Here's a breakfast bummer. Before taking a bite of a fried egg, think for a second: Just how old is that non-stick pan it was cooked on?
If there’s anywhere in the house to be vigilant about replacing items that have run their course, it’s in the kitchen! The knives, utensils, pots and pans, and containers we use to prepare food can of course impact what we put into our bodies. And we're not just talking about the chemicals and particles on the surface—dangerous fumes could be wafting into the nose while you're unsuspectingly cooking up a colorful sauté of rainbow chard.
Here’s a guide to when it’s time to replace a few things that have been living in the kitchen for a little too long.
Plastic food containers
It’s not a secret anymore that many plastics can contain not only food, but BPA and phthalates, which can disrupt endocrine functions and even increase the risk of hypertension and type 1 diabetes. Plastic containers can be especially harmful when scratched, since this is a sign that the protective coating has broken down, leaving the plastic free to leech chemicals into food. Recycle old plastic containers ASAP, and replace them with stainless steel or glass containers.
First of all, say goodbye to non-stick pans. A non-stick pan can quickly turn poisonous just by doing what it’s meant to do. They’re coated with a synthetic polymer commonly known as Teflon, and this stuff can be dangerous, especially as the pan ages and the coating starts to flake off (better make sure that's actually black pepper in that egg scramble). In a test conducted by EWG, Teflon-coated pans started to emit toxic fumes within minutes of heating on a conventional stove top.
Feeling reluctant to throw away perfectly good pans? That's understandable. Just be sure never to heat pans higher than 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and turn on the exhaust fan. Also consider investing in other types of cookware, such as stainless steel. According to KitchenAid, stainless steel pots and pans can be very long lasting. Once the copper starts to show through, though, it’s time to replace.
The best investment is a cast iron skillet. It will withstand incredibly high heat, and with prolonged use, it can help season food. Plus, cast iron lasts forever—it can even be restored from rust buildup.
Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson once did a survey of 1,000 sponges and dishcloths, and found 10 percent of them were contaminated with salmonella. To avoid foodborne illnesses, try not to stretch the life of a sponge over one month. Keep sponges clean and fresh over time with these tricks. But once that mildew smell comes along, it means that sponge is ripe with bacteria, so chuck it right away.
Keep an eye out for scratches on cutting boards. Once the surface starts to look like barrage of tic-tac-toe grids, it’s time to consider replacing it—bacteria love to hide out in those grooves. A trick to minimize knicks? Keep knives extra sharp to avoid having to saw or press down with the knife, consequently hacking up the surface of the board.
Care for plastic cutting boards by washing them with soap and hot water after every use, and then rinsing and soaking for at least five minutes with a solution of 1:4 parts white vinegar and hot water once every couple of weeks.
A wooden cutting board requires more delicate care, but can actually last for decades. To condition it before first use, apply a thin coat of oil (coconut oil works!) to all sides of the board and rub it in with a clean rag in the direction of the grain. Set it in a warm place, then repeat 12 to 24 hours later. Wipe the board with a dry cloth and revel in its clean sheen. Re-oil the board whenever it starts to look dull, and this will help to keep it clean and less susceptible to absorbing odors and liquids. Rinse only—never soak, since that can warp the wood. When a cutting board needs a deep clean, try this lemon juice and salt method. Always be sure to keep the cutting board dry whenever it’s not being used.
Illustration by Karley Koenig