Dishcloths that are used in restaurants and takeaways often harbour nasty and possibly dangerous bacteria according to a survey of 120 kitchens in Britain.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) carried out the survey on kitchens in north-east England, and found that 56 percent of cloths tested were unacceptable.he HPA team took a total of 133 cloths, and found that, among the "unacceptable" cloths, 86 carried faecal bacteria, 21 carried E. coli, six were host to Staphylococcus aureus, and five carried Listeria.
It is not clear if the E.coli strains found would make a diner ill, but the S. aureus and Listeria definitely fell into the "potentially harmful" category.
The strain of Listeria found on three of the cloths was considered particularly dangerous to vulnerable groups such as the elderly and very young.
Many of the restaurants surveyed also fell down on basic good hygiene practice, with 24 of the cloths used on both raw meat and ready-to-eat food preparation areas.
Only a third of the premises used disposable cloths, while the remainder had "reusable cloths" and 15 percent were unsure how often they were changed.
Dr John Piggott, from the HPA laboratory in Leeds, which led the survey, said that all the premises visited had been issued with advice and would be revisited to see if things had improved.
"Although many disinfected their cloths with bleach or other disinfectants, soaking does not remove the food on which the bacteria grow," the BBC quoted him as saying.
Dr Paul Cosford, also from the HPA, said that the findings indicate problems with poor hygiene practices.
"Exposure to these 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," he said.
Jenny Morris, the principal policy officer at the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health, said that many restaurants and takeaways were good at following "more complicated" requirements for good hygiene, but fell down on simple things such as dishcloths.
"The problem is, that if you fail on the basics, you are relying on good luck to prevent something bad happening to the people eating at your establishment," she added.