More than half the cleaning cloths used in restaurants and take-away kitchens have been found to contain unsatisfactory levels of bacteria, an investigation by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has concluded.
Its team sampled 133 cloths from 120 establishments in the North-East of England and found that 56% contained unacceptable levels of bacteria.
Most common were enterobacteriaceae (found on 86 cloths), e.coli (21 cloths), staphylococcus aureus (six cloths) and listeria (five cloths).
Although the HPA’s recommended advice is for restaurants to use disposable cloths that are changed regularly, the study found that only one-third of the catering premises reviewed adhered to this.
The remaining two-thirds used reusable cloths and 15% were unsure as to how often these were replaced.
Dr Paul Cosford, executive director of health protection services at the HPA, said: “Exposure to this harmful bacteria can cause food poisoning which is unpleasant for most people.
“But for some – particularly the very young, very old and pregnant women – it can have serious consequences.”
In a separate study, the HPA has said that methods used to report the health effects of air pollution need to be reviewed to more accurately reflect environmental risks in the 21st century.
Professor Robert Maynard, head of air pollution at the HPA, said that it would nowadays be more appropriate to express the health effects of long-term exposure to air pollutants in terms of years of life lost rather than number of deaths.