The hidden danger of restaurant kitchens

It’s often the dirtiest thing in the kitchen. Infrequently changed, always moist and often with raw food stuck to it, it’s a breeding ground for bacteria, yet it’s the very thing that diligent kitchen workers use to wipe their food preparation surfaces “clean.”

What is it? The dishcloth or sponge.

A new survey by the UK’s Health Protection Agency has found that a large percentage of dishcloths in restaurant kitchens contain potentially harmful bacteria. The HPA visited 120 kitchens and examined 133 cloths. They found that 86 cloths contained fecal bacteria, 21 had E. coli, 6 had Staphylococcus aureus, and 5 had Listeria. Even worse, 24 had been used both on preparation surfaces for raw meat and ready-to-eat foods.

The HPA warns that even restaurants that disinfect their cloths regularly aren’t doing enough, because simply soaking a cloth in bleach doesn’t remove the tiny food particles that attract bacteria. As soon as the cloth is taken out of the disinfectant, the bacteria start coming back.

So next time you’re in a restaurant, or your own kitchen for that matter, don’t ask how fresh the fish is, ask how fresh the dishcloth is.

[Image courtesy Anna Sacheri]