonstrates the family composition and hygienic practices in the kitchen affected the microbial load of kitchen towels". In addition, damp towels had more bacteria than dry ones, the investigators found.
Several factors - including diet, family size and usage - influence the growth of pathogens on kitchen towels, the scientists said in a statement.
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According to the researchers, the presence of these potential pathogens, especially E.coli, from the kitchen towels indicates potential faecal contamination and bad hygiene practices.
When is the last time you washed your kitchen towels? Compared with single-use towels, multipurpose towels had higher colony-forming units (CFUs); humid towels had higher CFUs than dry ones.
Although staph can indeed cause foodborne illness when it's found in food, the bacterium is also very common on skin.
As for the bacteria found in the study "what's listed here doesn't initially raise concerns with me", Chapman said.
For the study, Biranjia-Hurdoyal and her colleagues sampled 100 kitchen towels that had been used for one month.
The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Atlanta, Georgia, in the US. But "it doesn't surprise me at all that something that's in a kitchen environment has bacteria on it".