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UA study finds kitchen towels spread multitude of harmful bacteria

PHOENIX — There’s nothing that seems more harmless than a kitchen towel. It’s a staple in many American homes, as the unofficial ornament to the oven handle and a way for families to keep their dishes, hands and counters dry.

But they’re also spreading potentially dangerous bacteria, according to a recent study by the University of Arizona (UA).

Researchers found about 90 percent of kitchen towels, collected from five major cities in the U.S. and Canada, had some form of coliform bacteria.

This type of bacteria comes from the feces of warm-blooded animals, and although it’s not always harmful, some in this category have been known to cause serious health issues.

E.Coli — which can cause vomiting, respiratory illnesses and nervous system problems and was seen in several food recalls in 2013 — was found in 25 percent of sponges and towels.

Salmonella bacteria, which was behind a 2013 outbreak that sickened over 400 people, was also discovered on the cloths.

“You may think you are cleaning the counter where food will be placed,” Kelly Reynolds of UA’s Zuckerman College of Public Health told The Huffington Post. “But if you are using a dirty kitchen rag, you may actually be introducing hundreds of thousands of bacteria.”

According to the study, every time you wipe a surface with the kitchen towel, you’re gathering bacteria. They thrive in the dampness of the towel, which also usually has food particles on it, and then travel to your “clean” dishes once you use it to dry them.

Because of all this germ-spreading, plus the presence of food and moisture, the kitchen actually harbors the most germs out of any room in a typical house, including the bathroom, according to the health website WebMD.

The UA experts recommend sanitizing the towels after each use, such as soaking them in a diluted bleach-water mixture for two minutes.

You can also microwave sponges for two minutes before use to kill all the bacteria lodging inside.

Using disinfectant wipes on sink and refrigerator handles can also eliminate microorganisms. Experts say it’s also important to thoroughly clean the cutting board between chopping raw meat and produce.