Surprising Fact About Cooking: The Toxic Air
The loud sizzle after placing a steak on a grill pan. The intoxicating fragrance of garlic frying in olive oil. The golden, crispy skin on a perfectly sautéed piece of fish. The process of cooking almost immediately creates a symphony of smells, sights, and sounds that flood the human senses.
Men and women around the world have been investing energy in the ability to transform food since the dawn of time. One of the benefits of discovering fire—aside from creating a heat source—was the potential to change the taste and texture of fresh game or gathered vegetables. Fast-forward some millennia, and the human relationship with cooking has evolved even further. We designate an entire room in our homes to the preparation of food; we have careers that surround it and institutions that teach people how to do it.
However, it rarely occurs to the average person that the cooking process brings high concentrations of pollutants into indoor environments. Every time someone sautés, fries, grills, or toasts food, intense heat is being applied to fat and carbohydrates. The result of this process is the creation of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds (Smith, 2013).
Have you ever smelled the intense aroma of a fat or oil reaching the smoking point? This smell is actually a volatile organic compound called Arcolein. This organic compound is present in cooked foods. It is formed from carbohydrates, vegetable oils and animal fats, and amino acids during the heating of foods. This organic compound is also formed by the combustion of petroleum fuels and biodiesel (Stevens, Maier, 2008). Unsurprisingly, Arcolein is toxic to humans and is a strong irritant for skin, eyes, and nasal passages (Arntz, et.al., 2007).
The average American spends over 20 hours per month cooking meals in the home (Global Studies, 2015). This time investment can add up to a significant amount of direct interaction with pollutants that can have serious long-term health implications.
“Literally millions to many millions of people are routinely being exposed to air pollutants at levels that we don’t allow outdoors,” states Brett Singer, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who studies indoor air quality and cooking emissions in particular.
Singer’s team used a sample group representing Southern California households, of which more than half use natural gas to cook (Nicole, 2014). This sample group modeled gas stove emissions and exposures in California households and judged that during a winter week—because windows are more likely to be closed—1.7 million Californians could be exposed to carbon monoxide levels that exceed national and state air quality standards, simply by cooking on gas stoves without the use of a range hood and 12 million could be exposed to excessive levels of nitrogen dioxide (Logue, et. al., 2014).
Modern technology has not done much to alleviate the exposure of human beings to the harmful particulates we come in contact with while preparing food on the stove or oven. We have all turned on the fan or the range hood when there is too much smoke in the kitchen. However, most range hoods on the market today simply recirculate the pollutants throughout a larger surface area. They do not necessarily move the pollution from indoor to outdoor, as they should (Seville, 2012).
Thankfully, there is a viable solution on the horizon.
Nouvair is a new product on the market that will change the way we address the indoor air pollution crisis. Nouvair is a sophisticated device that sucks in and filters cooking smoke, food odor, and harmful pollutants more efficiently than a traditional range hood. At about 6 inches in diameter and about 5 inches in height, Nouvair can be placed directly over the source of the pollution to ensure none of the unwanted byproducts of cooking get into your home.
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Arntz, D., Fischer, A., Höpp, M., Jacobi, S., Sauer, J., Ohara, T., Sato, T., Shimizu, N. and Schwind, H. 2007. Acrolein and Methacrolein. Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. .
Delp WW, Singer BC. Performance assessment of U.S. residential cooking exhaust hoods. Environ Sci Technol 46(11):6167–6173 (2012); http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es3001079.
Global Studies - Cooking: Attitudes and time spent. (2015). Retrieved May 26, 2017, from http://www.gfk.com/global-studies/global-studies-cooking-attitudes-and-time-spent/
Logue JM, Klepeis NE, Lobscheid AB, Singer BC. (2014). Pollutant exposures from natural gas cooking burners: a simulation-based assessment for Southern California. Environ Health Perspect 122:43–50; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1306673
Nicole, W. (2014, January). Cooking Up Indoor Air Pollution: Emissions from Natural Gas Stoves. Retrieved May 23, 2017, from https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/122-a27/
Seville, C. (2012, April 17). Why Range Hoods Don't Work. Retrieved May 24, 2017, from http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/green-building-curmudgeon/why-range-hoods-don-t-work
Smith, P. A. (2013, July 22). The Kitchen as a Pollution Hazard. Retrieved May 25, 2017, from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/the-kitchen-as-a-pollution-hazard/
Stevens, J. F., & Maier, C. S. (2008, January). Acrolein: Sources, metabolism, and biomolecular interactions relevant to human health and disease. Retrieved May 24, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2423340/