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Time to Throw In the Towel

The tea towel may have a plethora of uses in the home environment, however their use in commercial kitchens is discouraged. Read on to find out more.

Food Safety Practices - Washing and Drying Hands

Growing up, many of us would have vivid memories of our parents or grandparents working in the kitchen with a tea towel draped over their shoulder, or as a kid, getting put to work drying the dishes with a tea towel. Whilst this is still common practice at home, the use of tea towels in the commercial food industry is limited and largely discouraged by Health Inspectors.

What harm can a simple tea towel do you might say? It’s not so much the harm by the tea towel itself, rather how it is used in the kitchen.

Bacteria and viruses are the danger in any kitchen environment and therefore we need to ensure adequate cleaning and sanitation practices to limit their spread or multiplication. The Food Standards Code, more specifically section 15, 4(c) of Standard 3.2.2 Food Safety Practices and General Requirements states that a food handler must, when washing their hands, thoroughly dry his or her hands on a single use towel or in another way that is not likely to transfer pathogenic micro-organisms to the hands. Each State’s Food Act makes the Food Standards Code law, so if you are not drying your hands in a way that prevents the transfer of bacteria, you are in effect not complying with the law.

So, let’s talk about the humble tea towel and why it must not be used to dry or clean hands. A tea towel is absorbent. That is, it is made up of many small holes in the fabric which can hold water, grease, grime, dirt and of course – pathogenic micro-organisms such as bacteria and viruses. They are also reusable and are not thrown out or cleaned after their first use. When your first dry your hands with the tea towel, the water and any micro-organisms in the water are transported to the tea towel where they reside in the small holes in the fabric. Each and every time you dry your hands using that same tea towel from that point forward, you are simply picking up the bacteria you left on the tea towel from the previous time. Think of it like the door handles of a public toilet – a good place to reinfect your hands after you have gone to the trouble of washing them.

Paper Towels - Drying of Hands

The drying of hands after washing is important as it removes any bacteria which may have been left behind after the washing process. This is why it is important to only use disposable towels (such as the paper towels you can buy in rolls) to dry the hands and dispose after each use. Air drying machines such as those found in public toilets are another mechanism to dry hands, however it is much cheaper (with no chance of mechanical breakage) and quicker to simply use disposable paper towels. The paper towels must be placed close to the hand wash basin to ensure their use.

The same applies to tea towels when drying cutlery and plates – tea towels are simply a great tool to transfer bacteria from one object to another. Using air-drying sanitiser after the washing of plates is the best alternative and one that is expected by Health Inspectors.

Therefore, the humble tea towel has no real place of use in a commercial kitchen and should therefore be discouraged so as to prevent other staff members using them as a tool to dry hands or to dry other food contact surfaces and utensils.

Keep an eye out for our next BLOG which will be about Hand Washing and its importance in the kitchen.

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