Are you going to be spending most of the day in a kitchen over the holidays? Will you be cooking with your favorite herbs? Putting away leftovers? Eating leftovers? Whether you’re cooking for yourself, your friends or your family, the Environmental Working Group has some advice for safe food and food practices that you may want to know.
First, start with the food itself.
Your choice of produce can affect your health.
Photo by Carol Moshier/Courtesy Flickr
You’ve probably heard that most fruits and vegetables at the grocery store these days contain pesticides, but did you know that different foods contain different amounts of these potentially health-damaging chemicals? The EWG has a list of the top dozen most contaminated fruits and vegetables (The Dirty Dozen), and another list of those foods with much lower pesticide content (The Clean 15). (Click here to see the list.) The Dirty Dozen, which lists produce such as apples, potatoes, spinach and bell peppers, consists of foods that the EWG suggests be purchased in their organic form. If you can’t find organic produce, the Clean 15, which includes onions, sweet corn, asparagus and sweet potatoes, will be safer for you and your family in the long run. Consuming organic foods or fruits and vegetables with a merely low pesticide content could reduce the risk of abnormal brain and nervous system development in young children, hormonal disruption and cancer. For more tips about choosing pesticide-free foods, see the EWG website.
Choose cookware without a non-stick coating to avoid toxic fumes.
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Non-stick pans have become very popular in recent years, but they do offer some health risks, especially for children and pets. The Teflon (perfluorochemicals or PFCs) in non-stick pans and utensils will break down at high temperatures and release toxic gas into your kitchen. This gas may kill birds and cause nearby humans to develop flu-like symptoms. To combat these health risks and the larger environmental hazards, EWG suggests using cast iron, stainless steel or glass cookware. If you have non-stick pans, do your best to cook with them safely. Don’t heat empty pans at high temperatures, don’t put them in an oven heated over 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and don’t use the “self clean” function on your oven if it has non-stick interior parts. Use the overhead exhaust stove fan and keep pet birds as far from the kitchen as possible. If you want to learn more about Teflon and PFCs, click here.
Finally, storing and re-heating leftovers.
Plastic storage containers can also contaminate your food.
Photo by JesseMenn/Courtesy Flickr
You’ve probably heard about the BPA (bisphenol-A ) content in a lot of Tupperware containers and water bottles; there was a lot of information about it last year and my mother went out and bought all-new BPA free plastic containers. Overall, it’s best to avoid plastic as a storage container for food, and especially for reheating, because the chemical additives in plastic can seep into the food and are most likely to do so when the container is heated in a microwave. Some alternatives include glass, metal, wood and ceramic. BPA contamination has been linked to cancer, disruptions in the reproductive system and damages to both the brain and behavior. If you want to find out whether your plastics contain BPA, check for a number that’s usually located on the bottom of the container, toy or tool. If the number is 1, 2, 4 or 5, the plastic does not contain BPA and may be safer. Avoid plastics marked with 3 (PVC) or 7 (PC), especially if the object is intended for a child. To find more information about the dangers of plastics and possible alternatives, especially in regard to infant necessities and toys, click here.
Enjoy your holidays, and your holiday cooking—safely.