Photo: Will Heap (Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images)

It’s already been established that your kitchen is a bacterial hellscape, with E. coli and staphylococcus infections lurking around every corner. Since we recently wrote that sponges contain numerous “nooks and crannies” where bacteria love to hang out and grow, you might have been tempted to switch over to the seemingly less-benign tea towel. Wrong!

The BBC reports today—in a story titled “Tea towels ‘can cause food poisoning’”—that a recent study found about half of the tea towels examined rife were with bacteria, and that number went up the more people lived in the home. Researchers looked at 100 tea towels that had been used more than a month (but did not indicate whether they had been washed in that time, although we’re assuming they were not). “They found E.coli was more likely to be found on towels used for multiple jobs, such as wiping utensils and cleaning surfaces, as well as drying hands. It was also more likely to be found on damp towels or those in households where meat was eaten.” Kids were also a factor: “Of the towels collected, 49 percent had bacterial growth, which increased in number with extended family, presence of children and increasing family size.”

As with the sponges, it looks like dampness and humidity constitute the real danger, because that’s the environment most attractive to bacteria. So not only should you wash your tea towels frequently, don’t let them hang around wet, and when you do wash them, let them dry completely. And apparently, the more you can avoid meat, or kids, the better to keep your bacteria counts down to a manageable level.