‘Whodunit’ dirty dishcloths under the microscope at Balmoral!

16 May, 2012. Visitors to this year’s Balmoral Show were invited to play detective at the safefood interactive stand by identifying common kitchen culprits in a ‘whodunit’ mystery. The ‘Germ Scene Investigation’ was designed to focus public attention on food safety in the home – particularly dishcloths – and the everyday kitchen hygiene habits than can cause food poisoning.

safefood, the body responsible for promoting food safety and healthy eating has revealed that 27% of household dishcloths contain the raw meat bacteria E. Coli.
Dr Gary Kearney, Director of Food Science with safefood, said: “The dishcloth is a familiar sight in every kitchen in Northern Ireland, but if not cleaned properly it can be a source of food poisoning – especially if used to wipe worktops used to prepare raw meat, raw poultry and raw vegetables.

A damp dishcloth can serve as a breeding ground for germs, especially if it is left crumpled up overnight to dry. Using it again before properly cleaning means germs can spread to other surfaces in the kitchen."

The research also found Listeria on 14% of 200 household dishcloths¹ analysed by scientists. Scientists also found that simply soaking dishcloths in a bleach solution or rinsing them under the tap cannot be relied upon to clean them effectively.
While over a third (36%) of consumers¹ who re-use dishcloths clean them in a bleach solution, safefood’s scientific research found that this method was not as effective at removing germs that can cause food poisoning.
“Our research found that washing kitchen dishcloths in a washing machine or boiling them in water for 15 minutes were the most effective ways to properly clean them”, added Dr Kearney.
“Soaking, washing under the tap or washing in the dishwasher just aren’t as effective. Ideally, we should also wash dishcloths every two days. If you’ve used a dishcloth to wipe up after raw meat, raw poultry or raw vegetables, then you should replace it immediately with a clean one. And if there’s a noticeable smell from your dishcloth, then it’s definitely time to change it.”
Research² has also shown that 1 in 5 consumers (21%) throw out dishcloths instead of washing them for re-use.
The safefood stand is located at position E6 inside the King’s Hall during this year’s Balmoral Show.

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For further information please contact:

Janet Devlin, ASG                                                     
Telephone: 028 90 80 2000
Email: jdevlin@asgireland.com
Dermot Moriarty, safefood
Tel: + 353 1 448 0622 / Mobile: + 353 (0) 86 381 1034
Email: dmoriarty@safefood.eu

Editor’s notes

The four main types of dishcloth identified in the research as being used by consumers were cloth (34%), sponge (19%), “J-cloth” (16%) and microfiber cloth (15%). These represent over 80% of the dishcloth types most commonly used.

Advice for consumers - kitchen dishcloths

  • Change or wash your dishcloth at least every two days
  • The most effective way to clean your dishcloth is in a washing machine on a normal 30o or 40o cycle or by boiling for 15 minutes on a rolling boil
  • Change your dishcloth immediately after using it to wipe ‘higher risk’ food residues (e.g. raw meat/poultry/fish, raw root vegetables)
  • Allow your dishcloth to dry in between uses
  • If you can smell an odour from your dishcloth, then it’s time to change your dishcloth


  1. ‘Assessment of the ability of dishcloths to spread harmful bacteria to other kitchen surfaces and determination of the effectiveness of various dishcloth cleaning regimes’. safefood/Prof David McDowell; University of Ulster; Jordanstown
  2. ‘The microbiological status or household dishcloths and associated consumer hygiene practices’. safefood/Eolas International, 2011