Household safety should not be limited to fire extinguishers and child safety cabinet locks. Many of the everyday household products we use often contain chemicals or byproducts that are harmful to our physical and mental health. At Kablo, we encourage our customers to pay attention to the items that they come into contact with on a daily basis. In this health guide, we explore 10 toxic products lurking in your kitchen and suggestions for safer alternatives. The likelihood of chemical exposure and its adverse effects are prevalent with the products we use day to day, and most of these items reside in our kitchen. It’s worth investing in safer alternatives for you and your family and we hope that this guide will help to get you started.
1. Nonstick cookware
Anything related to the Teflon family (a synthetic resin used in non-stick cookware) likely includes perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) which will leach chemicals when heated. It doesn’t exactly spell “healthy cooking” when you’re cooking organic vegetables in PFC resin.
In lab studies, PFC’s released from consumer-grade products have been found to kill pet birds by inhalation. Fortunately, there is an industry-wide ban taking shape as many manufacturers are sensitive to this increase in consumer awareness. Companies like Calphalon have started producing PFOA-free line of products. It should be stated, however, that even when PFOA is not used, heating any synthetic resin may pose a significant contamination risk – many of which are suspected carcinogens when inhaled. Before you invest in a nice set of pots, be sure to ask the manufacturer for details on the materials used for their non-stick resin. Chances are you will use your pots and pans for many years, and it is very important that you know how they are made, and what they are made of.
Some good alternatives to non-stick resins include ceramic, cast iron, glass and stainless steel (preferably 304 stainless steel).
2. Food storage containers
You think “no big deal”: You finish your meal, pack up the leftovers, and stick them in the fridge for tomorrow. Unfortunately, if you’re using plastic food storage containers, this everyday habit could be exposing you and your family to harmful chemicals. This is because plastic food storage containers are often made with a chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is proven to be harmful to infants and children and is suspected to be just as harmful to adults.
While some companies have started releasing BPA-free plastic containers, not all companies are on board. Plastics that were never meant to be reused, such as tub butter containers and takeout containers, are especially apt to have BPA in them. Recent studies have even shown that BPA free containers may contain BPS instead, a hormone that is similar to estrogen.
Meanwhile, plastic is porous, which means that eventually, it begins to absorb colors and odors from old foods. This is especially true if they are scratched or have become excessively cloudy. If you notice this happening to your container set, it’s probably time to throw it out as it is likely to harbor bacteria and germs.
Great alternatives include containers made of borosilicate glass, as well as stainless steel or silicone.
Generally speaking, glass is very safe. It is made from silica (the major constituent of sand) which is a naturally occurring and abundant resource. However, glass objects that have been painted or decorated may contain toxic levels of lead and cadmium. You will often see this on the outside or along the rim of glass products. These decorations may well be toxic especially if the manufacturers do not specify if a natural dye was used.
From all the products in your kitchen, drinking glasses and water bottles will be your most frequent point of contact when it comes to toxic chemicals (we use them daily). Many plastic and metal water bottles leach chemicals as they are made of soluble materials and become even more dangerous when heated (left in a car) or used with warm liquids.
It’s very important that your daily drinkware is both inert (chemically inactive) and sanitary. Borosilicate glass has been known to be one of the safest alternatives to plastic and steel bottles, as it will not leach contaminants even when it is heated or cooled to extreme temperatures or placed in a dishwasher for sanitation. It is non-porous and will last a lifetime if handled with care.
4. Cutting boards
For a number of years, companies have been adding a chemical called triclosan to products ranging from toothpaste to toys. Triclosan was originally added to products to reduce the transfer of bacteria, so it makes sense that some cutting boards, which often come into contact with raw foods, would be chemically treated with triclosan. Most of these cutting boards are often plastic and marketed as “antibacterial”. Unfortunately, studies show that there is no difference between cutting boards with triclosan and cutting boards without triclosan in terms of how well they prevent bacterial growth. Meanwhile, recent studies suggest that triclosan can have harmful effects ranging from a decrease in thyroid hormones and that it may harbor bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics.
In fact, it’s dangerous enough that the FDA has forbidden food companies that use triclosan in their containers from being marketed in the US. The FDA has also forbidden soaps and other consumables with triclosan but has not yet banned triclosan from being used to treat cutting boards. For this reason, many cutting boards are still being manufactured with this dangerous chemical. Be aware that these are typically plastic cutting boards, especially if the product packaging has any mention of “treated” plastics.
Safe alternatives to plastic include glass, ceramic, and wood cutting boards.
5. Nylon cooking utensils
From spatulas to whisks, many cooking utensils are made from nylon. If you’re not sure what nylon cooking utensils look like, they’re typically made of colored plastics–often black. Nylon is inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to throw in the dishwasher. So what’s not to love about this wonder-material?
One of the biggest issues with nylon cooking utensils is that they’re not all created equal. Different nylon utensils are rated for different levels of heat. If you don’t know how hot your utensils can get, you stand a good chance of melting them, either while cooking with them or while washing them. And even utensils that are only slightly melting in the corners are no longer safe to use. That’s because nylon utensils are often coated with a chemical called Diaminodiphenylmethane (DDM), a dangerous chemical that has been shown to cause tumors in laboratory experiments. When heated to a high temperature, nylon can leach contaminants, which is why it is never recommended to rest your nylon cooking utensils directly on a hot pan.
Stainless steel and (organic) untreated wood utensils are a good, safe alternative to nylon utensils. If you are going to use nylon utensils, however, be sure to throw them out at the smallest sign that they are breaking down.
6. Oven cleaners
Oven cleaners contain some of the most toxic chemicals found in the average home. In fact, the vast majority of them flunk EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning. Why is this? Oven cleaners are loaded with dangerous cleaning agents.
We’re not just saying that it’s dangerous to leave oven cleaner within reach of children. Even when used as directed, oven cleaners can irritate the eyes and skin and inflame the respiratory system.
In most cases, oven cleaners should be avoided altogether, and one of the best alternatives is to use oven liners when you’re cooking in the oven. Oven liners can simply be thrown away when you’re done using them, cutting down on the need to deep clean your oven at all. When you do need to deep clean your oven, you’re better off skipping the harsh chemicals and making a safe, natural home oven cleaner instead. The base of a homemade natural oven cleaner usually involves a portion of baking powder, salt, and non-toxic soap – get creative and find a combination that works for your needs!
7. Dish & dishwasher soap
The point of dish soap is to sanitize, but if it’s laden with toxic chemicals, you may be doing more harm than good. Dish and dishwasher soaps often contain chemicals like formaldehyde that are poisonous to humans, and fragrances used to make these cleansers can often be dangerous to your health. Even soaps marketed as “green” or “natural” often aren’t free from toxic chemicals. It’s appropriate to note that “natural” and “green” are not regulated terms by the FDA and are virtually meaningless marketing buzzwords.
Before making your next purchase, visit the EWG, it is a great resource for toxicity levels for general household products. Though you may need to scrub a little harder when using all natural dish soap, it’s worth the extra effort if it’s keeping you safe (soaking your dishes for a longer period also makes cleanup a lot easier). Some of the best natural dish soaps on the market include Better Life and AspenClean. You can also make your own using all-natural ingredients.
8. Canned foods
If you have a busy schedule, purchasing canned foods can be very tempting. They can stay in your cupboard for years and some have a shelf life exceeding 5+ years. This is due to the canning process: once food is canned, it is heated to extreme temperatures so that bacteria cannot survive. This kills any bacteria that may have been in the food, and because it is so tightly sealed, new bacteria cannot penetrate the can.
Unfortunately, canned foods are a leading cause of BPA exposure. BPA is used as an epoxy resin in tin cans, which means that the inside of the can is lined with a thin layer of BPA. As convenient and long-lasting as canned foods may be – it’s not worth exposing you and your family to its harmful side effects. Some companies are starting to use BPA-free cans to keep their customers safe, though it is not very common.
Fresh (raw) foods would be the safest alternative to canned foods. However, if you’re looking for convenience or longer shelf life, frozen and jarred foods are a much better alternative to canned.
9. Plastic wraps
After ditching toxic plastic storage containers, your next thought may be to store leftover food in your fridge with plastic saran wrap. Bad idea! Plastic wrap has many of the same pitfalls as plastic food storage containers – namely, that they leech dangerous chemicals.
Plastic wraps, in particular, are usually made with low-density polyethylene (LDPE) or polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC). LDPE is made up of compounds that have been shown to cause breast cancer in women. And since plastic wrap companies are not required to list their ingredients on their packaging, it’s impossible to know if LDPE is used in the plastic wrap that you purchase. This is especially dangerous if you try to microwave your food while the plastic wrap is still on which is very unsafe.
We don’t encourage the use of microwaves but if you must, you’re better off microwaving food in glass or ceramic containers using damp paper towels to cover your food. You can also purchase a glass food cover to keep in your microwave, which is safe as long as you clean it between each use. Ideally, the best alternative for your health and the environment would be to forego plastic wraps entirely by switching to reusable wraps like Bee’s Wrap (made with organic cotton with beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin).
10. Single-cup coffee pods
Keurigs and other single-serve coffee machines have become so ubiquitous in recent years that even public places like gas stations and doctors’ offices have them available for public use. In fact, it’s the second-most popular way to brew coffee. But in addition to drastically increasing waste by producing a pod that has to be thrown away with every cup of coffee brewed, K-Cups and other single-cup coffee pods can be dangerous to your health.
Single-cup coffee pods are usually made from plastic. In this case, the plastic tends to contain styrene, which can affect brain function, reduce sperm count in men, and even cause certain forms of cancer.
There are many ways to enjoy coffee without using synthetic plastic coffee pods. Some companies are producing single-cup pods made entirely of aluminum rather than plastic (which is slightly better but not best). There are also reusable pods, which allow you to take normal ground coffee and scoop them into a safe, reusable filter (but some people complain that these do not function well). Your best bet is to stick with simpler methods and brew the traditional way (drip), or by using a French Press – not only will this give you a better flavor profile and avoid a ton of waste, but it gives you the ability to blend various coffee beans and adjust the strength of your brew.
All of this information may seem daunting at first – you might think to yourself “does everything besides fruit give me cancer?” to which the answer is: absolutely not. Product quality and safety-standards vary greatly from one company to another. Needless to say, there are countless toxic items lingering in every household, but glassware, cleaning supplies, and kitchen products are the ones we come into contact with on a daily basis and we should be certain that they are not detrimental to our health. Most companies and brands are not health-driven, but rather, profit-driven, which means they will cut corners if necessary to achieve higher profitability from their product line. Cutting corners means: cheaper materials that are dangerous to your health and loopholes found in FDA regulation for contaminants that are not yet being scrutinized.
Ultimately, we must all take responsibility and spend the time needed to research safer alternatives. It is not realistic to rely on third parties to make these decisions on your behalf. We hope this guide has piqued your interest in non-toxic products, and that you will continue researching to swap out some of your kitchen goodies.
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