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Environmental connections to public health >>

Healthy Home Tips for your holiday kitchen

Monday, December 21, 2009


'Tis the season to be jolly cooking. Fa la la la la, la la la la.

In the next two weeks, you're probably going to do some (or possibly tons of) holiday cooking. You'll buy ingredients, cook, clean -- and enjoy some leftovers. It's a great time to do a little "greening" before the guests arrive.

EWG makes it easy to prepare your holiday feasts with your family's environmental health in mind. Just follow these simple tips as you shop, cook, eat and clean:

Cook with safer foods The food we eat can contain ingredients we don't want to eat -- from pesticides to food packaging chemicals. To find safer foods, we suggest that you:

  • Buy organic when you can. Organic produce is grown without pesticides, so when you eat it you're not also eating toxic chemicals. Organic meat and dairy products also limit your family's exposure to growth hormones and antibiotics.
  • When you can't buy organic, look for less-contaminated conventional produce. Our Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce ranks popular fruits and vegetables based on the amount of pesticide residues found on them. Check out the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides.
  • Avoid food containers that leach packaging chemicals into food, especially canned foods (the can linings contain bisphenol-A) and greasy fast-food wrappers. Instead, head for fresh food or prepared foods in glass containers. Pick recipes that call for fresh, not canned, foods.

Use non-toxic cookware Skip the non-stick so you don't breathe toxic fumes (that can kill your pet bird!) while cooking on high heat. Non-stick pans are coated with a synthetic chemical (think Teflon), and, while convenient, they emit toxic fumes when overheated.

Non-stick cookware is in most American kitchens. Is it in yours? If it is, use it safely. If you can, cook with safer alternatives. Here's how:

  • Choose safer cookware. We suggest cast iron, stainless steel and oven-safe glass. Yes, there are many new products on the market, but we don't know enough about them to know if they're safe. Even if they're advertised as "green" or "not non-stick," manufacturers do not have to release their safety data to the public. If you're in the market for a new pan, purchase it through Amazon and a portion of your purchase total will go to EWG!
  • Cook safer with non-stick if you're 'stuck' with it. You can reduce the possibility of toxic fumes by cooking smart with any non-stick cookware you happen to own: never preheat nonstick cookware at high heat, don't put it in an oven hotter than 500 degrees F and use an exhaust fan over the stove.

Store & reheat leftovers safely Leftovers are an inevitable result of holiday cooking. Avoid plastic when storing and (especially) when heating them. Here's why -- and how:

  • Skip the plastic food storage containers if you can. We know that chemicals routinely migrate, or leach, into food and liquids placed in plastic containers. Ceramic or glass food containers (like Pyrex) are safer.
  • Don't microwave food or drinks in plastic containers, even if they claim to be "microwave safe." Heat can break down plastics and release chemicals into your food and drink. Microwaves heat unevenly, creating hot spots where the plastic is more likely to break down.
  • If you must use plastics, handle them carefully. Use them for cool liquids only; don't reuse single-use plastics; wash plastics on the top rack of the dishwasher, farther from the heating element (or by hand!); use a paper towel instead of plastic wrap to cover food in the microwave.

Clean greener You clean before holiday guests arrive and after they leave -- and while you cook. But do you clean green? We recommend that you do, because our homes aren't safe and clean if the air inside is polluted with chemicals from household cleaners. It's really quite easy:

  • Choose safer cleaning products. Try natural alternatives (vinegar, baking soda and water!). Avoid anti-bacterials (here's how). Avoid the biggest hazards (acidic toilet bowl cleaners, air fresheners, oven cleaners, and corrosive drain openers).
  • Adopt safe cleaning routines. Open the window. Use gloves. Keep kids away from toxic products. Dust and vacuum often because dust often contains toxics.
  • A few tips for the kitchen. Microwave your sponge. Wash your hands with plain soap and water -- it's just as effective. Use a baking soda & water paste instead of commercial oven cleaner.

These tips are part of our Healthy Home Tips series - read all 7 and sign up for the rest here.

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