Skip to main content
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS AND TOXIC CHEMICALS WHERE YOU LIVE, WORK, AND PLAY

Food and Cooking

What is it?

Food is prepared for us to eat in many places, including at home. Food producers make food products that consumers can easily prepare and serve themselves. The food service industry prepares meals you can eat outside the home. That includes restaurants, cafeterias, catering operations, and many other businesses and institutions.

Basic food safety is very important for public health. All food needs to be maintained at the proper cold or hot temperature. Kitchen surfaces need to be kept clean. Frequent handwashing can also help prevent the spread of infectious disease.

See also: Arsenic Cadmium Chromium Dioxins Lead Mercury Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Pesticides Phthalates Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) Propane Endocrine Disruptors

Why is it a concern?

Each year, millions of people in the United States get sick from contaminated food. Common causes include bacteria and viruses. Less often, the cause may be a parasite or a harmful chemical. Some people have food allergies.

All food may become contaminated. Contamination can happen at any time from farm to table. But it can also happen in your kitchen if you leave certain foods unrefrigerated for more than two hours at room temperature. Handling food safely can help prevent foodborne illnesses. 

Who is at risk?

  • People who prepare and serve food for work may be exposed to chemicals used in food production, cooking, or storage.
  • Exposure to or eating raw or undercooked foods, including raw shellfish, may cause foodborne illness. 
  • Prepared food that has not been refrigerated for more than two hours may pose health risks.
     

What pollutants are of greatest concern?

  • Restaurants may use bleach, household chemicals, and pesticides for maintenance. 
  • Food service operations may use natural gas or propane as cooking fuels. 
  • Food producers may use sulfur dioxide as a food preservative for fruits and vegetables. They may also use food packaging that contains phthalates.

Reduce your risk

  • Do you prepare or serve food?
  • Do you eat raw or undercooked foods?
  • Wash hands before preparing foods.
  • Keep kitchen surfaces and utensils clean. 
  • Handle food properly. Do not cross-contaminate cooked foods with raw foods.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked foods unless they are prepared by a specialist.
  • Maintain food at proper temperatures. Cook foods to kill germs. Store fresh food in the refrigerator right away.
  • At the grocery store:
    • Check to make sure packages are sealed. 
    • Read labels to make sure food hasn’t reached its expiration date. 
    • Avoid cans that are bulging or jars that have cracks or loose lids.
National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases
Back to top