According to a recent study conducted by the Hygiene Council, a group of international experts in microbiology, virology, infectious diseases, immunology and public health, the dirtiest item in Canadian homes is the kitchen towel. In fairness though they only examined 20 Canadian homes as well as 20 homes in 8 other countries. I doubt that this small of a sampling is indicative of homes across their respective countries. Still their findings are something to consider especially since some of the towels were highly contaminated with Escherichia coli, a bacteria that is responsible for causing food borne illness. Apparently one of the causes for the contamination is washing kitchen towels in cold water. They recommend towels be washed in water hotter than 60°C to kill E. coli.
E. coli contamination can come from meats especially ground beef but it can also come from improperly washed hands and contaminated salad greens. All of these sources can contaminate cutting boards, kitchen knives and kitchen towels as well as other kitchen surfaces. When it comes to kitchen towels, I use cotton bar towels bought from Sam's Club. One of the things I insist on is changing out the towel after each use to help prevent contamination. It is not uncommon for me to go through several kitchen towels during heavy cooking or canning sessions so I have a small laundry basket in the kitchen where I toss used towels to be removed from the kitchen during the final kitchen clean-up. I also wash my kitchen towels in hot water with no fabric softener. Kitchen (and bath towels) can kept free of contamination by:
- changing out the towel after each use
- hang towels outside of the kitchen area to dry until laundry day as damp towels will encourage bacteria to multiply as well as mildew to develop
- bleach or a couple of drops of tea tree oil can be added to the wash water or vinegar can be added to the rinse to kill off any bacteria that may be present
- white towels can be hung outdoors in the sun after washing to whiten and kill any bacteria that may be present