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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Sensible Cookware

Air Date: Week of

In this consumer advice segment, Steve Curwood talks with Debra Dadd Redalia about the possible health effects of cooking with various types of cookware. Redalia is the author of The Non-Toxic Home and Office.


CURWOOD: No matter how healthy or wonderful the food, it doesn't matter if we don't prepare it safely. And with the holidays upon us, there's lots of eating and cooking going on. Debra Lynn Dadd is author of The Non-Toxic Home and Office and she joins us now from KQED in San Francisco. Debra, why should we be concerned about what we cook with?

DADD: Because our cookware contains potentially harmful substances that can range from the metals that the cookware is used to make the cookware to the finishes used that are non-stick. Now, people shouldn't be concerned about if they just use a cookware product once and cook in it, that you're not going to immediately get sick from that. But it's the day-in and day-out use of these cookwares that give you a long-term exposure that over time can cause illness.

CURWOOD: So what specifically should we look out for?

DADD: Well, the first thing to look for is non-stick finishes. Those are made of plastics. They can chip off into your food, especially if you're using metal utensils. So if you want to use non-stick finishes, the best thing to do is to use plastic or preferably wooden utensils with them. And the second danger from it is that when the plastic is heated it can create fumes which some people might be sensitive to, and there have been some incidences reported of illness from the heating up of these pans.

CURWOOD: And what about metals?

DADD: The metal to watch out for, there's actually two. It used to be that most of the cookware was made from aluminum, and aluminum has been shown in many studies to cause many mental disorders that range from behavior abnormalities to visual motor coordination. So because of these studies, most companies don't sell aluminum cookware any more, but it's still widely in circulation. Like if you were to buy an old pot at a flea market or something, it's likely to be aluminum. The other thing to watch out for unfortunately is stainless steel. We used to think that stainless steel was fine, but new studies have shown stainless steel does give off nickel, and especially if it's scratched by using a metal utensil or an abrasive cleaning pad, that it can release more nickel, and that's also a toxic chemical. In fact, it's carcinogenic. So, what you want to do, if you've got stainless steel, is again, use wooden utensils and a non-abrasive cleaner, and start moving toward safer alternatives.

CURWOOD: Now, what are the safest alternatives?

DADD: Well, the safest things to cook in are clay, cast-iron, or porcelain-coated cast-iron. Glass like Pyrex glass. You can also cook in carbon steel pots and pans.

CURWOOD: What do you cook on?

DADD : Well, I still cook on stainless steel because --


DADD: Before I found out about this (laughs). This study only just came out in 1993, after I had purchased a whole set of gourmet stainless steel --


DADD: -- pots and pans. So I'm just real careful with them, and as I can afford it I'm replacing them one by one.

CURWOOD: One piece at a time. So we don't have to rush out and do this all at once; we'll be fine.

DADD: No, you don't. It's just like, with most toxic things in your home, be aware of where the dangers are and when it's time for you to go make a purchase, purchase the safest thing possible.

CURWOOD: Thank you so much for taking this time with us.

DADD: You're welcome.

CURWOOD: Debra Lynn Dadd lives in San Francisco. Her book is called The Non-Toxic Home and Office, and next June she'll have out a book called The Home Safe Home.



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