Saturday, July 14, 2012

Killer in your. Kitchen...

Killers in your kitchen: Gender-bending packaging, exploding floor cleaners and toasters more deadly than sharks...

By Michael Hanlon

Scientists at Exeter University claimed this week that non-stick frying pans could be bad for your health. A chemical used for their heat-resistant and stain-repelling properties was linked in research to a higher-than-normal incidence of thyroid disease.

Here, our Science Editor MICHAEL HANLON warns of all those other hidden dangers lurking in your kitchen. 

Damp dishcloths and sponges, left to fester for weeks on end, may contain several tens of thousands of individual micro-organisms per square inch.

In fact, a dirty damp dishcloth probably contains the highest concentration of pathogens anywhere in the house - including the inside of your toilet.

Beware: The kitchen is full of deadly objects and appliances
Beware: The kitchen is full of deadly objects and appliances
Wiping your surfaces with one of these feculent horrors will convert a clean and wholesome surface into something reminiscent of a Third World sewer.


An EU report produced in 2009 claimed young children are being exposed to potentially dangerous levels of hormone disrupting chemicals which can affect levels of certain vital body chemicals, particularly in boys.

'Oestrogen-like' chemicals, such as pthalates found in many common plastics, containers and packaging materials, Bisphenol-A (found in food packaging plastics and coating the inside of 'tin' cans) and the (now banned) PCBs still lurking in paints and electrical equipment have been blamed by environmental groups such as the WWF and Greenpeace for cancers, falling sperm counts and even an imbalance in the sex-ratio between baby boys and girls.


Hazard: Frozen food, once thawed, should be cooked and eaten - don't put the leftovers back in the freezer
Hazard: Frozen food, once thawed, should be cooked and eaten - don't put the leftovers back in the freezer

It is a rule everyone should know: Cooked flesh can be reheated - but only once.

If you make a casserole, by all means warm it up the next day but if there are leftovers from THAT warmed-up portion they cannot be reheated again.

Similarly, never, ever, re-freeze melted ice cream. When it melts and warms, ice cream provides an ideal breeding ground for various nasties including salmonella and listeria.

In fact, ALL frozen food, once thawed, should be cooked and eaten and never put back in the freezer.

Several hundred people a year worldwide are killed by their toasters, compared to eight or nine by sharks.

Toasters are potentially deadly because they contain exposed live electric elements and the way they work invites one of the commonest causes of serious home accidents - electric shocks caused when using a metal knife to prize out a slice of stuck toast.

Overstocking your fridge increases the chances of contaminating cooked food with microbes from, say, raw meat.

Always store the latter on the lower levels, to avoid the chances of blood dripping onto other foodstuffs.
Be aware of how long some foods have been in the fridge - decay is not always obvious. Avoid storing foods in plastic bags, which increase the speed of decay.

The open chip pan is one of the most dangerous objects most of us will meet in our lives.

Open chip pans are considered so dangerous that several local fire brigades offer 'chip pan amnesties' whereby they can be traded in for much safer enclosed deep-fat fryers.

If your chip pan does catch fire, remember the drill: turn off the heat, and cover the pan with a fire blanket or wet towel until the flames go out. Do not attempt to carry the flaming pan out of the kitchen or throw water on to it.

There is a second hazard related to deep-fat frying. Oil that is brought to the boil, allowed to cool and then reheated over and over again changes its chemical composition and can end up containing dangerous amounts of acyl radicals, chemicals linked to hardening of the arteries and heart disease.

Risk: Liquids heated in a microwave can be at a temperature higher than boiling point without bubbling
Risk: Liquids heated in a microwave can be at a temperature higher than boiling point without bubbling


There is no evidence that a properly used and undamaged microwave oven poses any health risk whatsoever.

Indeed, there is evidence that some microwaved food is better for you than food cooked by conventional means, especially boiled vegetables.

That said, microwaves do present a small risk. Liquids heated in a microwave can be at a temperature higher than boiling point without bubbling.

Some people have been injured by jets of boiling coffee erupting from microwaved mugs.

Enclosed containers should never be microwaved, and there is a risk of burns from exploding eggs.
Finally, there is a small risk of fire from the electrical arcing that can occur should metal items be placed in the oven.


Some American studies have drawn a link between chemicals found in certain plastic food wraps and storage containers and hormonal abnormalities, and even cancer.

One study, in the early 1990s, suggested that food wrapped in Clingfilm could become contaminated with chemicals such as pthalates and a substance called DEHA if heated in a microwave - both substances are linked to increased cancer risk.

But these studies were controversial (other scientists found no contamination risk).
To be on the safe side, use glass containers or old-fashioned greaseproof paper and avoid plastic altogether.

Unhygienic: Microbial activity can continue at temperatures down to a few degrees below freezing
Unhygienic: Microbial activity can continue at temperatures down to a few degrees below freezing

We are usually aware of when food in the fridge has gone off - it starts to smell, and turn a funny colour.
But what happens in the freezer is usually far less obvious. Food, particularly meat, is often left to freeze, and forgotten - for months if not years.

For some foods this is fine, but it can create a hazard. Most people think that provided the food is frozen solid it cannot go off; this is not so.

Microbial activity can continue, albeit far more slowly, at temperatures down to a few degrees below freezing. Ideally a home freezer should chill food down to -18C or so, and even then it is important to be aware of the guidelines on maximum storage times.

The benefits of these chemicals probably outweigh any harm. But that doesn't mean we should not be aware that there are some unpleasant chemicals out there, particularly some of the organophosphates used to protect fruit and vegetables from pests.

While pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables are almost certainly in concentrations that will not do us any harm, it is always wise to wash these products before eating them.

And be aware that the 'natural' fertilisers, weed and pest-killing chemicals (such as copper sulphate) used by organic farmers can be just as toxic - if not more so - than the synthetic chemicals used by conventional farmers.

Under the typical kitchen sink can be found enough potentially hazardous chemicals to start a minor WMD programme.

Detergents, sanitisers, polishes, caustic sodas and other alkalis, drain unblocking acids and degreasers - all present potentially fatal hazards, particularly to toddlers.

Put a childproof catch on the door, throw away old bottles of chemicals and never use the same space to store food.

The chemical PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) that's found in non-stick cookware and raised concerns about thyroid disease is also present in furniture, fabrics and some food packaging, where it's valued for its resistance to water and stains.

Sodium hypochlorite solution is an excellent disinfectant, cleaning agent and whitener.

Everyone knows that bleach is toxic if swallowed and can burn or irritate the skin and eyes.

But the greatest hazard with bleach is that when mixed with certain cleaning agents, particularly those containing ammonia, hydrogen peroxide or acids (examples include Harpic toilet cleaner and Jeyes Fluid products), the resulting chemical reactions can release large quantities of deadly chlorine and even nitrogen trichloride, an explosive.

A huge market exists for the numerous 'antibacterial' products aimed at that obsessive segment of the population that sees germs lurking in every corner.

Chopping boards and kitchen wipes may be impregnated with chemicals, typically triclosan (a phenol-compound), which, it is claimed, typically 'kill 99 per cent of germs stone dead'.

There are three problems here. First, triclosan itself has been linked to hormonal problems in animal tests.

Second, the one per cent of germs that survive the antibacterial onslaught are going to be tough little blighters, and within a few hours they will have divided and redivided and replaced other, feebler germs.

Finally, there is the 'hygiene hypothesis', which states that one possible explanation for the rise in auto-immune conditions such as asthma and eczema is that our children's immune systems are exposed to far too few germs at the formative stage.

Keep things clean, by all means, but don't go over the top.






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