4 pollutants hiding in holiday cooking smells

Turkey roasting, apple pie baking, potatoes boiling. It must be Thanksgiving time in the kitchen. But, while delicious, those smells — both from food and stovetops — can release some not-so-appetizing odors and pollutants into the air. Here’s what’s cooking up trouble for your indoor air quality:

Sautéing and Frying

Releases acrolein

Overheating any type of fat, like butter or olive oil, can cause the fat to break down; let it go for too long, and burned fats release a volatile organic compound called acrolein.  The EPA has linked short-term acrolein exposure with respiratory irritation. As for your food: Fat or oil that has reached its burning or “smoke point” can give food an unpleasant, acrid taste. Meanwhile, aerosol cooking and baking sprays also release VOCs.

Stovetop Cooking

Releases particulate matter

Home cooks can get up to one-third of their daily exposure to particulate matter (PM) in the kitchen alone. One Italian study, which looked specifically at the PM released in cooking steak, found that the more powerful the cooktop, the higher the concentration of PM will spike during cooking.

Gas Burners

Release nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide

Studies have well-documented the release of harmful chemicals from cooking with gas stovetops. One highly-cited 2014 study, for instance, found that households that cook on gas burners at least once a week are susceptible to levels of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide in excess of standards set by the California EPA.

Long-lasting Heat

Can trigger off-gassing

A day’s worth of cooking can build up a lot of heat. In some cases, those sustained temperatures can trigger surfaces in and around the kitchen, such as countertops and cabinets, to off-gas harmful chemicals like formaldehyde. While new manufactured products will only off-gas for a shorter period of time, heat can spark or hasten that process.

The first step towards avoiding the harmful health effects of low indoor air quality is to be aware of their presence — and inevitable build-up on heavy cooking days like Thanksgiving. With proper ventilation and filtration, it is possible to keep pollutants in check, and keep a little smoke from spoiling your supper.

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