Healthy living

Restaurant cleaning cloths harbour food-poisoning bugs

Restaurant cleaning cloths infected with food-poisoning bugs Good hygiene practices not being followed

Over half of the cleaning cloths used in restaurants and take-away kitchens contain 'unsatisfactory' levels of bacteria, experts say.

A study by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), examined 133 cleaning cloths from 120 different establishements in the North East of England.

A shocking 56 per cent of the cloths taken contained 'unnacceptable' levels of bacteria. The most common bacterium found was Enterobacteriaceae (found on 86 cloths) E. coli (21 cloths), Staphylococcus aureus (six cloths) and Listeria (five cloths).

All of the organisms can cause severe food poisoning and in some cases even death.

Cloths used for cleaning in food preparation areas need to be disinfected or changed regularly to prevent the growth and spread of food poisoning bacteria such as E. Coli and Listeria. In places where both raw and ready-to-eat foods are prepared, it's recommended that separate cloths should be used to prevent cross-contamination.

The study found that only a third of the kitchens followed the recommendations. One of the most important ways to reduce the spread of bacteria around a kitchen is to use separate cloths for raw and ready-to-eat food preparation surfaces, but the researchers found that 24 cloths had been used on both.

Although the majority of kitchens disinfected their re-usable cloths every 10-24 hours, some left it longer than 24 hours and perhaps most worrying of all, others didn't know how often their cloths were disinfected.

Study leader Dr John Piggott from the HPA's Food Water and Environmental Microbiology in Leeds said: "despite recommendations to use disposable cloths the majority of restaurants we surveyed were re-using cleaning cloths and some were unaware how often they changed them.

"Although many disinfected their cloths using bleach or other disinfectants, soaking does not remove the food on which the bacteria grow. The disinfectant qualities of bleach do wear off after a period of time so soaking large amounts of cloths together can result in bacteria contaminating more cloths and creating more potential problems" he added.

He also pointed out that the HPA team had given the kitchen staff advice on how to maintain their hygiene levels and warned that the HPA would be checking up on their progress : "All of the premises in our study were given advice on how to practice better hygiene and they will be revisited to make sure that procedures have improved."

This article was published on Wed 15 September 2010

Image © michaeljung -

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