8 Kitchen Items You Need to Replace to Protect Your Health
Waiting to replace certain kitchen tools can be harmful to your health, causing the spread of mold, germs and other health dangers.
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Levy is a registered dietitian based in the New York City area.
Michalczyk is a registered dietitian based in Chicago.
Resnick is a registered dietitian based in Hoboken, New Jersey.
2. Cutting boards
Plastic or wooden cutting boards, particularly well-worn ones, can be a source of contamination, Michalczyk says. Germs, viruses and bacteria can grow and hide in the gouges, cracks and split-grain areas of boards.
“As a result, a simple soap and water solution or even the dishwasher are insufficient,” she says. “Cutting boards should be scrubbed with brushes and pads in a hot detergent solution on a regular basis. To minimize absorption, wooden cutting boards should be sealed on a regular basis with a food-grade sealer.”
Inspect your cutting boards. Cracks that occur on wooden boards are a sign that they should be replaced. These occur because wood gets dried out, says Levy. She recommends hand-washing boards and applying mineral oil to help keep boards from drying out. “The problem with cracks or splits is that bacteria can lurk in there and cause someone to get sick,” says Levy.
3. Dish towels
Kitchen towels are another breeding ground for bacteria, including the type of bacteria that can lead to food poisoning. Bacteria thrives when the towel is wet and is used for a variety of purposes, including wiping utensils, drying hands and cleaning surfaces.
”The moisture in the towel can encourage the growth of potential pathogens that cause food poisoning,” Michalczyk says. “As a result, it is critical to clean and replace your towels on a regular basis. Paper towels should also be a kitchen staple, to use for one-time use situations.”
4. Fire extinguishers
Some people keep a fire extinguisher on hand in the kitchen as a safety precaution, Michalczyk says. Fire extinguishers can be recharged if the pressure drops. The majority of dry-chemical fire extinguishers have a gauge that shows whether the device is properly pressurized. Directions for how to recharge a fire extinguisher are available online.
You can also take a fire extinguisher to your local fire department; most fire stations can recharge your device. You can also take it to a certified fire extinguisher manufacturer for recharging. Similarly, if you use the extinguisher, you might be able to recharge it rather than replace it.
Even in perfect condition, a fire extinguisher should be replaced every 12 years and recharged every six years. Checking the gauge on your fire extinguisher is a simple way to see if it’s in good working order. If the needle remains in the green, you are good to go. However, if it isn’t, it’s time to get a new one.
5. Grill brushes
Grilling used to be associated with summer picnics, but it’s become a year-round fan favorite for cooking, says Levy. With a tiny bit of oil, spices and seasoning you can grill a delicious meal, she says.
However, keep in mind that the more you grill, the more your grill brush will be put to work. “If you’re not giving a once-over to the metal bristles to make sure they are securely attached before you clean the grill, you may end up with an unpleasant surprise,” says Levy. “The bristles can fall into the food and puncture your throat, stomach or intestines.”
Levy recommends checking those bristles and replacing your brushes regularly, as often as every couple of months or sooner if bristles are coming off. You might also try a non-bristle grill brush.
6. Nonstick cookware
If you want to cook without a lot of oil to cut down on calories and fat, non-stick pots and pans are very effective. However, they are coated with a chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.
PFOA, which is also known as C8, is a man-made chemical that has been used in the process of making Teflon and similar chemicals, though it’s burned off in the manufacturing process and “not present in significant amounts in the final products,” according to the American Cancer Society. “PFOA has the potential to be a health concern because it can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a health advisory about PFOA in drinking water. Research has linked an array of potential health problems to exposure to PFOA above certain levels, including certain types of cancer.
Possible health issues associated with pregnancy and birth include:
- Developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants.
- Low birth weight.
- Accelerated puberty.
Research also suggests PFOA is associated with increased risks of:
- Cancer (testicular, liver).
- Liver tissue damage.
- Effects on your immunity.
- Thyroid issues.
- Changes in cholesterol.
Even if you cook at lower temperatures on a regular basis, scratched and damaged pans will emit these colorless, odorless fumes, Michalczyk says. “Therefore, it’s a good idea to replace your pans every five years or sooner. On a regular basis, inspect your pans. When they become warped, discolored or scratched, stop using them.”
7. Plastic food containers
Plastic food containers are ideal for meal preparation, storage and other uses. However, older containers may contain bisphenol A, or BPA, a chemical used in plastic manufacturing. Some studies suggest that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers that are made with BPA.
Research published in August 2020 in the journal JAMA Network suggests that people with higher levels of BPA have a 49% higher risk for all-cause mortality.
Research suggests that exposure to BPA is associated with:
- Health effects on the brain and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Type 2 diabetes.
(Exposure to BPA is safe in low doses, according to the Food and Drug Administration).
To lower your risk of BPA exposure, Michalczyk suggests:
- On plastic container products, look for BPA-free labels.
- Avoid placing plastic containers in hotter areas, like near the microwave or dishwasher. Excessive heat exposure can degrade the plastic and allow BPA to enter your food.
- Use naturally-BPA-free storage containers like glass or stainless steel.
If you’ve had your plastic food containers for years, Levy suggests tossing them and starting fresh. “Then, with use over time, be aware of changes in the shapes of the containers, poorly fitting lids, stained bottoms or smells that don’t come out,” she says. “All of these are signs that the container should be discarded.”
Sponges are porous and damp, making them a breeding ground for bacteria. Sponge sanitation can be improved by putting them in hot soapy water, a dishwasher with a heated dry cycle or popping them in the microwave for a minute, Michalczyk says. “To avoid spreading germs every time you clean your dishes, replace sponges every one to two weeks. Another precaution to take when working with raw meat is to avoid using sponges.”
Replace these eight kitchen items to protect your health:
- Cutting boards.
- Dish towels.
- Fire extinguishers.
- Grill brushes.
- Nonstick cookware.
- Plastic food containers.