For many cooks – both novice and professional alike – the kitchen is a place of solace to escape the often overstimulating world. As a place of refuge it should be a safe and toxin free haven. Unfortunately, for many people there are risks hiding all around those gorgeous countertops and appliances. Make an effort in 2018 to reduce the level of toxic exposure experienced by you and your family. Taking the time to be mindful of your surroundings now, could prevent health issues in your future. A good place to start is with kitchen toxins.
Improve Your Air Quality With Proper Ventilation
- Ventilation: There is a great deal of attention focused on outdoor air quality but Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Due to the amount of time spent inside, ventilation is paramount. Ventilation and energy efficiency are at times forces working against each other. Homes have become airtight in hopes of preventing draftiness – which can hinder energy efficiency. While keeping a kitchen airtight helps keep the cool air out, it also keeps the contaminants created through the process of cooking inside. Researchers at Berkeley Lab’s found that health consequences of poor air quality – cooking being a major source – are as significant as those from all traffic accidents or infectious diseases in the United States.
These same researchers analyzed data and discovered that 60 percent of homes in the state of California that cook at least once a week with a gas stove can reach pollutant levels that would be illegal if found outdoors. By those calculations – 12 million Californians are routinely exposed to nitrogen dioxide levels that exceed federal outdoor standards, and 1.7 million are exposed to carbon monoxide exceeding ambient air standards in a typical week in winter. Unfortunately there is no regulating body similar to the EPA that oversees chemical levels found in the home – leaving citizens with little guidance on how to protect themselves and loved ones.
The use of range hoods is currently the safest way to combat hazardous fumes created while cooking. The present structure of range hoods is not yet a perfect solution as they are now rated solely for energy efficiency and noise level – not their ability to evacuate noxious fumes. Hopefully strides will be made to ensure that there is an effective and standardized rating system for range hoods – for now, it is in the best interest of the homeowner/chef to turn on hoods when cooking and if possible open windows as a secondary source of ventilation. Using back burners, cleaning grease traps, and keeping the fan on until the pans are fully cooled will improve the effectiveness of the range hood.
The Dangers Of Asbestos
- Asbestos: Pushing toxins out via a range hood is convenient but removing asbestos from your kitchen will be a bit more of a labor intensive process. Asbestos is a known carcinogen that was used in building materials through the 1970s. The microscopic fibers are the only known cause of mesothelioma, a cancer approximately 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. When asbestos particles are disturbed, they can be inhaled and embed in the lining of the organs where the cancer develops. Mesothelioma can form in the lining of the lungs, heart, abdominal cavity, and testicles and offers a very low prognosis for those diagnosed of just 12 to 21 months.
The toxin can be found in insulation, wallpaper, floor/ceiling tile, and adhesives among other products. Asbestos was even used as insulation in old kitchen appliances like crock pots, popcorn poppers, and stove mats. An estimated 20 million people in the United States are at risk of developing mesothelioma at some point in their lives, especially in older homes where floor tiles may be chipping and wallpaper may be falling off. If your home was built between 1930 and the 1980s hiring an asbestos professional to inspect and remove any asbestos found in your home could save you and your family from a fatal fight with cancer.
Reducing Waste & Exposure To BPA
- Plastics: Sometimes taking the easy way out is harmless but when plastics are involved, there is no cutting corners. “In a few short decades since we discovered the convenience of plastics,” said Lisa Svensson, the UN’s Oceans Chief, to the BBC. “We are ruining the ecosystem of the ocean.” According to the Container Recycling Institute, 7 billion plastic beverage bottles were sold in the U.S. in 2014, or 315 bottles per person. In addition to the planetary detriments of the convenience material there are human health concerns – specifically those from BPA. The chemical, Bisphenol A, is used to make shatterproof plastics. Containers that were made with the chemical are labeled with a number 7.
The chemical has only been used in consumer products for the past 40 years so its effects are not fully understood at this time. Studies have shown a correlation between high levels of BPA and asthma, breast and prostate cancer, and cardiovascular problems and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified detectable levels of BPA, in 93 percent of people tested.
Reduce exposure to BPA by never microwaving polycarbonate plastic food containers, reduce use of canned foods, and opt for alternatives to plastic water bottles. Other more sustainable – and healthful – options include glass, porcelain or stainless steel.
Keeping Your Work Surfaces Clean
- Cutting Boards Should Measure Up: A cutting board is only as effective as it’s maintenance routine. There are two main types of cutting boards – wood and plastic. For many years wood was the typical cutting board but with the advent of plastics, a switch was made in many kitchens across the world. In the 1980s though, research found that those plastic boards may not be superior. The plastic cutting boards, while easier to sanitize, also collect bacteria where grooves have formed. Wood on the other hand is more difficult to sanitize but that same strength enables the board to maintain a smoother surface, free from grooves. Each board has hazards to be aware of but through implementing proper sanitizing procedures health ramifications can be avoided.
It is recommended that you use plastic cutting boards for meat and wood cutting boards for fruit, vegetables, or any ready-to-eat foods like bread or cheese. No matter what you decide, after each use scrub your cutting board in hot, soapy water, then rinse and allow to air dry or pat dry with a clean dish towel. If your board has cracks, crevices, or gouges it is time to replace it!
Toxins In Your Cabinets
- Cautious of the Cabinets: Wood is wood, right? Sadly that’s not the case – chemicals can leach from the cabinets in your kitchen into the air you breathe. The problem arises from pressed wood cabinets. Particle board, hardwood, plywood paneling, and fiberboard all typically contain formaldehyde. The chemical is regulated by the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers it a significant source of indoor air pollution. Symptoms of formaldehyde exposure include watery eyes, a burning throat, headaches and flu-like symptoms including difficulty breathing and dizziness.
When purchasing cabinetry, solid wood is the safest option. Wood products labeled “CARB compliant” are the best you can get – these products meet the standards set by the California Air Resources Board. The emission standards of CARB are the lowest in the world.
It’s in your hands to safeguard the health of your and your family, and you can start by implementing some of these changes in your kitchen. Keep cooking up delicious food but make sure that your kitchen isn’t interfering with a healthy meal…MANGIA!
Author: Emily Walsh