Cooking fumes exposure 'unlikely to affect cancer risk', says Cancer Research UK

In collaboration with Adfero

Cancer Research UK says that the low levels of cooking fumes found in UK kitchens are unlikely to affect people's risk of cancer, after a study suggested that frying on a gas hob may emit more cancer-causing chemicals than an electric hob.

Ed Yong, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said that people "shouldn't worry unduly" if they have a gas hob. "The bottom line is that as long as you've got decent ventilation, the type of hob you use is unlikely to matter."

His comments follow a new study in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which found that pan-frying meat on a gas hob may emit more harmful fumes than an electric hob.

Researchers set out to determine whether the energy source or type of fat used for cooking has any impact on the content of fumes, with a particular focus on potentially harmful chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and higher aldehydes.

They simulated the conditions likely to be found in a western European restaurant kitchen and fried 17 pieces of steak for 15 minutes, using both margarine and soya bean oil on gas and electric hobs.

They detected a PAH called naphthalene - which was found in traditional mothballs and is now banned - in 16 of the 17 meat samples, ranging from 0.15 to 0.27 ug/m3 air. The highest levels were found in meat fried with margarine on the gas hob. However, these levels were still 150 times lower than the accepted safety thresholds.

Higher aldehydes were found in all samples. For these chemicals, the highest levels were again found in meats cooked on the gas hob, regardless of the type of fat used.

The researchers also noticed that higher levels of ultrafine particles were produced when cooking on gas, although they emphasised that the quantities of all chemicals were below accepted levels.

Ed Yong pointed out: "Even though this study simulated a restaurant kitchen, where cooking fumes are probably at their greatest, most of the dangerous chemicals they identified were found at concentrations well below current safety guidelines.

"Studies linking cooking fumes to cancer have mainly come from China, where people fry food more often than in the UK and where ventilation is often poorer," he noted.

"Here, it is unlikely that the small exposures that people get from cooking in their homes would significantly affect their risk of cancer. Professional chefs and cooks should ensure that their kitchens are well-ventilated."

References

  • Sjaastad, A., Jorgensen, R., & Svendsen, K. (2010). Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), mutagenic aldehydes and particulate matter during pan frying of beefsteak Occupational and Environmental Medicine DOI: 10.1136/oem.2009.046144