One of the most common items in every Hong Kong kitchen can be a breeding ground for bacteria with a risk of transmission to cooked food, according to results of tests revealed by the Consumer Council on Monday.
The tests on 15 brands of commercially available kitchen towel showed that five exceeded by up to four times the maximum bacterial count for the product.
The watchdog reminded users to only choose brands that come with food safety certificates when using such towels on food or kitchenware.
The chairwoman of the council’s research and testing committee Professor Nora Tam Fung-yee noted that, based on mainland Chinese standards, five brands exceeded the total bacterial count standard of 200 colony-forming units per gram (cfu/g), with the figures ranging from 240 to 1,000 cfu/g.
The models that exceeded the standard were First Choice Premium Multi-Purpose Kitchen Towel, with a sample going up to 1,000 cfu/g, Select Kitchen Towels, Naxos Kitchen Towel, Bestbuy Kitchen Towel, and Freesia Kitchen Paper.
“Paper napkins including kitchen towels are not aseptically treated daily products; their hygiene level might well be a concern for consumers,” she said.
“If kitchen towels with a high bacterial content come in contact with cooked food, it is possible that the food may pose a health risk of bacterial contamination.
“People with weaker immunity should act with caution.”
Though all models were free of pathogenic bacteria, the council stressed that the total bacterial count standard is one of the hygiene indicators in the manufacturing process.
It urged consumers to choose products that come with food safety certificates if they intend using kitchen towels in direct contact with food or kitchenware.
It also said such towels should not be reused and should be disposed of properly to prevent the spread of bacteria and contamination. Unopened kitchen towels should be stored in a clean, dry, well-ventilated place and after opening, they should be kept away from water taps or food preparation counters to prevent contamination by raw meat or other fresh food, the council added.
It urged manufacturers to do their utmost in quality control to ensure kitchen towels comply with product safety requirements.
The council has referred the test findings to the Customs and Excise Department for follow-up action.
First Choice’s agent said in the council’s Choice magazine that it had instructed outlets with affected batches to take them off the shelves and to return them to the company for further testing. It added that consumers can get a refund in shops upon presentation of a receipt.
An agent for Freesia also said it had taken its affected batches off the shelves.
Naxos’s agent provided test results from a third party which showed an acceptable bacteria count. The agent said the discrepancy in results could be due to the product being contaminated during storage or transportation, adding that the company had asked staff and suppliers to tighten monitoring.