Publication Date: 31st March 2011
Subject: Food safety
Alarming research to be released at a public health conference organised by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) will reveal that over 90% of home and commercial dish cloths contain potentially life threatening bugs like Ecoli.
The results of the survey, which will be launched today in Cardiff, reveal that 96% of dish cloths taken from people’s homes tested positive for dangerous bacteria known as coliforms, which include E.coli. Around 6% of the cloths tested positive Listeria and a further 6% tested for Staphylococcus aureus.
The study also tested cloths taken from commercial establishments where 92% were positive for coliforms; 6% had Listeria and 4% had Staphylococcus.
Commenting on the findings, Julie Barratt, CIEH Director, said: “Damp, warm conditions in the kitchen mean that bacteria on dishcloths can multiply and be transferred back onto worktops and other kitchen surfaces. Sponge cloths could harbour even higher levels of bacteria because they hold on to more water than other cloths."
“This research shows that domestic cloths pose a great risk of cross contamination. The vast majority of food poisoning takes place in the home and most are not reported."
“Most people assume that they get sick either from not cooking food properly or by eating food outside the home – but this research shows that their upset stomach could be as a result of contaminated dish cloth. For healthy adults a bout of food poisoning could be nasty and inconvenient but for the very young or the very old food poisoning could be life threatening."
“In order to minimise the risk of contamination, we would recommend that people machine wash their dish cloths regularly and avoid using dish cloths to dry their hands. Most importantly don’t leave cloths on the sink and forget about them."
“The Food Standards Agency has spent a lot of money telling commercial food premises about how to avoid food poisoning, but if you look at the statistics there are far more outbreaks in domestic settings. With this study we want to look at where the real risk lies and whether we are targeting our health promotion pounds at the right audiences."
“If there are more cases of food poisoning in the home – should we not be focussing more on the home? Dish cloths should be recognised for what they are – a potential source of food poisoning.”
Eastbourne Borough BC EHOs did not let that stop them. They successfully obtained money from their local primary care trust to spend on a project called ‘Cool It’ aimed at keeping high-risk foods at safe temperatures for residents and small food businesses in the most deprived area of Eastbourne.
To reach families in the area they decided to enlist the help of the local primary school, Bourne County Primary School, which has children from 40 different nationalities.
Local food safety officer John Demetriou and student EHO, Rob Seepersad, were able to take 120 children from years five and six, for one hour during their science week.
With the help of visual aids such as a pretend fridge, food and model thermometer and lots of audience participation they explained how harmful bacteria grow on food and what we can do to protect ourselves.
In particular, the need to store food in the fridge below 5°C, keep raw meat separate from other foods and how to keep food cold in a lunch box.
To reinforce the message and reach the children’s parents each child was given a fridge thermometer to take home to monitor their fridge temperature, a fridge magnet to remind them of the key temperatures to keep their family safe and a covering letter.
The second part of the project will follow in a month’s time aimed at the local ethnic foodstores.