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Air Quality Awareness Behavior Environment

Scientists cooked pancakes, Brussels sprouts, and stir fry to detect an oxidant indoors for the first time

1 month ago

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Posted on May 13, 2024, 4 p.m.

Your frying pan may be harming your health, especially when cooking meals that involve frying or sauteing, according to a new study from The University of British Columbia (UBC) published in the journal Environmental Science; finding that frying or sauteing releases brown carbon aerosols that could be impacting indoor air quality as well as your health.


Singlet oxygen is an oxidant. These chemical compounds can be beneficial -- ozone in the stratosphere is one example -- but can also cause stress to our lungs, contributing to the development of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease in the long term.

Cooking foods can release brown carbon molecules with the potential to create oxidants when they absorb light. In addition, exposure to cooking emissions has been linked to chronic diseases in chefs.

Historically, it was thought there wasn't enough light indoors to have much reactive chemistry, but there are many light sources in modern kitchens.

Sprouts + sunlight = oxidant

UBC researchers thought if all the right ingredients were in place -- namely, cooking in a lit area -- they might find singlet oxygen indoors where it had never been detected.

They investigated by cooking three meals representing breakfast, lunch and dinner: pancakes, Brussels sprouts, and vegetable stir fry, sampling the air and exposing it to three different types of light: UV, sunlight, and fluorescent.

They detected singlet oxygen at around the same concentration for all three dishes. However, its highest concentration occurred in sunlit experiments, meaning naturally lit kitchens likely see more of this oxidant.

Venting is healthy

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped raise public awareness of indoor air quality.

The researchers recommend ventilation and air filtration in kitchens to reduce exposure to aerosols while cooking.

"Our next steps include determining just how this oxidant might affect humans and how much we're breathing in when we cook. Could it play a role in some cooking-related diseases?" said senior author Dr. Nadine Borduas-Dedekind, UBC chemistry assistant professor.

Keep in mind that while the levels of single oxygen measures in this study were on par with outdoor polluted air of concentrations around 0.26-3.1 parts per trillion, more research is required to understand the health implications of cooking-related brCOA and singlet oxygen production inside our homes. In the meantime, you can take steps to help prevent the buildup of these aerosols and mitigate your exposure.

First, when using cooking oils try to select ones with a high smoke point such as avocado oil, this will reduce brown carbon aerosols from being formed. When you are cooking always use the exhaust fan and/or open a window to help improve air circulation and ventilation. If you have a ceiling fan or other fan in the kitchen turning it on while you cook will also help to improve air circulation and ventilation. Finally, you could even invest in an air purifier with a HEPA filter to help remove particles that may be lingering in the air. 

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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This article was adapted from an written by Alex Walls at The University of British Columbia

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