by: Leslie Jones

When researching and learning about recyclable materials this past year, I have come across some things that I hadn’t necessarily thought of.  Along with information that I was looking for on what to recycle, how to recycle, and even statistics on the demographics of those most likely to recycle, comes some sad and alarming news about cooking with these materials.

As we’ve discussed, different types of plastics have different melting points, and some contain chemicals that can be harmful, especially when heated. But some aluminum pans, plates and some utensils are also on the “Unsafe List.”  So how do we protect ourselves from the possibility of chemicals leaching into our food and drinks?  Below is a list of some ideas that may help lower the amount of unnecessary exposure to chemicals such as Teflon, BPA, lead, aluminum, phthalates, and melamine.

  1. “If you must use plastic in the kitchen:
    • Choose BPA-Free, PVC-free plastics #2, #4, #5
    • Do not heat in the microwave (“microwave-safe” only means that the plastic won’t actually melt – the extreme heat of the oven will increase transference of chemicals).
    • Do not store fatty, greasy or acidic foods in plastic.
    • Do not use scratched, badly worn or cloudy plastics for your food and beverages.
    • Hand-wash plastics to avoid wear and tear.
  2. Avoid hard plastic melamine dishes.  They are made by combining the chemical melamine with formaldehyde, which is considered a known human carcinogen. Studies have shown that formaldehyde can leach from dishware into food.
  3. When it comes to food storage, safer materials include: glass, 304 grade stainless steel, and food-grade silicone – all of which do not leach chemicals into your food.
  4. When it comes to dishware, glass is a great choice, followed by ceramic dishware with lead-free glaze.  
  5. Avoid Teflon and any other chemical non-stick coatings. Teflon is a coating manufactured using perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is considered “a likely human carcinogen.” When heated, cookware coated with Teflon and other synthetic non-stick surfaces emits fumes that can....potentially sicken people.  Overheating of non-stick pans and any scratching or chipping of the materials can cause these chemicals to be released.
  6. Use caution with aluminum cookware.  Aluminum is a soft, highly reactive metal and can migrate in measurable amounts into food when used for cooking. Aluminum has been linked to brain disorders as well as behavioral abnormalities and is considered a toxic substance by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.  Many companies are switching from aluminum to Anodized aluminum. In this treatment the aluminum is dipped into a chemical bath to create a more durable layer, so that the aluminum can’t as easily leach into food. However,  the anodization can break down over time - so still not the safest choice for cookware.
  7. Avoid plastic utensils and accessories when cooking as these can melt or flake with extreme heat or wear down over time potentially causing chemicals to migrate into food. Instead choose stable materials such as: wood, bamboo, silicone or stainless steel.
  8. The safest materials for cookware and bakeware include: glass, high quality 304 grade stainless steel, cast iron and Xtrema ceramic cookware.
  9. When using stainless steel cookware, know that deeply scratched and pitted pans can cause metals (nickel and chromium) to migrate into food in trace amounts. These are not toxic elements, so there is not really cause for concern unless you have a specific allergy or sensitivity.  But to play it safe, avoid frequent use of abrasive materials with stainless steel cookware.”*

Although alarming and hard to swallow (pardon the pun), there are increasing amounts of chemicals used in the production of everyday dishes and cookware.  The more we research and understand the safety precautions and what to avoid, the safer we are able to keep our homes and families.