06/11/2018 11:48 EDT | Updated 06/11/2018 11:48 EDT

Tea Towels Can Put You At Risk For Food Poisoning, Research Says

Contaminated food isn't the only culprit.

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Plenty of people have food poisoning horror stories involving takeout that ruined their day (or night. Or several days and nights). So it might come as a surprise that poorly prepared food isn't the only culprit behind the dreaded sickness.

Scientists at the University of Mauritius found that tea towels can also put people at risk since they are essentially a playground for bacteria.

Researchers examined 100 towels for one month and found bacteria growth on nearly half (49 per cent) of them. Of these contaminated towels, 37 per cent grew the enterococcus bacteria (which can cause a variety of infections), while 14 per cent grew the staphylococcus bacteria (a type of germ found on the skin).

E. coli — a bacteria that can cause diarrhea or vomiting if contaminated food or beverages are consumed — was also found on 37 per cent of the towels. According to researchers, E. coli growth was more likely to be found on damp towels and on towels used for multiple purposes, such as drying dishes and cleaning counters.

Specifically, the latter increased chances of cross-contamination, thus making them more likely to have E. coli buildup.

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But it's not just the use of tea towels in the kitchen that can increase the risk of food poisoning. The study determined that meat-eating households, large family homes, and homes with a lower socio-economic background also had higher rates of bacteria growth, The Independent reports.

"Our study demonstrates that the family composition and hygienic practices in the kitchen affected the microbial load of kitchen towels," said the study's lead author, Susheela D. Biranjia-Hurdoyal, of the University of Mauritius, according to The Economic Times.

"We also found that diet, type of use and moist kitchen towels could be very important in promoting the growth of potential pathogens responsible for food poisoning," she added.

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To avoid food poisoning, Biranjia-Hurdoyal advised not to use damp or multi-purpose towels in the kitchen, and to "be especially vigilant to hygiene in the kitchen" in bigger households. That means changing and washing tea towels regularly, and using disposable cloths or paper towels for cleaning, BBC reports.

This is not the first study to warn families to be wary of kitchen hygiene. A previous U.S. study identified the kitchen as the dirtiest room in the home, and the kitchen sponge as the filthiest object.

"That thing is very dirty," Philip Tierno, a microbiologist at the New York University School of Medicine, told Tech Insider in 2016 regarding kitchen sponges. "Mainly because you're cleaning up vegetables, carcasses of meat, and all sorts of food stuff that can potentially contain pathogenic [disease-causing] bacteria that will grow in numbers over time."

Additionally, a 2015 U.S. study that looked at kitchen health conditions in 100 Philadelphia homes found that nearly half had at least one foodborne disease-causing organism, such as E. coli.

BRB while we go clean our kitchens.

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