There's a decent chance your kitchen towels are hiding bacteria linked to food poisoning and other infections, according to a new study, though some are urging caution before tossing those towels in the trash. The finding is based on a University of Mauritius study of 100 kitchen towels used unwashed for one month, roughly half of which were found to have bacterial growth. Of these—typically towels associated with children, larger families, multiple uses, higher humidity, and diets containing meat—37% contained E. coli and the same percentage had Enterococcus, bacteria linked to infections of the gut, urinary tract, and bloodstream, reports US News & World Report. Another 14% contained Staphylococcus aureus, which, if it gets into food, can produce toxins triggering food poisoning, per Live Science.
But staph being "[on] the towel isn't as concerning as [it being in] food," an expert tells Live Science, noting researchers failed to find the types of bacteria typically associated with foodborne illnesses, like salmonella and O157:H7, a particularly harmful strain of E. coli. "What's listed here doesn't initially raise concerns with me," he says. Still, researchers say people should be careful when using towels in the kitchen. "Bigger families with children and elderly members should be especially vigilant to hygiene," says Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal, lead author of the research presented at an annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, per USA Today. And while washing towels frequently is a good habit, "humid towels and multipurpose usage of kitchen towels should be discouraged," Biranjia-Hurdoyal says. (Bacteria also likes rubber ducks.)