Test results by Consumer Council of Hong Kong show that 5 kitchen paper towel samples contain bacterial count exceeding 4 times the legal limit

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15th April 2019 – (Hong Kong) Consumer Council of Hong Kong conducted a test on 15 different types of kitchen paper towel and found 5 of them were detected to have a total bacterial count exceeding 4 times the legal limit.

Paper kitchen towels are generally better than paper hand towels for water absorbency, so are more commonly used for cleaning, wiping hands and for food preparation.  If these contaminated kitchen towels come in contact with cooked food, they may pose a risk to food safety.  The tests also found considerable variation in water absorption level and rate, and tensile strength, and a lack of complete and clear product labelling on the net weight, number of sheets, ply number and dimensions.  Manufacturers and suppliers are urged to provide full and accurate information for consumers to facilitate product comparison, and to tighten the quality, strictly control of the manufacturing process. They are expected to inspect transportation and storage conditions closely to prevent damage to product packaging, which may result in humidity and bacterial contamination, affecting the paper quality, such as tensile strength and odour.

Among the 15 kitchen towel samples, 13 were in rolls, and 2 were the folded type. All were 2-ply, with sheets per roll/pack varied from 50 to 182 pieces.  The sheets in most of the samples were square, and 3 samples with smaller surface area per sheet had closer spacing preset perforation lines to allow usage in different sizes.  The test focused on 3 main areas: hygiene, food safety and paper characteristics.

Paper napkins (including kitchen towels) are not aseptically treated daily products, their hygiene level may well be concerned for consumers.  Based on Mainland standards GB15979 and GB/T26174, 5 samples exceeded the total bacterial count standard by 20% to fourfold, ranging from 240 to 1,000cfu/g.  The Council strongly urges 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 (C&ED) for follow-up action.

The 15 brands of kitchen paper towel samples tested are priced between HK$8.90 – HK$25.90. 4 out of 5 samples which exceeded the legal limit of the total bacterial count were made in China.

The five brands are First Choice, Select, Freesia2, Naxos and BestBuy. Total bacterial count for these five kitchen paper towels are as follows:

a) First Choice : 1,000

b) Select : 490

c) Freesia : 380

d) Naxos : 260

e) Best Buy : 240

When choosing and using kitchen towels, consumers are advised to heed the following:

  • Do not re-use used kitchen towels and shall dispose properly. For instance, if they have been used to absorb moisture from food, do not use them again to wipe other areas to avoid the spread of bacteria and contamination of other food or utensils;
  • If you intend to use kitchen towels in direct contact with food or kitchenware, choose products that come with food safety certificates;
  • Store unopened kitchen towels in a clean, dry, well ventilated place, and after opening a package, keep them away from water taps or food preparation counters to prevent contamination by raw meat or other fresh food;
  • Be environmentally friendly, avoid frequent excessive use of kitchen towels, and consider choosing and using products with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, which indicates that the product was manufactured from sustainably managed trees and not from illegal logging or from protected forests;
  • If a kitchen cloth is used for cleaning, always keep the cloth clean and dry, wash and dry it regularly, and do not use the same cloth for different purposes at the same time.  As tap water cannot thoroughly clean the cloth after use, boil it in hot water for 5 minutes to kill any bacteria, and if you clean the cloth with detergent, pay attention to chemical residue;
  • If you are not able to sanitize a kitchen cloth every day, replace it once a week, or if necessary, use kitchen towels or washable kitchen towels for cleaning; but when comes in contact with food, it is more hygienic choice to use disposable kitchen towels;
  • Paper napkins are used for everyday purposes with different characteristics.  Paper hand towels are generally thinner than kitchen towels, so they have weaker water absorption ability.  They are manufactured with lax control on aerobic microbial count nor meeting compliance requirements for food safety and hygiene, so they are not a suitable substitute for kitchen towels.
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