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Healthy Food Prep: Removing Plastic From The Kitchen

By now, we’ve all been told to be careful using plastic in the kitchen. But why are plastics in cooking such a big deal to avoid?

Unfortunately plastic, and specifically black plastic, which is often used for cooking tools, is commonly made using recycled plastics from electronics. This sourcing unfortunately boasts such chemicals as brominated flame retardants, chlorine, PVC, cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, and antimony according to a study out of Plymouth University in the United Kingdom. Most of these substances are not safe for human consumption, even at small levels. Yum. Other colors of plastic are also unsafe for food use due to leaching of some hormone disrupting constituents into food. Best to just ditch all plastics in the kitchen.

Picture this: A big beautiful pot of soup, carefully crafted from local organically grown veggies, homemade broth and herbs from the garden. Once done, a black plastic ladle is placed into the piping hot soup for serving. Knowing what you just learned above, doesn’t that just make you cringe? I have seen this more times than I can count. Please have awareness in your kitchen for what you might be unknowingly adding to your food!

The biggest culprit in the kitchen for adding unseen chemicals to our food is plastic. 

Cooking from scratch is not always convenient, but it affords you the great privilege of deciding exactly what goes into your body. Not a small feat these days. When you eat out at a restaurant or processed foods from the store, the ingredients are often numerous, packaging often also plastic and cooking practices a mystery. Cooking your own food at home provides you full control over which ingredients go in and which types of cooking surfaces you use.

So when a client is going through the effort of purchasing organic nutrient dense foods, it saddens me to see kitchen tools that add in some not so savory chemicals; especially when some easy swaps could make these dishes just as nutritious and healing as one hopes. 

Plastic can be found in many places in the kitchen. Plastic is to be avoided the most when heat, acidic foods, fats or friction will be touching the surface. 

Here are the most common places plastic is found in the kitchen:

  • Plastic cooking utensils such as ladles, slotted spoons, sauce spoons and spatulas

  • Plastic cutting boards

  • Teflon coated (nonstick) cookware, baking sheets and tea kettles

  • Plastic coffee makers and french presses

  • Plastic flatware, cups, bowls and dinnerware

  • Plastic storage containers or water bottles

  • Water kettles (especially the interior lids)

  • Measuring spoons and cups. 

  • Plastic colanders

  • Plastic pitchers and jugs

  • Plastic immersion blenders

RULE OF THUMB:
Avoid plastic in the kitchen as much as possible and opt for items with inert surfaces, meaning the surface does not react chemically with other substances. 

WHAT I USE:
US made tempered glass pots such as Visions brand, enamel coated cast iron like Le Creuset and Xtrema 100% ceramic cookware (this is different than the Green Pan ceramic coated non-stick pans made with a Thermalon cooking surface.)

For cooking utensils and cutting boards I like solid wood items that come uncoated (naked) that I oil myself with a mixture of jojoba oil and beeswax. Pure 100% silicone utensils are also nice. The wooden and silicone utensils do not scratch the surfaces of my pots so they are my go to choice for everyday cooking. Just don’t put your wooden utensils in the dishwasher or leave them soaking. Promptly wash and let air dry for longevity of the tool.

OTHER OPTIONS:
High quality stainless steel cookware and cooking utensils are another option. Stainless steel is made from a metal alloy containing mostly chromium and iron and also contains other metals such as nickel, titanium, copper, molybdenum and vanadium. These metals can leach, especially when acidic foods are cooked. I personally avoid cooking in a lot of stainless steel due to a nickel sensitivity.

Cast Iron cookware. I know I will get a lot of pushback on this and I do occasionally use cast iron but I do not like the fact that it does leach iron especially with acidic food use. This non-bioavailable iron can reach high levels in the body, stressing the system. 

AVOID:
Teflon and any other nonstick coated cookware. Johns Hopkins Medical Center says the chemical PFOA, used in manufacturing Teflon, is now found in the bloodstreams of nearly everyone in the U.S. Early studies suggest that high PFOA blood levels in humans are linked with cancer, high cholesterol levels, thyroid disease and reduced fertility. Steer clear of any non-stick coatings, even newer non-pfoa coatings I am not convinced don’t leach. Better to go with the tried and true cooking surfaces than be a guinea pig for the latest and greatest chemical coating.  

Avoid copper and aluminum pots due to these metals also leaching. 

Avoid any plastic tools that touch food, especially warm, fatty or acidic foods. 

Never use anything labeled for decoration only. 

ACTION ITEM:
Take an inventory of all your plastic items in your kitchen and see if you have non-toxic alternatives already available in your utensils. If so, immediately remove the plastic items from use. If not, start to make a list of items you will need to replace with safer more inert materials as soon as you can afford to. Some of these items such as the cookware or solid wood cutting boards are not cheap, but they will last you a long time. 


Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4284091/

Blair Townley