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Health Questions

Cooking utensils and nutrition

Definition

Cooking utensils can have an effect on nutrition.

Function

Utensils that are used to cook food often do more than just hold the food. Molecules of substances can leach from the utensil into the food that is being cooked.

Common materials used in cookware and utensils are:

  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Lead
  • Stainless steel
  • Teflon™ (polytetrafluoroethlyene)

Both lead and copper have been linked to illness.

Food Sources

Cooking utensils can affect any cooked foods.

Recommendations

Metal cookware and bakeware should be designed to allow them to be easily cleaned. There should be no cracks or rough edges that can trap or hold food or bacteria.

Avoid using metal or hard plastic utensils on cookware. These utensils can scratch surfaces, melt, or shorten the cookware's lifespan. Use wood, bamboo or silicone. Never use cookware if the coating has started to peel or wear away.

ALUMINUM

Aluminum cookware is very popular. Nonstick, scratch-resistant anodized aluminum cookware is a good choice. The hard surface is easy to clean. It is sealed so aluminum cannot get into food.

Over the years there have been concerns that aluminum cookware increases the risk for Alzheimer's disease. However, the Alzheimer's Association reports that using aluminum cookware is not a major risk for the disease.

A greater risk to health is uncoated aluminum cookware. This type of cookware can easily melt and increase the risk of burns if it gets too hot. Still, research has shown that the amount of aluminum this cookware leaches into food from is very small.

LEAD

Children should be protected from ceramic cookware containing lead. Acidic foods such as oranges, tomatoes, or foods containing vinegar will cause more lead to be leached from ceramic cookware than nonacidic foods like milk. More lead will leach into hot liquids like coffee, tea, and soups than into cold beverages. Do not use any dishware that has a dusty or chalky gray film on the glaze after it has been washed.

Any ceramic cookware bought in another country or considered to be a craft, antique, or collectable may not meet FDA specifications, and should not be used to hold food. Test kits can detect high levels of lead in ceramic cookware, but may not detect lower levels that may also be dangerous.

IRON

There is real evidence that cooking in cast iron pots increases the amount of iron in the diet. This is usually a very small source of dietary iron.

TEFLON™

Teflon™ is a brand name for a nonstick coating found on certain pots and pans. It contains a substance called polytetrafluoroethlyene.

The nonstick types of these pans should be used only at low or medium heat. They should never be left unattended at high temperatures. With high heat, it releases fumes that may irritate humans and household pets. When left unattended on the stove, empty cookware can heat up to 800 degrees within five minutes.

There have been concerns about a possible link between Teflon™ and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a man-made chemical. The Environmental Protection Agency states that Teflon™ does not contain PFOA and therefore the cookware poses no danger.

COPPER

Copper pots are popular due to their even heating. But large amounts of copper from unlined cookware can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Some copper and brass pans are coated with another metal to prevent food from coming into contact with copper. Over time, these coatings can break down and allow copper to dissolve in food. Older copper cookware may have tin or nickel coatings and should not be used for cooking.

STAINLESS STEEL

Stainless steel cookware is low in cost and can be used at high heat. Its cookware surface is sturdy, strong, and resists scratching and corroding. Most cookware have copper or aluminum bottoms for even heating. Health problems from stainless steel are rare.

CUTTING BOARDS

Choose wood or a surface such as plastic, marble, glass, or pyroceramic, which is easier to clean than wood.

Avoid cross-contamination. Consider using one cutting board for fresh produce and bread and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. This will prevent bacteria on a cutting board that is used for raw meat, poultry, or seafood from contaminating food that is eaten raw.

Cleaning cutting boards: To keep all cutting boards clean, wash them with hot, soapy water after each use. Then rinse with clear water and air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels. Acrylic, plastic, glass, and solid wood boards can be washed in a dishwasher (laminated boards may crack and split).

Both wooden and plastic cutting boards can be sanitized with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Flood the surface with the bleach solution and allow it to stand for several minutes. Rinse with clear water and air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels.

Replace worn cutting boards: All plastic and wooden cutting boards wear out over time. Once cutting boards become very worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, they should be thrown out.

KITCHEN SPONGES

Kitchen sponges can grow harmful bacteria, yeasts, and molds that can make you sick.

The United States Department of Agriculture says that the best ways to kill germs on a kitchen sponge are:

  • Microwave the sponge on high for one minute, which kills up to 99% of germs.
  • Clean it in the dishwasher, using both wash and dry cycles and a water temperature of 140 degrees F or higher.

Soap and water or bleach and water do not work as well for killing germs on sponges. Another option is to buy a new sponge each week.

References

United States Department of Agriculture. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Cutting Boards and Food Safety. Accessed May 3, 2011.

United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. Best Ways to Clean Kitchen Sponges. Accessed May 3, 2011,


Review Date: 2/11/2013
Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang. Previously reviewed by Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, Nutritionist, University of Washington Medical Center Diabetes Care Center, Seattle, Washington.
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