Evaluation of bacterial contaminants found on unused paper towels and possible postcontamination after handwashing: A pilot study

  • Louis McCusky Gendron
    Centre de Recherche de l'Institut Universitaire de Cardiologie et de Pneumologie de Québec, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

    Département de Biochimie, de Microbiologie et de Bioinformatique, Faculté des Sciences et de Génie, Université Laval, Pavillon Alexandre-Vachon, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
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  • Luc Trudel
    Département de Biochimie, de Microbiologie et de Bioinformatique, Faculté des Sciences et de Génie, Université Laval, Pavillon Alexandre-Vachon, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
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  • Sylvain Moineau
    Département de Biochimie, de Microbiologie et de Bioinformatique, Faculté des Sciences et de Génie, Université Laval, Pavillon Alexandre-Vachon, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

    Groupe de Recherche en Ecologie Buccale (GREB) and Félix d'Hérelle Reference Center for Bacterial Viruses, Faculté de Médecine Dentaire, Université Laval, Pavillon de Médecine Dentaire, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
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  • Caroline Duchaine
    Address correspondence to Caroline Duchaine, PhD, Centre de recherche, Hôpital Laval, 2725 Chemin Ste-Foy, Ste-Foy (Quebec), G1V 4G5, Canada.
    Centre de Recherche de l'Institut Universitaire de Cardiologie et de Pneumologie de Québec, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

    Département de Biochimie, de Microbiologie et de Bioinformatique, Faculté des Sciences et de Génie, Université Laval, Pavillon Alexandre-Vachon, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
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Published:December 19, 2011DOI:


      Bacterial contamination is a concern in the pulp and paper industry. Not only is the machinery contaminated but also can be the end-paper products. Bacterial transmission from unused paper towels to hands and surfaces is not well documented.


      The culturable bacterial community of 6 different unused paper towel brands was determined by culture methods and by sequencing the 16S ribosomal DNA of bacterial contaminants. Next, we investigated the possible airborne and direct contact transmissions of these bacterial contaminants during hand drying after washing.


      Between 102 and 105 colony-forming units per gram of unused paper towels were isolated from the different paper towel brands. Bacteria belonging to the Bacillus genus were by far the most abundant microorganisms found (83.0%), followed by Paenibacillus (15.6%), Exiguobacterium (1.6%), and Clostridium (0.01%). Paper towels made from recycled fibers harbored between 100- to 1,000-fold more bacteria than the virgin wood pulp brand. Bacteria were easily transferred to disposable nitrile gloves when drying hands with paper towels. However, no evidence of bacterial airborne transmission was observed during paper towel dispensing.


      This pilot study demonstrated that a large community of culturable bacteria, including toxin producers, can be isolated from unused paper towels and that they may be transferred to individuals after handwashing. This may have implications in some industrial and clinical settings as well as in immunocompromised individuals.

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