Have you ever looked around your kitchen and wondered if all the containers, pots and pans are impacting your health?

Maybe you’ve eaten Teflon in your stir-fry that was cooked in a wok that once upon a time was non-stick, or you’ve eaten a mouthful of melted plastic with your reheated food.

If that’s you then listen up because in this post I take a look at some of the common questions I receive about toxins in kitchen equipment and recommend some safer alternatives.

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Ever since the dangers of Bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby bottles hit the spotlight in the early 2000’s, our awareness of the potential for toxins to leach from food storage containers and packaging into our foods has continued to grow.

But what about the cooking implements we use day in and day out to prepare our foods? How do they stack up where toxins are concerned?

In this post I’ll answer some of the most common questions I receive on this topic…..

What Are The Best Dishes And Pans To Cook With From A Toxin-Free Perspective?

 
When it comes to pots and pans, different materials have their pros and cons. Some heat better, and more evenly than others, while others are heavier and not as practical.

In short, stainless steel, glass (e.g. Pyrex), cast iron, enamelled cast iron (e.g. Le Creuset), ceramic cookware (e.g. unglazed pots and glazed pots from a reputable source that specifically states the absence of synthetic pigments), glass-ceramic cookware (eg. Corningware) and enamelled porcelain cookware all get the tick as being the safest in the kitchen.

By contrast, avoid any synthetic non-stick surfaces, including Teflon, that include PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) in their composition; aluminium pots and pans (including anodized aluminium); and any cooking plastics (for example, microwavable plastic containers).

Here’s some pros and cons of common materials:

  • Stainless steel pots are strong, resist wear and tear, long lasting and inexpensive. Good quality stainless steel cookware usually offers a copper or aluminium base for better heat conductivity, which translates to more even cooking. Meals cooked in stainless steel can reportedly contain small quantities of iron, nickel and chromium. Concentrations are not high enough to cause concern, except for those with a nickel allergy.
  • Glass is possibly the most inert cookware material.
  • Cast iron pots and dishes can leach some iron, although that’s reportedly good for health. A well-seasoned pot is effectively non-stick, and this surface improves over time.
  • Enamelled cast iron offers the versatility of cast iron (stove top to oven) with easier clean up.
  • I love my ceramic dishes that are lined with a thick layer of porcelain (think toilet bowl lining!). They’re non-stick and are very easy to clean.

Is Non-Stick Cookware Safe?

 
Many of the newer ranges of non-stick cookware claim to be PFOA, lead and cadmium free.

PFOA is another name for perfluorooctanoic acid and its salts, which is considered likely to be carcinogenic based on studies in rats. The other issue with PFOA is if a pan is heated to a too high temperature (we’re talking 350°C), it can give off toxic fumes.

My issue with many of the non-stick cookware ranges available is that the manufacturer tells you what’s not in the coating but they don’t necessarily tell you what is…. only that it’s a secret trademarked coating that’s safe.

To be really sure, go for stainless steel, cast iron, glass or porcelain.

If you do choose non-stick cookware, opt for brands that offer a limited lifetime guarantee against peeling and blistering. This way, if the coating does start to peel you can easily get it replaced.

How Do I Stop Food Sticking To My Pans?

 
Most non-stick cookware was born out of the no-fat / low fat movement in the 1980s and 1990s. By removing fats from our diet we increased the likelihood of our meals sticking to their pans.

We now know better and realise that we should be incorporating good fats into our diet.

In order to avoid food sticking in the first place, cook with good fats such as coconut oil, ghee, macadamia nut oil and extra virgin olive oil. They will help prevent your food from sticking to the pan or dish.

If food has stuck to your pan, water and time are your best friends in the kitchen. The best thing you can do after cooking is to get your cookware soaking in water as soon as possible. For stubborn burnt on food add some baking soda to your water and let the dish soak overnight.

If cooking with non-stick cookware, avoid using metal utensils and wash the pans by hand using nonabrasive cleaners and sponges, not steel wool. Watch for wear and tear or flaking of any non-stick surface and replace the item if the non-stick surface is damaged.

What Is The Best Slow-Cooker Or Rice Cooker Option?

 
When people ask me this questions they tend to be concerned mostly about the non-stick coating and its potential to flake off after time.

There’s no denying that slow cookers and rice cookers are worth their weight in gold in the kitchen…. especially when you have young kids and you can’t always be free for an hour at 5pm to cook dinner fresh on the spot.

But saying that, there’s nothing worse than Teflon in your stir fry!

If you want to keep using your non-stick slow cooker or rice cooker, use wooden spoons and utensils that won’t damage the non-stick coating.

Alternatively you can cook rice in a stainless steel thermal cooker (e.g. Thermomix) or do what we all did before we had rice cookers and use the absorption method on a stove top. You can also cook meals ahead in a Thermomix and keep them in the heat-proof Thermoserver while you’re cooking the rice.

There’s also nothing wrong with cooking a casserole in an old-fashioned casserole dish in the oven.

Is Ceramic And Enamel Cookware Safe?

 
Ceramic, enamelled and glass cookware are generally safe options in the kitchen. Health concerns about using ceramic and enamel stem from components used in making, glazing or decorating the cookware, such as lead or cadmium which can be harmful when taken into the body.

In many countries, using these substances has been phased out in cookware manufacturing. If your glazed cookware is several decades old, it’s likely that it may have traces of heavy metals in the glaze.

Is Silicone Bakeware Safe?

 
Silicone is a synthetic rubber which contains bonded silicon (a natural element which is very abundant in sand and rock) and oxygen.

Cookware made from food grade silicone has become popular in recent years because it is colourful, non-stick, stain-resistant, hard-wearing, quick to cool, and tolerates extremes of temperature.

There are no known health hazards associated with the use of silicone cookware.

Silicone rubber has been reported to not react with food or beverages, or produce any hazardous fumes. Bear in mind though that there is a distinct lack of scientific studies or any health implications of cooking with silicone so this may change in the future…… I still bake my cakes, bread and slices in tins if that’s what you want to know…. but perhaps that says more about my age than anything!!!

What Are The Better Alternatives For Baking Paper, Aluminium Foil And Plastic Cling Wrap?

 
Plastic cling wrap is single-use item and lingers in the environment. Being plastic it’s also not without health impacts.

Many people still cover food in the microwave with plastic wrap to re-heat their meals only to have the plastic melt into their food. Not a great idea!

There’s no need to cover food with plastic wrap when you’re re-heating in the microwave. Instead opt for a reusable cover like those by LilyPad.

When covering and wrapping food in general I recommend reusable wrap made from hemp and organic beeswax. The brands I love and use are Wrap it Green and HoneyBee Food Wraps. I also use the food covers by 4 My Earth.

Aluminium foil is also a single-use item so less is definitely more when using this product. Currently there is no proven link between aluminium foil and Alzheimer’s Disease, but I like to follow the precautionary principal and minimise my use. A better choice is the “If You Care” brand which is made from recycled aluminium.

I do use baking paper occasionally in my baking and choose the unbleached “If You Care” brand.

Is BPA-Free Plastic Safe?

 
BPA-free plastic is still plastic and has a range of environmental and health impacts such as persisting in the environment and being made from a non-renewable resource (hello petroleum).

BPA-free has really become a buzz phrase over the past 5 years and that’s all well and good but some of these plastics still have other synthetic chemicals of questionable toxicity in them such as Bisphenol S (BPS), another known endocrine disruptor.

It is best to reduce your use and consumption of plastics overall.

Toxins in plastics are reported to leach at higher temperatures (such as when used to reheat food), so you can take some small steps there and reheat food in a ceramic dish in the oven, or stainless steel saucepan on the stove top, instead of inside a plastic container in the microwave.

What Is The Safest Cutting Board?

 
When choosing a cutting board, you obviously want it to be easy to use, made from a non-toxic material and be easy to clean.

Glass is a forerunner in the non-toxic and easy to clean stakes, however, I don’t enjoy chopping vegetables on a glass cutting board. I find the noise annoying (not unlike fingernails on a chalkboard!) and dislike how the knife easily slips.

I grew up being told never to cut meat on wooden cutting boards, as the juices seep into the wood grains and grow bacteria, and so I only ever cut bread and vegetables on them. However, in recent years the Camphor Laurel chopping boards have caught my eye (and now are a staple in my kitchen).

Reportedly more hygienic than plastic, pine and glass cutting boards, they’re made from Camphor Laurel, a serious environmental weed species in Australia. You can buy them here.

What Are The Best Containers To Store Food?

 
Toxins in food storage containers have been reported to leach into foods, however the degree of leaching varies with temperature and duration of storage.

From a toxicity perspective, glass and stainless are the best food storage options.

I realize many people have really jumped on the anti-plastic campaign and have thrown out their entire Tupperware collections for glass and stainless steel. If that’s you and you can afford that, fantastic, but those of you who can’t, I say that’s more than okay too.

For the record, much of my 15 year old Tupperware still features in my pantry and fridge, but I use plenty of recycled glass options as well.

I love the passata glass jars and use these for storing bone broths and soups. Large jars such as 1kg coconut oil jars are fabulous for storing flour or homemade cleaning powders.

Reusing containers such as passata and coconut oil jars prevents the purchase of a new storage container.  Plus it means you’re storing your staples in glass, one of the most inert and safe materials for your food storage. Gotta love a win-win!

SO there you have it!

Some answers and discussion around the most common questions I get asked regarding the toxicity of various kitchen cooking and baking equipment.

How does your kitchen measure up?

Laura

Laura

Laura Trotta is one of Australia’s leading home sustainability experts. Fusing her professional expertise as an environmental engineer with the down-to-earth pragmatism that comes from being a busy mum, Laura is an eco thought leader who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Laura