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Pots and pans, baking sheets and casserole dishes, utensils; every kitchen is brimming with helpful, handy items that aim to make cooking easier. But when was the last time you went through all of your kitchen gear and assessed what’s really worth keeping around? Over years of use and through countless cooking adventures, your go-to items can become surprisingly bad for your health – or even downright dangerous.
Do you have any of the following items sitting in your kitchen? We’re sharing products you’ll want to throw away or recycle ASAP.
1. Wire grill brushes
Wire grill brushes were once the standard for scrubbing off your grill grates after cooking. But it’s time to throw away yours if you’re still using one of these tools. Over time, wire grill brushes have proven themselves to be more dangerous than handy.
When you use a wire grill brush, the metal bristles – often made of stainless steel or brass – can actually fall off the brush. Every time you sweep and scrub the surface of your grill, small portions of the bristles can also break off. And these dangerously sharp whole or partial bristles often stay behind on your grill’s surface, leaving you to pick them up on your food the next time you use it.
According to Consumer Reports, approximately 1,700 Americans wound up in the emergency room between 2002 and 2014 thanks to these wire brushes. They can be ingested after food is grilled, which leads to hospital-worthy injuries like mouth and throat wounds or even sustained stomach injuries.
Throw out your wire grill brush and replace it with a safer, equally effective option. There are plenty of products you can try, from coiled bristle-free grill brushes to wood planks with scraping teeth to pumice grill stones. In a pinch, a ball of crumpled aluminum foil can also get your grates clean without any danger.
2. Scratched nonstick pans
Is your favorite nonstick pot or pan covered in scratches? The glossy, waxy layer of coating that covers the inner surface of these kitchen essentials can wear over time, fading, scratching or even peeling away. After years of use, your nonstick cookware can turn into a sticky situation every time it hits the heat of your stove.
In the past, scratched nonstick cookware was extremely unsafe. Scratches meant harmful chemicals could leach into your food. While most experts now agree that nonstick or Teflon pots and pans aren’t as dangerous as they once were (Teflon stopped using its potentially toxic ingredient years ago), it’s still a bad idea to hang onto cookware that’s damaged.
Scratches can be a sign that the nonstick coating is no longer effective on your pots and pans. That means that cooking food in them might not actually offer any nonstick benefits. You’ll likely find that increased signs of wear come with increased stickiness while cooking. Once this begins happening, it’s time to move on to new pots and pans.
3. Plastic utensils
Plastic spoons, spatulas and other cooking utensils are easy to clean and can be relied on day and day out in the kitchen. Unfortunately, there’s a hidden danger in these super convenient utensils – and it’s in the plastic used to make them.
Cooking with plastic utensils just might cause toxic byproducts to leach into your food.
According to a study conducted by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, plastic utensils will start to create those poisonous byproducts when they’re exposed to temperatures of 70 degrees Celsius (or about 158 degrees Fahrenheit). These byproducts, which are known as oligomers, are present in plastic when it’s created. And as they’re exposed to high heat levels, they wind up in your food.
Over time, ingested high amounts of oligomers is linked to liver and thyroid diseases, infertility, high cholesterol and some types of cancer. Even just 90 micrograms can be dangerous, scientists warn.
Play it safe and recycle your plastic cooking utensils. You can replace them with safer materials like wood or metal.
4. Rusted old baking sheets
Admit it: there’s a baking sheet hiding in your kitchen that’s more brown or black than silver. Over time, baking sheets can change color and take on a whole new appearance thanks to the foods you roast and bake on their surfaces. But often, frequent use also brings on rust.
Rust, which is oxidized iron, can appear on aluminum baking pans and sheets. It can even appear on cast iron. But it doesn’t necessarily put you or your health in immediate danger. Experts say rust is relatively safe and not a big deal at all. Rust on your favorite cast iron pans can be scrubbed away and removed. Some rust may also be able to be removed on aluminum baking equipment.
But when the majority of your baking sheets are covered in rust, it isn’t so much about safety as it is what you’re cooking on. Who wants to put a batch of cookies or a sheet pan dinner into the oven on a rusty tray? Once your baking sheets and pans have developed rust that just won’t quit, it’s time to recycle them and find fresh replacements.
5. Plastic containers
Like plastic utensils, plastic containers aren’t exactly the best items to use when you’re prepping and storing food. Plastic can include a chemical called bisphenol A – better known as BPA.
BPA appears in plastics and resins, and over time, it can seep into whatever you’re keeping inside plastic containers. If you’re using plastic to stash food, BPA can leach right in. If you’re using items like plastic kettles for liquids, BPA can get into drinks too. While plenty of manufacturers now advertise that their plastics are BPA-free, you don’t know what, exactly, in your kitchen could contain it.
And you can’t ignore the negative effects of plastic on the environment. It’s rarely recycled, and many plastics wind up at your local dump.
Instead of relying on plastic containers, switch to safer and more eco-friendly glass. You can find stacking containers in sets to suit everything you need to store and plenty of serving sizes.
6. Warped or cracked wooden spoons
Wooden utensils are a far better choice than plastic ones. But it’s time to investigate your utensil drawer – are any of your favorite wooden spoons cracked, changing color or dried out?
With use and exposure to water, wooden utensils can dry out. That leads to cracks, and when cracks start to form, bacteria can appear inside them. It’s impossible to get inside those cracks and thoroughly clean any gross (or dangerous) bacteria that might be hiding, so it’s better to replace them.
You should also look for signs of warping and decay. If your wooden utensils are soft, missing chunks of wood or changing color, it’s time to buy new ones. These can be signs of rotting wood – a problem that appears along with bacteria.
If you could benefit from learning how to correct other common kitchen mistakes, make sure to read up on storage and organizations tips like: