Along with being the hub and heart of a home, your kitchen can be an unintentionalsource of daily toxins and chemicals. Here’s how to eliminate them and craft the ultimate low-toxic food prep zone.
Along with the daily meal, many people are unwittingly serving up small amounts of chemicals and heavy metals leached from cooking appliances, utensils, food containers, wrappings and water pipes. As you clean up and cook, you’re also potentially inhaling toxic vapours from stoves and cleaning products. On the upside, as masters of your own domain, you have the power to transition your kitchens into less toxic zones.
Though touted as healthier than Teflon, non-stick ceramic cookware is dubious, given one manufacturer of ceramic nonstick coatings is currently subject to a class action. The glazes used in ceramic items often contain small amounts of lead and other heavy metals. Particularly avoid consuming food from handcrafted, antique and imported ceramics that may have been made without any regulation.
Aluminium cookware is another one to be avoided. Also, watch out for aluminium in camping dishes, aluminium foil and food packaging. Acidic food like tomatoes and higher temperatures accelerate corrosion and leaching.
Researchers suggests avoiding plastic food packaging by shopping with bulk suppliers using your own bags and containers. Store perishable produce and leftovers in glass storage containers. Other options for storing food include stainless steel, hessian sacks, cloth or paper bags. Instead of cling film, use beeswax wraps. Cull plastic straws, chopping boards and utensils from your kitchen and replace with stainless steel, bamboo or wood versions.
Kitchen appliances like breadmakers, rice cookers, popcorn makers, kettles and toasted sandwich and waffle makers commonly harbour hidden plastic, as well as Teflon and other non-stick coatings. When heated, toxins more readily leach from such materials into foods and drinks. If you can’t find safer materials for your kitchen gizmos or are on a tight budget, try reverting back to more traditional ways of cookery such as making your own bread by hand. “It’s particularly vital to avoid plastic kettles, given their regular use,” she says. Go for glass or stainless-steel alternatives.
The fumes of chlorine bleach, for example, are toxic to the respiratory tract, especially when mixed with other household cleaners, while antibacterial disinfectants and sprays can irritate the airways and cause asthma. Research suggests disinfectants can imbalance the microbiomes of the gut, skin and lungs. Other harsh and harmful chemicals in cleaning include sodium and potassium hydroxide (found in oven cleaners and Drano), phthalates and formaldehyde (in dishwashing liquid, disinfectants and household cleaning agents).
Not much beats a clean, fresh-smelling kitchen. However, the artificial fragrances so many people rely on contain numerous synthetic chemicals, including phthalates. According to the EWG, 3163 potential ingredients hide behind the word “fragrance”. Fragrance chemicals are strongly associated with respiratory and skin issues and are among the top five known allergens, the EWG reports.
In the kitchen, fake fragrance routinely makes an appearance in dishwashing liquid, cleaning products, room fresheners and even garbage bags. Instead of fragranced bin liners, use a pedal bin with a kitchen bucket inside. If you want to scent your kitchen, use essential oils.
Pure drinking water
Water in homes closer to the treatment plant tends to have a higher concentration of chlorine, he says. As the water travels further, the chlorine within it tends to change into gas, evaporate and disappear. While water is monitored for toxins, Hervey’s research suggests household tap water commonly contains much higher levels of heavy metals, including lead and copper, than previously thought.
Most people have a tank hot water system with a copper barrel and an element in the bottom. When the water heats up it interacts with the metal element and the copper drum; we have this magical mix of chemistry then you’ll see this very large spike of copper in the water which is not ideal. You can also end up with a lot of bacteria if it’s not heated to the right temperature.
Cold water tap is advisable for drinking and cooking. Carbon-based water filters that remove 99.9 per cent of pollutants including plastics and heavy metals. Make sure you keep an eye on the maintenance period and replace cartridges or clean out as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Natural insect control
Even low-toxic insecticides like pyrethroids (synthetic chemicals produced to mimic pyrethrin) have been linked with negative health effects ranging from headaches, ADHD and skin issues to more serious things like Parkinson’s Disease. One study of 500 people published in 2018 found those with multiple sclerosis had higher childhood exposures to indoor insect control foggers and other pesticides than those without the disease.
If you must use a poison, baits are less dangerous than sprays or bug bombs and can be placed strategically.
A source of chemicals harder to eliminate can relate to structural elements of the kitchen such as cupboards, benches, walls and flooring. The safest materials in terms of outgassing, as well as the most durable, are hardwood timber and stone. They’re also the most expensive.
The majority of kitchen cabinets today are made of engineered wood products including plywood, particle board and MDF. Plastic laminate and melamine are also common. Health concerns relate to outgassing of the chemicals, resins, solvents and adhesives used in the manufacture of such products, and their finishes. This includes formaldehyde, a probable carcinogen which triggers allergic reactions and eye, respiratory and skin irritation in many people.
Timber, stone, cork, linoleum, polished concrete, ceramic and porcelain are lowtoxic options. Seagrass and natural fibre mats can be an option. When renovating, use low-toxic surface treatments, sealers, paints and adhesives.
We can’t all afford a total kitchen renovation. The next best thing is to dilute and remove airborne toxins. Do this with good ventilation, open up and air your kitchen regularly, and use the exhaust fans daily.