How germy is your kitchen towel?

We wash our dishes after every use, but how often do we wash our kitchen towels?

According to new research, probably not often enough.

Cleveland Clinic’s Frank Esper, M.D., did not take part in the study, but said it shows how easy it is to overlook this commonly used household item.

“Routinely we don’t wash those towels as often as we do other apparel of daily use around the house,” he said. “Usually those towels can last there for weeks, if not even longer. They were testing exactly how much bacteria has accumulated on those towels and they found a substantial amount of bacteria.”

Researchers collected 100 kitchen towels after one month of use. They found that 49 percent of them contained bacterial growth such as E. coli and Staphylococcus (staph).

The study suggested that bacteria found on multi-use kitchen towels from handling meat products could be a source of cross-contamination which could lead to food poisoning.

Dr. Esper said these bacteria can be hazardous in certain situations, however these are the type of bacteria that one would expect to find around the house.

He said because the kitchen is the place where food is being prepared, it’s very important to keep harmful germs away from food.

Dr. Esper recommends frequently wiping down and sanitizing food preparation areas, especially after preparing uncooked meat.

And don’t forget to clean other parts of the kitchen – like refrigerator door handles, microwave handles and sink faucets, because these places are touched by many and are often touched before consuming food.

Dr. Esper said we don’t need to obsess over our kitchen towels, but it’s a good idea to keep them as clean as possible. While the study authors called for washing the towel once a day, Dr. Esper said that might not be realistic for many people. He said it’s good to wash kitchen towels at least once a week, if not more, and swap them out once they become soiled.

“The kitchen is never going to be completely zero-bacteria at all times,” said Dr. Esper. “Just a moderate amount of bacteria is okay, so, making sure that we change the towels, but also, swabbing the tables every so often with bleach or some sort of disinfectant.”

Results of the study were presented at the annual meeting of The American Society for Microbiology.