Sometimes it seems impossible to avoid all the things that are labeled bad for you. Every day there is another new study proclaiming that an ordinary item is laden with dangerous chemicals. To make things even more difficult, experts often don’t agree on the level of danger presented. The scary thing is that some of these items can be found right in your own kitchen. Some people prefer to play it safe and avoid as many sources of toxic chemicals as they can. It’s a personal decision, however, when it comes to the things you keep around. These 9 kitchen items have been found to potentially be toxic.
1) Styrofoam Take-out Containers
Styrofoam containers are commonly used for leftovers, but the material is highly controversial. Styrene is a chemical in Styrofoam that has been found to leach into food when placed in microwaves. Even the heat from hot coffee or recently-cooked food might be enough to cause this. The U.S. Department of Health added styrene to the list of possible carcinogens in 2011. The FDA monitors the labeling of containers that are intended to be used with food, but even containers that are labeled safe can still release toxic chemicals into food. They just do so in small amounts presumed to be less harmful. Takeout containers are intended for one-time use and reheating your food in them should be avoided as a precaution. Plus, while the jury may be out on just how bad Styrofoam is for you, it’s definitely bad for the environment – especially if it’s not recyclable.
2) Aluminum Foil
Aluminum foil has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease for decades, but more recent research has brought these claims into question. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) does link ingestion of significant amounts aluminum to brain and nervous system problems, however, it is unlikely that the body could absorb enough aluminum to cause Alzheimer’s disease from use of foil. But like Styrofoam, if there is a danger, it’s likely to occur when you add heat. You don’t need to throw out all your aluminum foil, as it should be perfectly fine for storing food in the refrigerator (provided it’s not very acidic) or covering a casserole dish. However, to be safe, bake and grill with it as minimally as possible, even if it means the grill is going to get a little dirtier. You can also use parchment paper as a safer alternative for baking.
3) Old Non-stick Pans with Deep Scratches
Non-stick pans are another kitchen item that have gotten a rap that’s likely worse than it deserves. However, some caution is warranted. One of the chemicals long used to create non-stick surfaces is PFOA, which has been linked to cancer in some studies. Some non-stick pans are now marketed as PFOA-free, but still contain other PFAS that could be linked to health problems. While experts may not agree on the level of danger truly presented by non-stick pans, they do tend to agree to some basic precautions. Do not overheat your pans as the chemicals become more unstable at high heat. Heavier pans heat more slowly and should be safer. Also, avoid deeply scratched pans as they could potentially expose you to more chemicals and if they are older pans, there is a likelihood they contain PFOA.
4) One-Time Use Plastic Containers
Those handy plastic containers that your cottage cheese or yogurt come in can be easily rinsed out and used to store food, but many of these containers contain BPA or phthalates. While it may not be a big deal to hang on to them for a couple rounds in the refrigerator, don’t use them indefinitely, and don’t heat food up in them. For one thing, they weren’t intended to withstand high heat, so they could melt into your food. For another, the heat could cause the chemicals in the plastic to leach into your food. In fact, one analysis showed that many of the plastic tubs marked as microwave safe, and even BPA-free, still showed estrogenic activity which can affect estrogen and testosterone levels. The USDA advises only heating food in ceramic or glass.
5) Imported Pottery
Lead poisoning isn’t as problematic as it once was since the government banned lead-based paint and other leaded products. It can, however, still be found in older homes and in products from countries with less stringent regulations. Traditional pottery from countries like Mexico could potentially have lead in the glaze. Plus, if it isn’t manufactured properly, it can taint food and beverages. The danger lies in the tableware that is made from earthenware, or porous clay, and requires a glaze. While many artists have stopped using leaded glaze, the FDA advises that you look for labeling that identifies whether the ceramics are intended for use with food, and to beware pieces that look crudely homemade, damaged, antique, or if they came from a street vendor rather than a reliable manufacturer. Lead is also used to brighten oranges, reds, and yellows.
6) Plastic Wrap
The issues with plastic wrap are pretty similar to those with plastic containers. The debate over phthalates leaching into food from the plastic and disrupting the endocrine system has led many countries to ban these chemicals. They can cause girls to enter puberty faster or boys to have lower sperm counts. A study of 3,000 children in the Journal of Pediatrics found that children who had been exposed to phthalates had higher blood pressure levels. Don’t use plastic wrap when heating food as the chemicals become more unstable with the addition of heat. As with plastic and Styrofoam containers, experts recommend heating your food in glass or ceramic instead. The World Health Organization has also raised the possibility of links to rising diabetes, ADHD, allergies, and asthma rates.
7) Canned Soup
BPA has been used in cans for food for decades, but recent studies have raised concerns about those chemicals and their effect on the human body. A recent study in the Environmental Research Journal revealed that eating canned foods exposes people to BPA. Additionally, some foods are worse than others. Canned beverages, meat, and fish were not problematic in the study. Fruits and vegetables did reflect exposure to BPA. Soups and pasta had the highest levels; soup in particular. One of the researchers theorized that the significantly higher levels in soup might be due to longer heating times to reach sterilization and a higher amount of fat. The FDA, European Food Safety Authority, and other regulatory bodies do, however, say the current amounts are small enough to be safely consumed.
8) Microwave Popcorn
Microwave popcorn is associated with a few health risks. Synthetic butter flavoring is often made with a chemical called diacetyl that is considered harmless when consumed, but toxic when heated. People who had worked in the factories started developing “popcorn lung,” a severe lung disease. As a person enjoying an occasional bag of buttery popcorn in front of a movie, popcorn lung isn’t something to be concerned about. Although, a man once won a settlement for his lung disease after eating it daily for a decade. The bag also poses concern as it is coated with PFOAs and PFOS which get into the popcorn. You can avoid these chemicals by making your own popcorn in a paper bag or on a stovetop. It’ll likely also be lower in trans fats that way; the unhealthy ingredient commonly found in most microwave popcorn.
9) Antibacterial Soap
Antibacterial soap became all the rage in the 2000s. After all, that’s what everyone wants, right? To kill bacteria? Problem is that it kills the good with the bad bacteria and creates drug-resistant bacteria. The chemical triclosan is commonly used in these soaps and its effect on the human body has come into question. In animal testing, it interferes with the thyroid hormone. Researchers have also found evidence that regular exposure to triclosan increases chances of developing allergies because in killing all the bacteria, it interferes with immune system development. All this triclosan going down the drain is affecting the environment, too. Even after water is treated, it’s still found in the water supply where it affects photosynthesis in algae. It’s better to stick with regular soap. Studies have indicated washing well with soap and warm water has the benefits of killing germs without the risks of anti-bacterial products.