News Stories

Cookware Cancer

Here's a conspiracy for you! A new study links (for the first time) thyroid disease with human exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used in industrial and consumer goods, including nonstick cookware and stain- and water-resistant coatings for carpets and fabrics. People with higher concentrations of PFOA in their blood are more likely to report a history of thyroid disease. But at least the problem of wrapping food in plastic after (or before) it's cooked is being solved.

Toxicologist Tamara Galloway says, "These results highlight a real need for further research into the human health effects of low-level exposures to environmental chemicals like PFOA that are ubiquitous in the environment and in people's homes. We need to know what they are doing."

PFOA is a very stable man-made chemical that excels at repelling heat, water, grease, and stains. It is used during the process of making common household and industrial items, including nonstick pots and pans, flame-resistant and waterproof clothing, wire coatings, and chemical-resistant tubing. PFOA can also be formed by the breakdown of certain other highly fluorinated chemicals used in oil- and grease-resistant coatings on fast-food containers and wrappers and in stain-resistant carpets, fabrics, and paints. In other words, we're surrounded by it.

We'd solve many of our problems with plastics if we could make food wrappings from food. It would also solve our trash problem because we could take the food out of the refrigerator, eat it and eat the wrapper too! Most food packages are made of multilayer films that are thin, continuous sheets of synthetic polymers, but scientists are developing strong, biodegradable dairy-based films that are better oxygen barriers than petrochemical-based films. They want to replace petroleum-based packaging with biobased packaging.

Researcher Peggy Tomasula is especially interested in films made from dairy proteins, with an emphasis on those based on casein and whey, the major proteins found in milk. As a dairy ingredient, casein shows good adhesion, but while it's an excellent barrier to oxygen, carbon dioxide, and aromas, it is a weak barrier to moisture. Her research on edible casein films is directed toward improving their water-vapor-barrier properties.

It's a far out idea that may someday become a reality: You can't wrap your food with milk today, but maybe you will be able to tomorrow!

To learn more, click here and here.

Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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