Non-stick cooking pans
Non-stick cooking pans make clean-up a breeze but when their surfaces are heated to high temperatures or they become scratched and pieces of the coating flake off into your food, it can pose health risks. Non-stick pans are coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a chemical that has non-stick properties. When PTFE-coated pans are heated to high temperatures, they emit gases that can be toxic, according to a 2017 study in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research. To be safe, one should try to avoid overheating pans that are fluorinated, says Sachleben. It’s worth spending the money on a quality pan for cooking – you want to get something that will hold up over time.
Phthalates, often called plasticisers, are found in everything from vinyl flooring to adhesives to raincoats as well as many personal care products and a popular item found in the kitchen: dish soap. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the health effects from exposure to low levels of phthalates are unknown but in studies, some types of phthalates have been shown to affect the reproductive system of laboratory animals. “There is valid concern about phthalates and long-term exposure,” says Sachleben. While the risk may be low, especially when compared to other products, an existing risk is a good reason to be cautious and find substitutes. “There are other cleaners that allow the chemicals to be effective but with less risk,” he says.
Plastic storage containers
Plastic containers and plastic wrap are common kitchen items used to store food but when placed in the microwave and heated, they have the potential to leak bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates into the food, especially if the food has a higher fat content, according to a 2018 study in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. These two chemicals are known to be endocrine disruptors, which means they have the ability to affect oestrogen and testosterone levels in humans and even impact the development of the brain and reproductive organs in developing foetuses. Temperature and time are also key factors when it comes to heating food in plastic containers.
“Hot foods sitting in a container for longer periods of time, will leach more,” says Dr Gary Ginsberg, author of What’s Toxic, What’s Not. “In general, it is advisable to heat your food in ceramic or Pyrex to avoid the leaching issues you get from plastic trays,” he advises. “When we know something is avoidable, it’s good to take action on it.”