Do I have to use a paper towel to clean up or wash my hands?
Posted: November 16th, 2011 - 11:23am
That's what food writer extraordinaire Kathleen Purvis of the Charlotte Observer asked me last week. Kathleen runs a regular column answering questions from readers, including one about risks associated with paper towel use (from chemical leeching). I told her I didn't know a whole lot about that and couldn't find much evidence to support the perception. We then talked about whether it was better to use a paper towel or cloth towel to clean and sanitize a kitchen, or to dry hands. I said it didn't matter. What matters is how the towel is handled after the act.
While some sources suggest it's better to use disposable paper towels for kitchen spills, Chapman didn't agree. When you wash your hands, he says, you really do three things: You loosen the bacteria with soap, you rinse some of it away with water, and then you deposit the remaining bacteria on what you use to dry your hands. In that example, it's better to dry with a paper towel you throw away, so another person doesn't use it.
However, for wiping up spilled meat juice or wiping a counter you've cleaned and sanitized, there's no reason you can't use a dish towel and then toss it in the washing machine.
Just make sure that you change dish towels often, possibly more than once a day (or as soon as you've cleaned up something risky like raw turkey juices -ben), and launder them in hot water.