Kitchen Products

The kitchen is often overlooked as a source of environmental pollutants.  It is where food is prepared, those preparations are cleaned up and leftover food is stored. The methods and products that are used can have a major impact on the toxic exposure for individuals. 

 

The cooking process can increase the toxicity of food mainly from the type of cookware used, the overheating of oils and fats and certain cooking methods. Storage containers can leach toxic compounds into food and the cleaners used on the multiple different kitchen surfaces often have many toxic ingredients. Certain cleaners and cookware also off gas creating contamination of the air. 

 

The good news is that many of the products and methods that increase toxicity in the kitchen are easily replaced or managed. The changes made in the kitchen can have many downstream positive effects on health.

Where Do They Come From?

The Cooking Process

Type of Cookware Used

Non-Stick Cookware: The coatings on many “non-stick” cookware contain chemicals including: polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and other fluorotelomer alcohols. Some cookware that is free of PTFE and PFOA contains alternative chemicals like perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS) and GenX which are likely no safer. They are released as gases into the air, especially when cooking with higher temperatures and acidic and alkaline foods. [1] [2] These toxic chemicals are found in some food packaging as well: [3] Sources include:

  • Multiple brands of non-stick pans and utensils. 

  • Microwave popcorn bag lining 

  • Paper plates

  • Fast food wrappers, especially for greasy food.

Metal Cookware: Some cookware is made of metals like aluminum and copper that leach into food, and some glazes on ceramic coatings contain heavy metals. Coatings may help but they often start to wear out within a couple of years.

  • Aluminum cookware

  • Copper cookware

  • Some ceramic glazes 

Cooking Methods

Overheating Oils: Heating oils above their smoke point when cooking or deep frying, releases particulate matter into the air- gases such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrylamide, acrolein, lipid hydroperoxides, heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PAH’s) and aldehydes. [4]

Barbecuing and Smoking: Cooking meat at high temperatures and with direct flames produces heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s). Smoked foods also contain PAH’s. [5] These are found in: 

  • Grilled, charred and smoked foods, especially meats.

Microwaving: The effects of using a microwave vary based on heat levels, length of microwave time, containers used to microwave food, distance a person is from the microwave, and integrity of door latch and seals. 

  • Acrylamide: Heating food at high power levels with a microwave produces higher levels of acrylamide than other heating methods. [6]

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) and Phthalates: these can be leached into food when microwaving food in any plastic container, as plastics are heat sensitive. Even “microwave safe” plastics are subject to degrading from repetitive heat exposure. [7]

  • Polystyrene (PS), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and acetaldehyde from common microwave-ready packaging materials [8]

  • Microwave Radiation Leakage: Poor seals and doors that do not latch properly cause the most leakage of microwave radiation and is more common with older microwaves. Exposure increases closer to the microwave. [9]

  • Low Frequency Electromagnetic Radiation: Microwaves also give off low frequency electro and magnetic fields (EMF’s) [9]

Heat Treatments: High heat treatments can produce increased acrylamides in foods. These are most commonly found in: [6] 

  • Fried potatoes, roasted cocoa and coffee and cereals

  • Heat treated milk at low levels

  • High-heat treated meat

Water Contamination: [5] Water that is used for drinking and cooking may be contaminated with chlorine, heavy metals, industrial and agricultural chemicals, radioactive substances and dangerous pathogens. 

  • Treated water: chlorine

  • Houses or towns/cities with lead pipes: heavy metals

  • Well water: may contain chemicals, heavy metals and pathogens

Food Packaging and Storage

Plastic: Plastic containers of all types can leach chemicals into food and the more they are degraded, the more this is possible. [10] The main things that will damage plastic are high temperatures (dishwasher, microwaves) and storing with fatty or acidic foods. Fatty foods will also absorb more of the leached chemicals. This includes: 

  • Plastic containers, bottles, baby bottles, plastic wrap, hard and pliable plastics

  • Phthalates – industrial plastic wrap

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) - BPA free plastic often contains Bisphenol F (BPF) or Bisphenol S (BPS) [11]

Canned food: Many linings in canned food contain Bisphenol A (BPA). Alternatives to BPA in BPA-free cans may not be less harmful or may not be tested. [12]

  • Canned food

  • Soft drinks and energy drinks from aluminum cans

Styrofoam: Some disposable food and drink containers are made from polystyrene which contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s), which can migrate into food. [13] Some common food containers and utensils made from polystyrene are labeled #6: 

  • Foam instant noodle containers

  • Takeout food containers

  • Disposable foam dishes and cups

Aluminum: Aluminum leaches into food while cooking or storing food in aluminum foil and from aluminum cans. Amount of aluminum in food increases with the amount of time it is stored in foil or cans. [14]

Kitchen Cleaning Products


There are many cleaning products that may be used in the kitchen and each one of them has the potential to contain multiple harmful ingredients, including but not limited to: chlorine, ammonia, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), fragrances and scents, dyes, surfactants, triclosan and other pesticides, quaternary ammonium compounds, isothiazolinones, and alcohol ethyoxylates. [15] These cleaning products include: 

  • Spray Cleaners: all-purpose cleaners, granite and other surface cleaners

  • Antibacterial disinfectants, soaps and detergents

  • Dishwashing liquids and dishwasher detergents

  • Scouring cleaners, stovetop scrubs and oven cleaners

  • Drain cleaners

Mixing certain cleaning products can produce incredibly harmful gases, including: 

  • Chloramines: from mixing an acidic and basic cleaning product, mainly bleach and ammonia products, both of which are common in cleaners

  • Chlorine gas (mustard gas) and hypochlorous acid: when bleach and phosphate cleaners are mixed 

  • Pine and citrus cleaners and ozone: the terpenes in these cleaners can react with ozone to make formaldehyde. This is worse on days with increased smog. [16]

How They Affect You

The chemicals found in kitchen products and cooking can contribute or cause a wide range of symptoms and conditions including:

Cancer:  Heterocyclic amines, PAH’s and aldehydes are linked with increased risk of cancer, especially gastrointestinal cancers, [4] [5] and rancid oils have been seen to initiate and promote tumors in animals. [17] Non- stick pans release known cancer-causing gases into the air. [2] Acrylamide [6] and formaldehyde [16] are cancer-causing substances. BPA contributes to the development of hormone-associated cancers, such as prostate, ovarian and breast. [18] Some ingredients in cleaning products are linked with cancer risk. [15] Ingestion of chlorinated water over long periods of time increases risk of bladder cancer. [19]

Asthma and Respiratory Conditions: The gases and VOC’s released into the air from many cleaning products, including spray cleaners and chlorine and bleach products, increase the risk of developing asthma and other respiratory conditions. Inhaling fumes from corrosive cleaners can damage the lungs. [16] Frequent cleaning with toxic chemicals while pregnant increases the risk of respiratory symptoms in offspring. [16] Particulate matter from cooking oils increases asthma and asthma-like symptoms. [20] Higher BPA and lead levels are associated with risk of COPD. [19]

Covid-19: Higher levels of PFAS in plasma has been associated with increased risk  of severe covid-19 symptoms needing intensive care or causing death. [21]

Hormone Disruption: Many chemicals act like hormones in the body, in a negative way, including BPA, phthalates and other chemicals from plastics, [22] alcohol ethoxylates and other ingredients from cleaners. [23] Estrogenic activity of these chemicals can increase risk of estrogen-dependent cancers like breast, ovarian, testicular and prostate. [10]

Fertility and Prenatal Development: Estrogenic activity of chemicals released from plastics and non-stick cookware can lower sperm counts and have other negative effects on fertility and the reproductive system. [10] BPA, heavy metals, aluminum and aldehydes can affect fetal development. [12] [24]

Obesity: Endocrine disruptors like BPA and phthalates, [25] environmental toxins like PFAS, [26] heavy metals and PAHs contribute to increased prevalence of obesity and development of type 2 diabetes. [19]

Gastrointestinal: Aldehyde ingestion contributes to the development of stomach ulcers. [27] PAHs and heterocyclic amines cause changes to the intestinal microbiome and increase inflammation [28].  Drinking chlorinated water can contribute to dybiosis. [29]

Cardiovascular: Chlorinated VOC’s, aldehyde, [27] oxidized fats, acrylamide, [6] BPA, phthalates and lead can contribute to the development of hypertension, atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. [19] Exposure to chlorine gas has the potential to damage blood vessels, also contributing to the development of cardiovascular disease. [30]

Neurological: Chlorinated VOC’s, aldehyde, heavy metal and aluminum cause neurological problems at high levels and may cause problems at lower levels over time. [24] Lead exposure can impair cognitive function significantly and increases risk of Parkinson’s disease. [19]

Mental Health: Higher rates of depression, anxiety and ADHD are found in those with higher levels of lead, other heavy metals and phthalates. [19]

Liver Damage: Liver damage and fatty liver can occur from exposure to the compounds in overheated oils, chemicals in non-stick pans, PAHs [31], heavy metals [19] and other toxicants in cleaners.

Kidney Damage: Kidney toxicity and damage can occur from chemicals in non-stick pans (PTFE, PFOA, PFOS), PAHs [31], lead and other heavy metals [19].

Allergies: Many ingredients in spray cleaners including fragrances, isothiazolinones, preservatives surfactants [32], and many other ingredients are known irritants and allergens and contribute to developing and worsening allergies. [23]

Skin Problems: Eczema, contact dermatitis and sensitization of the skin can occur from many ingredients found in cleaners, including isothiazolinones, surfactants, preservatives and fragrances [32].  Toxic cleaners can cause severe skin burns if they come in contact with the skin.

Vision Damage: Toxic cleaning ingredients can cause eye and vision damage if they come in contact with the eyes. Exposure to PAHs can cause eye irritation and cataracts over time [31].

Poisoning: Ingestion of cleaning products can cause poisoning and toxic cleaners are the second highest cause of poisonings in the United States [33].

Death: Chloramine gases (mixing chlorine and ammonia) are deadly as they are corrosive to lung cells and will lead to fluid buildup in lungs as the cells are dissolved. Poisoning from toxic cleaners can results in severe injury and death. 

How To Protect Yourself

There are a number of simple steps that can be taken to decrease your risk and exposure to toxic chemicals found in products used in the kitchen and in the cooking and storage of food.  The steps include:

Cooking

  • Cookware: 

    • Do not use any pan with non-stick coating. Also avoid aluminum and ceramic coated pans (unless what is underneath the ceramic is non-toxic).

    • Use stainless steel, ceramic, cast iron, ceramic coated cast iron or glass as alternatives.

  • Do not pre-heat an empty cooking pan or container.

  • Cook on low and medium heat, especially if using non-stick pans, and when cooking with oils. 

  • Always use the stove fan when cooking, open a window or run an air filter.

  • Oils:

    • ​Buy oils that are in dark glass containers and look for oils that are cold pressed and organic. 

    • Store oils in a cool dark place. Do not store on the counter or above the stove.

    • Use heat stable oils for cooking.

    • Add oil only when you are ready to start cooking, do not preheat the oils in the pan. 

    • Do not heat oils to the point where they start to smoke. 

    • Cooking oils that are more heat stable include: avocado, coconut, olive, sesame, peanut, ghee and tallow.

    • Never save oil that has been used for frying to use another time. 

    • Limit fried foods from fast food chains and restaurants, due to the likelihood of oil being reheated multiple times.

  • Grilling/Barbecuing:

    • ​Marinate meat in an acidic marinade such as __________ if its going to be cooked on a grill, over a fire or on high heat. 

    • Grill meat on lower temperatures. 

    • Avoid charring food or eating the charred portion of food.

  • Limit the consumption of smoked foods.

  • Microwave: 

    • Use the least amount of time possible and lower heat settings.

    • Maintain a distance of at least ten feet in front of microwave and five feet from the side. 

    • Do not use any plastic or plastic wrap in the microwave. 

    • Remove microwave ready meals from packaging and heat in microwave safe glass or ceramic.

  • Avoid using aluminum when baking and cooking food.

  • Water: 

    • Drink and cook with filtered water when available. 

    • If you live in a town or city, be sure that your drinking water has the chlorine filtered out, or purchase filtered water.

    • If you use well water, consider having it tested for contaminants. 

    • Consider a water filtration system for your home, for your drinking water or counter top water filters. 

    • If there is any chance you have lead pipes in your home, using cold tap water decreases lead amounts slightly, but, due to the high risk of lead, consider using filtered water for drinking and cooking. 

    • Do not use plastic water bottles. Use glass or stainless steel instead. Re-use glass beverage containers as a water bottle. 

    • Do not buy or consume bottled water that comes in plastic bottles.

Food Storage

  • Store food in glass containers and avoid plastic. 

    • Reuse glass jars and containers from food products. 

    • Never put hot food in a plastic container. 

    • Do not store fatty or acidic foods in plastic containers.

    • Do not wash plastic containers in the dishwasher.

    • Use only glass bottles for babies and infants.

  • Avoid the use of plastic wrap. 

    • Use reusable beeswax covers or other reusable covers or lids.

    • Avoid purchasing foods packaged in plastic wrap whenever possible.

    • Remove all plastic wrap from restaurant, deli food, etc. immediately when you get home.

  • Avoid storing food in plastic bags. Instead, use reusable silicone bags or glass containers.

  • Bring glass containers to restaurants to take leftovers home to avoid styrofoam or plastic containers. 

  • Never use polystyrene containers for food storage or warm beverages like coffee. 

  • Limit canned food and canned beverages.

Cleaning

  • Simplify your cleaning products – many specialized cleaning products are unnecessary like the disinfectants, stove top, granite and oven cleaners mentioned above. 

    • Avoid all “antibacterial” labeled cleaning products. 

    • Avoid using chlorine bleach.

  • Use less toxic and unscented cleaning products. 

    • Look up cleaning products on the Environmental Working Group cleaner’s database or a similar local database. 

  • Make your own cleaning products – this is by far the best method to cut down on toxicity. Many recipes for cleaners can be found online. Some common all-purpose ingredients to use are: 

    • Baking Soda

    • Vinegar

      • Acidic cleaners (like vinegar and lemon-based) may damage some surfaces such as waxed wood, granite, marble, soapstone, aluminum and cast iron. 

    • Castile Soap

Resources

Work with a naturopathic doctor / naturopath to help you assess for environmental pollutants and to understand how they may be affecting your health. The information on this website is a guide for ways to protect you and your family from environmental pollutants.  It is not meant to replace advice from a healthcare professional.

3 Essentials

  1. Use simple non-toxic cleaners

  2. Protect cooking oils from going rancid

  3. Use nontoxic cookware and containers

Additional Key Recommendations

  1. How “Plastics” affect food 

  2. How “Packaging” affects our food

  3. How “Farming Practices” affect our food

  4. How “Gardening” affects our food

  5. How “Heavy Metals” affect our food

  6. “Water Contamination”

  7. “Food”

References

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  2. Sajid M, Ilyas M. PTFE-coated non-stick cookware and toxicity concerns: a perspective. Environ Sci Pollut Res. 2017;24(30):23436-23440. doi:10.1007/s11356-017-0095-y

  3. EWG’s Guide to Perfluorochemicals | EWG. Accessed January 4, 2021. https://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-guide-pfcs

  4. World Health Organization. IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, & International Agency for Research on Cancer. Vol 86.; 2006. http://monographs.

  5. Wentz, Dr. Myron; Wentz D. The Healthy Home. Vanguard Press; 2011.

  6. Michalak J, Czarnowska-Kujawska M, Klepacka J, Gujska E zbieta. Effect of Microwave Heating on the Acrylamide Formation in Foods. Molecules. 2020;25(18). doi:10.3390/molecules25184140

  7. School HM. Microwaving food in plastic: Dangerous or not? - Harvard Health. Published 2006. Accessed January 4, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/microwaving-food-in-plastic-dangerous-or-not

  8. Cai R. Effect of Microwave Heating on The Migration of Additives From Effect of Microwave Heating on The Migration of Additives From PS, PP and PET Container Into Food Simulants PS, PP and PET Container Into Food Simulants. Accessed January 4, 2021. https://scholarworks.rit.edu/theses

  9. microwaves | EM Watch. Accessed January 4, 2021. https://emwatch.com/?s=microwaves

  10. Yang CZ, Yaniger SI, Jordan VC, Klein DJ, Bittner GD. Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved. Environ Health Perspect. 2011;119(7):989-996. doi:10.1289/ehp.1003220

  11. Moon MK. Concern about the safety of bisphenol a substitutes. Diabetes Metab J. 2019;43(1):46-48. doi:10.4093/dmj.2019.0027

  12. BPA in Canned Food | EWG. Accessed January 4, 2021. https://www.ewg.org/research/bpa-canned-food

  13. Li SQ, Ni HG, Zeng H. PAHs in polystyrene food contact materials: An unintended consequence. Sci Total Environ. 2017;609:1126-1131. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.07.262

  14. Dordevic D, Buchtova H, Jancikova S, et al. Aluminum contamination of food during culinary preparation: Case study with aluminum foil and consumers’ preferences. Food Sci Nutr. 2019;7(10):3349-3360. doi:10.1002/fsn3.1204

  15. EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning | Cleaner Ratings | Kitchen. Accessed February 28, 2021. https://www.ewg.org/guides/categories/8-Kitchen/

  16. EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning | Cleaning Supplies and Your Health. Accessed January 4, 2021. https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/content/cleaners_and_health/

  17. Perjési P, Pintér Z, Gyöngyi Z, Ember I. Effect of rancid corn oil on some onco/suppressor gene expressions in vivo. A short-term study. Anticancer Res. 2002;22(1 A):225-230. Accessed March 1, 2021. https://europepmc.org/article/med/12017293

  18. Gao H, Yang BJ, Li N, et al. Bisphenol A and hormone-associated cancers: Current progress and perspectives. Med (United States). 2015;94(1):e211. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000000211

  19. Crinnion, Walter J.; Pizzorno JE. Clinical Environmental Medicine: Identification and Natural Treatment of Diseases Caused by Common Pollutants. Elsevier; 2019.

  20. Li S, Xu J, Jiang Z, Luo Y, Yang Y, Yu J. Correlation between indoor air pollution and adult respiratory health in Zunyi City in Southwest China: Situation in two different seasons. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):1-14. doi:10.1186/s12889-019-7063-z

  21. Grandjean P, Timmermann CAG, Kruse M, et al. Severity of COVID-19 at elevated exposure to perfluorinated alkylates. Meliker J, ed. PLoS One. 2020;15(12):e0244815. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0244815

  22. WAXMAN OB. Microwaving in Plastic: Is it Safe? | Time. Time. Published 2016. Accessed January 4, 2021. https://time.com/4229503/plastic-in-microwave-is-it-safe/

  23. EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning. Accessed February 28, 2021. https://www.ewg.org/guides/substance_groups/55-Alcoholethoxylates/

  24. Krewski D, Yokel RA, Nieboer E, et al. Human health risk assessment for aluminium, aluminium oxide, and aluminium hydroxide. J Toxicol Environ Heal - Part B Crit Rev. 2007;10(SUPPL. 1):1-269. doi:10.1080/10937400701597766

  25. Kelishadi R, Poursafa P, Jamshidi F. Role of environmental chemicals in obesity: A systematic review on the current evidence. J Environ Public Health. 2013;2013. doi:10.1155/2013/896789

  26. Qi W, Clark JM, Timme-Laragy AR, Park Y. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and obesity, type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a review of epidemiologic findings. Toxicol Environ Chem. 2020;102(1-4):1-36. doi:10.1080/02772248.2020.1763997

  27. Moumtaz S, Percival BC, Parmar D, Grootveld KL, Jansson P, Grootveld M. Toxic aldehyde generation in and food uptake from culinary oils during frying practices: peroxidative resistance of a monounsaturate-rich algae oil. Sci Rep. 2019;9(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-019-39767-1

  28. Defois C, Ratel J, Garrait G, et al. Food Chemicals Disrupt Human Gut Microbiota Activity And Impact Intestinal Homeostasis As Revealed By In Vitro Systems. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):1-12. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-29376-9

  29. Martino D. The Effects of Chlorinated Drinking Water on the Assembly of the Intestinal Microbiome. Challenges. 2019;10(1):10. doi:10.3390/challe10010010

  30. Samal A, Honovar J, White CR, Patel RP. Potential for Chlorine Gas-induced Injury in the Extrapulmonary Vasculature. doi:10.1513/pats.201001-006SM

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  32. Update on Isothiazolinones | The Dermatologist. Accessed February 28, 2021. https://www.the-dermatologist.com/content/update-isothiazolinones

  33. Gummin DD, Mowry JB, Beuhler MC, et al. 2019 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (NPDS): 37th Annual Report. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2020;58(12):1360-1541. doi:10.1080/15563650.2020.1834219